With the 2018 NFL Draft in the rear-view mirror, teams can now start focusing on filling any remaining holes left on their roster with top remaining NFL free agents.
This year, there are some pretty notable names still out there as teams move into the second phases of their offseason programs.
From a receiver who needs no introduction to one of the best linebackers to play in recent years to a quarterback who probably won’t get signed (yet again), these are the top remaining NFL free agents right now.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback
The New York Giants released Rodgers-Cromartie to save around $6.5 million in cap space. During last season’s disastrous campaign for Big Blue, Rodgers-Cromartie, 31, started six games and appeared in 15. He recorded 48 tackles, defended one pass and had zero interceptions, marking the worst performance of his career. A former Pro Bowler, he’s still a serviceable cornerback and should land on his feet soon enough with a new team. The Washington Redskins had him in for a visit in March and could still have interest in bringing him on board to shore up their secondary.
Kenny Vaccaro, safety
Coming off a frustrating 2017 campaign that was cut short by a groin injury that required surgery, Vaccaro will likely have to sign a one-year deal. Given his productivity in the past, however, he could end up being quite a steal. The former first-round pick is a diverse safety who can do a lot around the line of scrimmage, and on the back end as well. He said he’s feeling better now than he did before the season began. The Miami Dolphins have shown interest, and Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald recently wrote Vaccaro could sign a prove-it deal with the club.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver
It remains to be seen how much Marshall has left in the tank following a 2017 season that was cut short by a season-ending ankle injury. Even before his injury, Marshall didn’t develop any real rapport with Eli Manning and struggled to produce. Still, this is a receiver who is just two years removed from going over 1,500 yards and catching 10 touchdowns with the New York Jets. Given the right situation, playing on an offense where he’s not the No. 1 guy with a top quarterback, Marshall could be very effective as a red-zone threat.
Bashaud Breeland, cornerback
It’s pretty stunning that Breeland is still available. He’s really a fine cover corner who has racked up eight interceptions and 59 pass break-ups in four years. He had a contract lined up with the Carolina Panthers, and it was a pretty nice deal, too. But a foot injury suffered on vacation caused him to fail his physical, voiding the deal, and to this point Breeland still finds himself unemployed. Whenever he is fully healthy, Breeland will be a rock-solid addition to a team that needs secondary help, and based on how things have gone he’ll be a bargain, to boot.
Eric Decker, wide receiver
Decker isn’t an explosive option in the passing game any more. He’s a shell of his former self, as his 2017 campaign with Tennessee illustrated to perfection — just 54 receptions for 563 yards and a touchdown. But that doesn’t mean Decker can’t still contribute. He’s a savvy veteran who has a lot to offer to a team with a young receiving corps, like say the Buffalo Bills or Jacksonville Jaguars. At some point, he’ll land a short-term contract this summer to become a coach on the field, along with contributing the occasional big-time play.
Karlos Dansby, linebacker
At the age of 36, Dansby isn’t a spry young linebacker any more. He’s lost a step, to be sure. He is no longer a three-down linebacker but still has the smarts and instincts to make his presence felt in a limited role. Last year he became just the fifth player of all time to join the 40-sack and 20-interception club, along with Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Seth Joyner, and Wilber Marshall. The Buffalo Bills had Dansby in for a visit this past March, but they ended up abstaining and drafted Tremaine Edmunds instead. Like Decker, Dansby still has plenty to offer a club that needs veteran leadership and a spark on the field.
DeMarco Murray, running back
Before signing Frank Gore, the Miami Dolphins had Murray in for a visit during the free agency frenzy. He’s obviously still unsigned at this time, but we don’t expect him to remain unemployed when training camps break this summer. Murray is not the bell-cow running back he once was with the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans. But he did manage to total 925 yards and seven touchdowns last year in a part-time role. Assuming he’s fully recovered from the knee injury that cut his 2017 campaign short, Murray will be a valuable addition to a team that can use another back to pound the rock.
Johnathan Hankins, defensive tackle
It’s pretty surprising that Hankins, who is a darn good defensive tackle, is still on the market. He signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts before the 2017 season. But then Indy switched to a Tampa 2 scheme that doesn’t fit his game, and so Hankins was released this March. He’s had plenty of interest, going in for visits with Washington, the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions. Now that the draft is over and teams can re-evaluate their needs, it stands to reason that Hankins will land on a new roster in due course.
Antonio Gates, tight end
The Los Angeles Chargers made the tough call to let Gates walk this spring, pushing all their chips in on young tight end, Hunter Henry. To this point, Gates hasn’t given any indication he’s going to retire, so until that happens we assume he’s looking for the optimum fit with a championship contender to close out his career in style. The future Hall of Famer is still a red-zone threat. He caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns last year and would be a great fit on a team that needs help in this department.
NaVorro Bowman, linebacker
Injuries have definitely impacted Bowman’s ability to dominate from sideline to sideline. At one point in his career, before the gruesome knee injury he suffered against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game, he was arguably the best linebacker in the NFL. Even in his current state, Bowman is a very good two-down linebacker who uses his instincts and athleticism to attack ball carriers with bad intentions. Playing for both the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders last year, he combined on 127 tackles, had 1.5 sacks and made an interception. Needless to say, he’ll be signed before the summer is out.
Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver
The Baltimore Ravens cut Maclin this offseason, saving roughly $5 million in cap space. It wasn’t a surprising move, given Maclin’s declining production the past two seasons, both of which were marred by injuries. He hauled in 40 catches for 440 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games, so it’s clear Maclin can still be productive when he’s healthy, in the right situation. Because he’s coming off the two sub-par seasons, Maclin can likely be signed for the veteran’s minimum. With that in mind, we expect him to land on a roster before training camp.
Robert Ayers, defensive end
Ayers has been a solid producer his entire nine-year career. He was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, which saved the club $6 million in cap space. It was a logical move considering he’s not as much of an impact pass rusher as he was in his prime. Ayers had two sacks last year, along with 31 tackles and two forced fumbles. He’s still a very good rotational defensive lineman, however, and is especially solid against the run. He’ll get signed soon enough.
Dez Bryant, wide receiver
At this point, it really looks like Bryant needs to lower his expectations about how teams value him. He turned down a multi-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. And on Wednesday ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that deal was for roughly $7 million a year. He also noted that, according to his sources, no other team is willing to pay him anything close to that amount. The top scout in Dallas recently revealed the reason why the Cowboys released Bryant, and it’s not flattering to the receiver. Still, at the right price Bryant could be extremely valuable as a red-zone, possession receiver. If he lands in the right situation he could have a resurgent season and perhaps flip the script on how teams view him.
Eric Reid, safety
Based on what happened Wednesday, it seems highly likely that Reid will remain unsigned for the foreseeable future. He joined Colin Kaepernick by filing a collusion grievance against NFL owners, seven weeks after becoming a free agent in March. It’s not hard to see why. The one-time Pro Bowl safety was one of the best free agents at any position this year, yet he has barely gotten a nibble from NFL teams. The closest thing Reid has gotten to an opportunity to sign was with the Cincinnati Bengals, who reportedly shunned him due to concerns about him kneeling during the anthem as a form of protest against racial injustice in America.
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback
If NFL teams were basing their decisions on on-field merit, Colin Kaepernick would have been signed last year, and then again this year. His numbers speak for themselves — he’s one of the most dangerous dual-threat passers in the league, throwing 72 touchdowns and just 30 interceptions throughout his career. Before the San Francisco 49ers tanked in 2016, Kaepernick also had a 25-14 record as a starter and came up short by one play of winning a Super Bowl. We all know why Kaepernick isn’t signed. And we know why he likely won’t be any time soon. But it’s still worth pointing out that dozens of quarterbacks who have no chance of coming close to doing what he can do on the field are signed. And that’s a problem.