The best players still available as free agency's second week begins
- The initial crush of free-agent signings has subsided, but there's still a lot of talent left on the market, particularly for teams in need of reinforcements within the front seven.
Aided by the “legal tampering” window earlier last week, the NFL’s free agency frenzy had died down by the time Saturday arrived. Most of the big names are off the board, but there are still quality players looking for new homes.
Below, we check in on the best remaining free agents:
Dont’a Hightower, LB: (UPDATE: Hightower has re-signed with the Patriots) There was a lot of chatter around the Patriots’ Pro Bowl linebacker over the weekend, but as of early Monday morning he still had not found a new home (or returned to his old one). The Patriots opted not to franchise tag him at a price of $14.5 million, but Hightower also does not seem to have found the red-hot market he was hoping for as a free agent. Perhaps his growing injury history is holding him back some—he missed three games last season and a combined eight in 2014 and ’15. When he’s out there, though, Hightower offers exceptional versatility. He’s especially good against the run and as a blitzer up the middle.
Johnathan Hankins, DT: GMs who waited out the initial rush at defensive tackle have to be smiling right now. Not only is Hankins still unsigned, but so too are Dontari Poe (Chiefs), Bennie Logan (Eagles) and the just-released Roy Miller (Jaguars), among others.
Hankins’s best season came back in 2014, when he racked up 51 tackles and 7.0 sacks. He missed seven games to injury in ’15 and then wasn’t quite as effective last season when he moved further from the ball to accommodate Damon Harrison. The ex-Giant should be looking for a spot where he can play at nose tackle, because that’s his best fit. The longer he lingers on the market, though, the better chance there is that the Giants find a way to bring him back.
Kevin Minter, LB: It took Minter most of two seasons to find his footing after the Cardinals made him the No. 45 pick in 2013. But he has been a solid inside linebacker for each of the past two years, averaging 87.5 tackles and chipping in 4.0 total sacks for good measure. He played 1,000 snaps last season, as well. This is the type of quality addition teams can make in Week 2 of free agency: relatively cost-effective but impactful.
Kamar Aiken, WR: The receiver market might hit something of a freeze until the draft, because it’s down to complementary-role players—Brian Quick, Anquan Boldin, Andrew Hawkins, etc.
Aiken falls under that category, too, although he can handle much more work than the Ravens found for him last season. To wit: His 2015 season, in which he caught 75 passes for 944 yards. He was Joe Flacco’s go-to option that year out of necessity, but he’d be a better option for a team with an established No. 1 WR already in place.
Brandon Carr, CB: His (likely former) teammate Morris Claiborne is the more talented free agent. Carr is the more reliable investment. Whereas the former has not played more than 11 games since his rookie season of 2012, Carr, remarkably, has suited up for 144 of a possible 144 regular-season outings during his career. The Cowboys overpaid for Carr last time he hit the market (five years, $50 million)—he never reached the expectations such a deal brought. Now 30, Carr will be more of a bargain this time around.
And a few more names to consider ...
Jay Cutler, QB: He’s a better version of what Ryan Fitzpatrick was to the 2016 free-agent market. In others words, a veteran QB with arm talent but also a rather obvious ceiling.
Colin Kaepernick, QB: Between the 49ers’ miserable season and Kaepernick’s time in the political spotlight, it went overlooked just how well he played down the stretch. Teams hoping to catch lightning in a bottle at QB certainly could do worse.
Adrian Peterson, RB: The name is bigger than the game at this point. He did lead the league in rushing in 2015, but he looked out of gas in his brief 2016 showing (37 carries for 72 yards). While there’s still production to be had in Peterson, he’s an aging RB (32 this month) with almost 2,500 career carries on the tires.
Jamaal Charles, RB: Charles remains a dynamic slash-and-dash running back when he’s healthy. But there’s the rub: He has played just eight total games the past two seasons, and he turned 30 in December.
Rex Burkhead, RB: (UPDATE: Burkhead has signed with the Patriots) Just needs a chance to be a featured player on offense. When pressed into duty for the Bengals last season, Burkhead averaged 4.6 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception.
Michael Floyd, WR: Floyd won a Super Bowl ring (even though he was inactive for the game), then almost immediately after began serving a short jail term on a DUI charge. He might be looking to prove himself on a one-year deal.
Jared Cook, TE: Aaron Rodgers really appreciated Cook’s efforts last season, which is a strong endorsement. Keeping Cook motivated is always a chore. His talent level, though, is why teams keep trying.
Nick Mangold, C: The O-line market has been picked over, so all that remains are veterans hunting for multi-year deals. Mangold might not get more than two seasons, since he’s 33 and coming off a year hindered by injuries. But he still can start in this league.
Connor Barwin, OLB: A report by ESPN’s Adam Caplan had Barwin visiting the Bengals, which is a bit of a surprise since Barwin is a better 3–4 OLB than a 4–3 DE. Either way, the 30-year-old still can get to the QB.
Dontari Poe, DT: The wear and tear Poe endured—especially to his back—thanks to heavy usage by the Chiefs is helping to hold his free-agent interest down. At worst, however, he’s a potentially dominant two-down defender.
Bennie Logan, DT: (UPDATE: Bennie Logan signs with the Chiefs) He’s sliding a bit under the radar because of names like Poe, Hankins and Brandon Williams (who re-signed in Baltimore). Another run stuffer who occasionally chips in with a sack.
Lardarius Webb, CB/S: Webb’s transition from corner to safety last season produced mixed results. He should be better in Year Two of that experiment, if his next team wants to keep him at his new position. Versatility helps.
Bradley McDougald, S: His ideal fit could be on a team that uses three-safety looks on a frequent basis, because McDougald can play in the box or deep but isn’t necessarily a standout in either role.