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Injuries, coaching changes, stuck behind stars—there are many reasons players will get overlooked when the market opens next week. Here are 12 with upside at a low cost. Plus good landing spots for cut vets Vince Wilfork and Andre Johnson

By Greg A. Bedard
March 06, 2015

You’ve read my take on the Top 100 unrestricted free agents and their best fits. Today we’ll bring you something a little different.

(Quick aside about the Top 100: fits are not a projection. They are the best scheme/talent/comfort/cap fit. This is not a mock draft, so some teams will take multiple bites at the same positional apple because they are so desperate. I have no idea who will ultimately end up where; I’m not a crystal ball. So please stop tweeting, “You don’t think [Free Agent X] fits with my team?” Plus, your team could be signing street free agents. I didn’t rank those. The list would change by the hour, and they can sign at any time.)

Below is my All-Moneyball Free Agency Team. These are the unrestricted free agents who could prove to be the best bang for the buck for the signing team. Most have a reason for being on this list (usually injury) but these guys have upside on short money.

OFFENSE

QB: Matt Moore, Miami (Age 31)

Now that Shaun Hill is 35, he has to be replaced as “quarterback I’d love to have as my backup.” The crown is now passed to Moore, who has been very underrated in his career. The man completed more than 60 percent of his passes with a 16-to-9 TD-to-INT ratio as Dolphins’ 2011 starter when he played under two head coaches. Went 6-3 down the stretch. Moore is a gamer who is the perfect backup and can win starts if put in that situation.

RB: Stevan Ridley, New England (Age 26)

The Weight of Free-Agency Expectations
 
Before he went on ‘The Biggest Loser’ and dropped 124 pounds, Scott Mitchell was a big winner in the early days of NFL free agency. He retraces his journey from backing up an all-time great in Miami to battling pressure as a high-priced starter in Detroit to facing his greatest challenge in retirement—on national TV.

FULL STORY
He’ll be extremely cheap coming off ACL surgery and he’s a darn good running back when healthy. Runs hard, has been well coached and will hit the right holes.

TE: Tony Moeaki, Seattle (Age 28)

Looked to be burgeoning two-way tight end star, with 47 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns (along with good blocking) in his rookie season of 2010. But injuries derailed him in 2011 and ’13. If he can regain his health, he could be a steal.

WR: Leonard Hankerson, Washington (Age 26)

Had 30 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games in 2013 before LCL surgery put him on the sidelines through the 2014 season (one game played, no catches). He was an ascending player before the injury and admitted he’s still coming back. 

OT: Jermey Parnell, Dallas (29)

Not a lot to pick from on this list, but this former basketball player has developed into a decent right tackle even though he’s still learning the nuances of the game.

G: Joe Berger, Minnesota (Age 33)

Veteran journeyman did a nice job filling in for the Vikings last season and would like a big raise. Probably won’t happen given his age, but a smart team will ink him at more than the minimum.

C: Tim Barnes, St. Louis (Age 27)

Only played a handful of snaps in 2014, but showed some potential with four starts in ’13. It could be argued Barnes outplayed veteran Scott Wells when given a chance.

DEFENSE

Draft Projections
 
 
NFL film breakdown maven Andy Benoit and college football expert Andy Staples combine their knowledge to peg which prospects fit best with which teams.
 
AFC East: A QB to Gang Green? A new Wilfork in New England?
 
AFC North: A new target for Flacco? A pass-rusher joins the Steel Curtain?
 
AFC South: New QBs for Houston, Tennessee?
 
Edge rusher: Akeem Ayers, New England (Age 26)

Flashed early in his Titans career but got caught up in scheme/coaching changes. Showed enough after trade to Patriots that he can play smart as an edge player in just about any scheme with the right coaching staff.

Interior lineman: Kenrick Ellis, New York Jets (Age 27)

Stuck behind three great defensive linemen with the Jets (Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison), Ellis has showed in limited snaps that he can be a very good run defender with upside.

LB: Mason Foster, Tampa Bay (Age 27)

Injuries and a bad scheme fit derailed his 2014 campaign, but Foster is a good middle linebacker who is known for being a great communicator in the middle of a defense.

CB: Walter Thurmond, New York Giants (Age 28)

Showed good inside/outside versatility in winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks but had to settle on a one-year deal with the Giants. A torn pec muscle ended his ’14 season quickly. A good player who shouldn’t cost much.

S: Jeron Johnson, Seattle (Age 27)

Stuck behind two All-Pro safeties (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor), Johnson hasn’t received much playing time but has been solid when called upon. He’s on the smallish side (5-10), but he’s tough and extremely smart. Could help the right scheme.

NICKEL PACKAGE

The Trade That Rocked The NFL
 
LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso?! The Eagles and Bills reportedly are poised to pull off a stunning deal that shows how serious Rex Ryan is about winning now in Buffalo and how little Chip Kelly values the RB position in Philly, Peter King writes.

FULL STORY
1. Don’t understand all the hubbub, outside of fantasy football, about the reported Eagles-Bills trade involving running back LeSean McCoy and linebacker Kiko Alonso. How much more evidence do we need that the running back position is completely devalued? A healthy McCoy, one year removed from being the league’s leading rusher, was traded straight-up for a middle linebacker coming off knee surgery. With the degree to which a running back’s job is split up these days, no one really cares about having a top talent at the position in the NFL. Teams would rather spend that money elsewhere. One of these days the general public will come to accept this.

2. Not sure why the Texans told Andre Johnson (according to him) that they envisioned him as a 40-catch player going forward, which is why he requested a trade. With his great route running, hands and durability, Johnson catches 85 passes in his sleep, even with terrible quarterback play (as he had last season in Houston). I can understand the Texans not wanting Johnson for $10 million at age 34, but he’s still a very good receiver who is going to help some team. The Chiefs should run to sign Johnson, somehow.

3. Really like the move by the 49ers to add Darnell Dockett, who was released by the Cardinals. He’s coming off a torn ACL, but Dockett is worth the risk as one of the league’s most impactful defensive linemen. Should signal the end of Justin Smith’s time with the 49ers.

4. Looks like the end of the line for Vince Wilfork with the Patriots. Glad it happened this year, rather than last year when the Patriots were looking to trim Wilfork’s salary as he was coming back from the first major injury of his career. Wilfork rightfully was offended, but the two sides reached a sensible agreement. A year ago it felt like the Patriots were trying to take advantage of a player who had done everything asked of him. This year it’s just a business decision that both sides understand. And Wilfork has more football left. He’d be a great addition for several teams, including the Broncos, Seahawks, Texans, Browns, Bears, Packers, Steelers and Falcons.

5. As we get going into free agency, I implore fans out there not to rip players if they take more money to play elsewhere. These players only have a finite amount of time to make their money playing this brutal sport. They should be allowed to make business decisions just like the owners and teams they play for. If it’s okay for a team to cut a player because he’s making too much money, then it should be okay for a player to get his fair market value where that’s being offered.


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