Santonio Holmes, Jermichael Finley among NFL's best available free agents
Rare is it that the NFL news cycle ever slows very drastically, but this period between the draft and training camp is as close to dog days as the league gets. However, there are still some recognizable names floating on the free-agent market, and with teams evaluating their rosters after the draft, a few of those remaining players figure to land opportunities in the coming days.
While the superstars have all been spoken for, several potential veteran acquisitions could step in and challenge for playing time. We take a look at 10 of the best free agents lingering on the market and where they might end up:
Felix Jones, RB
Best fits: Chicago, Minnesota, Philadelphia
Jones is still just 27 years old, even though it feels like he has been in the league forever, so there should be a little tread left on the tires. Any role for him in 2014 will be similar to the one he filled for Pittsburgh in 2013: No. 2 or 3 back, capable of handling a few catches/carries and a start or two in a pinch. Jones had nine receptions for Pittsburgh last season and averaged 35.7 per year in his final three seasons in Dallas, so he could help as a third-down back.
No team really leaps off the page as desperately needing Jones (a theme that will carry over to just about every guy on this list). The three listed -- Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia -- all could use one more piece of veteran depth and would be able to utilize Jones' pass-catching abilities.
Santonio Holmes, WR
Best fits: Carolina, Cleveland, St. Louis
The 30-year-old Holmes has been breaking down rather rapidly, having played just 15 total games over the past two seasons; he had 23 catches for 456 yards and a touchdown with the Jets last year. Holmes is far from a No. 1 receiver at this stage in his career, so his fits include teams in slightly desperate wide receiver situations and coaches who have a background with Holmes.
The Browns and Rams fall into the latter category (though the Browns also have a foot in the former spot, despite signing Earl Bennett and Miles Austin last week). New Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine and current Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer each made stops in New York during Holmes' time there. The Rams could use another red-zone threat -- it's debatable whether Holmes still fits that description. Bennett and Austin should play out of the slot, if possible, so another outside receiver would help round out the Browns' depth chart.
As for Carolina, the dream scenario is that a veteran receiver comes in and takes Kelvin Benjamin under his wing. Holmes does not scream "mentor".
Best fits: Arizona, Atlanta, New England
The Packers seem inclined to bring back Finley if he receives the medical thumbs-up following last season's devastating neck injury. There is still room for him in the Green Bay offense, but a fresh start somewhere else may not be the worst plan. Atlanta hasn't found anything even close to a Tony Gonzalez replacement, while the Patriots still are shy a real No. 2 tight end threat alongside Rob Gronkowski. The Cardinals did draft Troy Niklas in Round 2, but a healthy Finley would be an upgrade on incumbent starter Rob Housler.
Best fits: Arizona, Miami, Seattle
Pro Football Focus' No. 5-rated guard last season, Wharton reportedly was "leaning" toward retirement ... though the May 19 birthday boy may simply be angling to skip a portion of training camp before latching on somewhere. Clearly, there are still a few teams that could use his proven blocking talents along the interior. Arizona and Miami are obvious potential landing spots for any viable starting guard, as both franchises are still thin there despite attempting upgrades. Count Seattle as a wild card, but nabbing an overlooked player on the cheap would be sticking to the script for that organization.
Eric Winston, RT
Best fits: Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville
Between this offseason and last, the 30-year-old Winston (who is also the new NFLPA president) has been linked to all of the teams mentioned here. All three may head into training camp with unsettled situations at right tackle, and in that case, the durable Winston ought to get a phone call or two before long.
Andre Carter, DE
Best fits: Denver, New England, Seattle
When it comes to mid-30s pass-rushers headed toward their final contract, the teams that make the most sense usually are those with Super Bowl aspirations and the need for a little extra depth off the edge. Hence the three clubs listed here, all of which are among the title favorites for 2013. Carter could walk into the sunset after one or two more runs as a situational contributor.
Kevin Williams, DT
Best fits: Indianapolis, New York Giants, Oakland
Williams, who turns 34 in August and has 12 NFL seasons under his belt, has been adamant in his resistance to playing nose tackle, which limits his options. The Colts did not address their lack of depth up front in the draft, meaning that a presence like Williams, with just five missed games in his entire career, might be in the offing.
The Giants, meanwhile, lost Linval Joseph to Williams' old team, Minnesota. A swap would provide New York with meaningful depth. Same goes for Oakland, which has shown no hesitation in signing aging defenders this offseason for short-term boosts. Williams might only give the Raiders a year or two, but they could use more help along the D-line.
One team off the beaten path here? Detroit. If either Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley somehow ends up being moved before the regular season, Detroit will find itself in rather dire need of a plug-and-play guy.
Drayton Florence, CB
Best fits: Carolina, Pittsburgh, Tennessee
Reading the tea leaves points to Florence exiting Carolina, but both sides may want to rethink that plan. Florence thrived behind Carolina's dominant front seven last season, and the Panthers are not exactly overfilled with cornerback talent. Pittsburgh and Tennessee are on the laundry list of clubs that will likely scour free agency for secondary help during camp, and Florence would fit the bill as a nickel back.
Buffalo's not listed as a fit because of its depth at corner, but Florence did spend three seasons there from 2009-11. He also played for new Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Detroit.
Asante Samuel, CB
Best fits: Baltimore, Detroit, Houston
Again, just pick any team with even a semblance of need at cornerback, and it's not a big reach to see Samuel signing there. The Falcons cut him loose back in February to save some cap space, and Samuel has drawn minimal interest since. Coming off a rough season at age 32, it's no surprise why.
The Lions were rumored to be sniffing around Samuel back when Philadelphia dealt him to Atlanta. This time around, as with Baltimore and Houston, they could bring him in as cheap competition in the secondary.
Best fits: Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City
A solid if unspectacular safety option for the teams that failed to address the position earlier -- and the lack of options in the draft left a couple possible suitors. Gregory started 12 games for New England in 2012 and then another 11 last season, making 79 tackles in his Patriots swan song. On any of the teams listed above, Gregory would be able to compete for a stating gig during the preseason.[si_video id="video_6FC4BE21-D618-FFED-9097-04E351110C6B"]