Every year at this time I get inquiries from readers/football fans about who their favorite team might sign as a Free Agent based on what they failed to acquire through early VFA and/or the Draft process. And my answer is pretty much always that the pickings are slim and most players are only band-aids. This year may be more sparse than any year I can recall. There are some “name” players” out there still looking for a team, but by and large most of them are older guys, past their primes and certainly not starter material. This means that in deciding to sign any of them, a team must remind themselves that they they are likely getting a one year stop-gap, and that player likely wants more money than he is now worth. Beware of the large up-front, bonus money for guys today who may just decide not to report at the end of July when Training Camps open. I have compiled a list of 30 players who might be worth a look for emergency roster repair. I have included their ages, in parentheses, since lack of longevity is key in the discussion when money is involved.
PEYTON BARBER RB (28) A decent add for a RB room, but probably not until teams have had a chance to see what their Rookies and young guys can do early in Camp.
ANTHONY BARR LB (30) Once a play making/athletic leader of the Vikings D. Had an injury in 2020 & he looked pretty average last season. Could be worth a look, but he will probably want serious money.
COLE BEASLEY WR (33) The little slot guy burned a few bridges with the BILLS organization, and missed playing time, due to his anti-vac stance, which he championed. And frankly, he is not as explosive as he was a few years ago. I am not sure where he fits.
ODELL BECKHAM WR (29) His age shouldn’t be an issue, but lately he can’t stay healthy & on the field. His diva-like presence has caused him to carry a “buyer-beware” sign around his neck. He’s rehabbing a knee, again, and won’t be ready for a Training Camp. He also won’t come cheaply. There is talk of the RAMS finding a way to sign him in the Fall, when he’s totally healthy. Sounds like RAMS logic.
JON BOSTIC ILB (31) BOSTIC fits the label of a “journeyman” player who is best on early downs and lacking a bit in coverage. Combine that with the over-30 thing and he may be waiting until a Pre-Season injury hits some team at LB.
LANDON COLLINS S (28) If fully healthy again, COLLINS could help some team looking for primarily an in-the-box S/LB hybrid. As a deep S he can hurt his team, which is why he’s on this list.
ERIC EBRON TE (29) He just doesn’t do enough as a blocker for many teams. And he can’t stay out on the field. Also, still has too many concentration drops. Those factors offset his ability to get open and run well.
ERIC FISHER OT (31) Was once the Top Pick in the whole NFL Draft. Had a decent run with the Chiefs. Tore his achilles late in 2020 season and failed to impress the Colts last year. But if he is healthier this year he could still be serviceable… for say the COLTS?
TREY FLOWERS ER/OB (29) His age helps him, especially if he settles for part-time player money. There are some rumors that his original pro team, the PATRIOTS, might make a run at him. It may depend on what MATT PATRICIA has to say to BELICHICK. After all, Patricia coached Flowers in Detroit.
ROB GRONKOWSKI TE Age is not the issue for a guy like GRONK, but his body is a bit worm down. Speculation seems to be running high that if the BUCS can save enough money under the CAP, he might come back to play with BRADY around mid-season if needed.
WILL FULLER WR (28) His age, or lack thereof, doesn’t matter much. He is still one of the fastest wideouts in the NFL. But he has always had the “dropsies” and has never played a full season as a pro.
JOE HADEN CB (33) The question for JOE is how much Father Time has caught up with him. Not many 33-year old CB in the League. IF STEELERS young guys fall flat during Camp they might re-open negotiations with him. Ditto for some would be Play-Off teams if youngster fail, or get hurt.
CHRIS HARRIS CB (33) See Haden, above. CHARGERS signed J.C. Jackson to replace HARRIS.
DONTE HIGHTOWER ILB (32) A great leader, who has never been a superior athlete. Injury and Covid concerns kept him out in 2021, and he looked slow and old last year. Great locker room leader if some of the Patriots youngsters disappoint in August. I don’t believe there is much of a market for him elsewhere.
T.Y. HILTON WR (32) HILTON now ranks 3rd all-time on the Colts receivers list. He was a VFA last year but chose to stay with his original team in Indy. The team seems to be lukewarm, attest, on bringing him back again this year.He still has enough speed and quicks to help this team. Now they just have to get together on the price.
BLAKE JARWIN TE (29) WITTEN retired and JARWIN was a big weapon until getting hurt. He played little last year, but SCHULTZ emerged as the best TE in Dallas. If he will work cheaply enough, and can pass a team physical, someone might sign him as Camps open.
JULIO JONES WR (33) A big physical guy who dominated the WR group for several years before injuries began to plague him. Titans traded for him last season and his play was so listless that they cut him before season’s end. For the money he’s likely to be offered he may just retire.
KEVIN KING CB (27) One of the “best” younger guys on this list, and the Packers might look to sign him if their young guys don’t work out. But he likely wants starter money, which he won’t get unless someone is desperate. Once a receiver gets even or behind him KING shows no ball skills and gets burned deep. He also has had recurring shoulder issues, which have made him unavailable to play way too often.
JERICK McKINNON RB (30) Good component for a RB room. Can run, and also catches well. Showed very well last season with the Chiefs as their top guys went down with injuries. Again, a guy who could get a sniff from a team unhappy with their Rookie additions once August rolls around.
CARL NASSIB DE/ER (29) NASSIB came out as gay last year and by the end of the season was an invisible man on the Raiders roster. Anyone who has heard his name in a football-sense this off-season, please raise your hand. Seems strange in a sport where his best athletic skills highly coveted.
JASON PIERRE-PAUL ER/OB (33) JPP might just be playing possum, not wanting to show up for a Training Camp in Florida heat at 33 and 10+-years in the League. But he was not among the dozen-plus guys who re-signed with the Bucs when BRADY un-retired. He like GRONK is the big mystery in BUCS world.
SHELDON RICHARDSON DL (31) A guy who seems to have been around longer than his age might indicate. Maybe his body & mind are telling him that same thing right now. Could be valuable, at the right price, in some team’s DL room. He can play anywhere along a 4-3 scheme DL and has some pass-rush to his game. May have multiple suitors, but value vs contract price may be very far apart.
JOE SCHOBERT LB (28) Something just doesn’t quite make sense in his unemployment right now. He has been tackling machine, and when I have watched he seems to drop into short area coverage at least OK. At his age I cannot believe he’s done in the League already.
NDAMUKONG SUH DT (35) Seems like SUH has been around quite a while, and age doesn’t lie. Many thought he might work something out with the BUCS to return, but last week’s signing of HICKS by the BUCS says not so. SUH can still play but not full-time, and not at an elite level. I smell another vet who will wait until injuries force a team to call his agent in September.
SHAMAR STEPHEN DT (31) A solid journeyman who can still help a team in their DL rotation. He can even play DE in a pinch. I will be surprised he’s not on a roster as pre-season games progress.
J.C. TRETTER OC (31) He can still play, but as has happened in the past, holding the post as chief NFLPA guy often leads to issues with management. Sooner or later he is called upon to issue letters to the press or player membership. He may be more likely to slide into a full-time job as DeMaurice Smith’s right hand man.
BRANDON WILLIAMS DT (33) The RAVENS just kind of let Brandon slide into VFA. He’s been a Raven since they drafted him 2013, and has been a block of granite. But at his current age the team drafted TRAVIS JONES of UConn as his apparent successor. A lot of wear on Brandon’s tires.
DARYL WILLIAMS OT (31) A Cap casualty for the BILLS, who have brought in younger, less expensive guys over the last 2 years. He might be primed for a new job spot if he wants one and the price is right.
TYRELL WILLIAMS WR (31) An undrafted Rookie for the Chargers who showed well early, and got a nice VFA contract from the Raiders. But then his career went south, and even the hapless LIONS let him go last year. He may just disappear from NFL circles, with perhaps an audition for an XFL job if he wants one next January.
K.J. WRIGHT OB (33) An underrated performer for the SeaHawks who played for the Raiders sparingly last year. He has already publicly declared a desire to play again for Seattle, but it may be too late. The 33-year old just may not fit in their rebuilding program.
As you can clearly see, the age factor cannot be ignored with many of these players. And for some, retirement may be the next thing we hear of them. But football is a rough business and it takes a large number of players get through the 18-week marathon that is the NFL schedule. We should see a dribble of familiar names over the next month, followed by many more personnel moves as Training Camps open up.
Next week I will endeavor to put together a list of guys currently toiling in the reborn USFL, who should get NFL contracts next month.