The biggest prizes of this year’s free-agent class were claimed weeks ago, but there could be some help out there yet. From Ryan Fitzpatrick to Arian Foster to Pierre Thomas, these are the top remaining NFL free agents of 2016.
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Offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who started every game for the Super Bowl champion Broncos, did not sign with the team until May 29 of last year. Fellow tackle Gosder Cherilus, a 13-game starter in Tampa Bay, did not ink his contract until August 17. James Jones, the Packers’ eventual team leader in receiving yards and TDs (and a free agent again this off-season), did not make his way to Green Bay until September 7.
In other words, a general manager’s work is never done. Teams are constantly tweaking their rosters, with the time between the draft and Week 1 typically featuring a non-stop stream of transactions.
The biggest prizes of this year’s free-agent class were claimed weeks ago, but there could be some help out there yet. Here are 15 intriguing players still on the market:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB
Fitzpatrick is 33 years old with 11 seasons and nearly 3,500 pass attempts under his belt. There are no riddles to solve at this point—he is what he is. Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey did coax career highs in yards (3,905) and TDs (31) last season but it was hardly a flawless showing.
All that said, he is a decent, experienced option in a QB market that long ago ran bare. He’s not going to touch the $18 million per season deals handed to Sam Bradford and Brock Osweiler this off-season, but he does have value at a lower price tag. The Jets seem to have figured that out, hence their refusal to budge on Fitzpatrick’s contract demands. Odds are, he winds up back in New York. If not, there are enough unsettled quarterback situations around the league for Fitzpatrick to find a shot.
Anquan Boldin, WR
Boldin, 36 on Oct. 3, still wants to play. His wait on a (likely) new home should not be much longer now that teams have their receiver depth charts more or less set. Boldin never was going to be a priority free agent this off-season, but he could push for his eighth 1,000-yard season in the right situation. Heck, he caught 69 passes for 789 yards last year while missing two games and playing on the league’s worst offense.
Brandon Boykin, CB
The Eagles traded away Boykin for a mid-round draft pick, the Steelers kept him glued to the bench for several weeks last season and now the Josh Norman-less Panthers cut him despite a cheap contract. So, there has to be more than meets the eye here. Still, when Boykin has had a chance to play, he has been a highly effective slot corner. A GM out there will give the 25-year-old another gig.
Leon Hall, CB
Another member of the slot-corner fraternity, Hall reportedly underwent back surgery once Cincinnati’s 2015 season ended. Add that to his age (31) and two prior Achilles tears and the result is an extended trip into free agency. Nevertheless, Hall has been linked to an ever-growing number of teams and remains, when healthy, a very steady performer against both the run and pass.
Walter Thurmond, S
Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reported two months ago that Thurmond, 28, might be considering retirement. While that would be a surprise with Thurmond coming off a career year, the ex-Eagle does have a checkered injury history. If he does want to give it another go, his 2015 performance, when he shifted from corner to safety, only bolsters his standing.
Dwight Freeney, OLB
Freeney did not sign with Arizona until October last season, then delivered 8.0 sacks in 11 games plus another in the playoffs. So there should be no rush on his end. He is a pass rush-only option at this stage of his career—87% of his snaps came vs. the pass last season, per Pro Football Focus. He’s still effective.
Donte Whitner, S
It now has been two weeks since Whitner had this exchange with a fan on Twitter:
@stevensutton0 🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿 soon— DonteHitner31 (@DonteWhitner) May 4, 2016
He remains a free agent, so there could be extended negotiations going on there. If not the Rams, then bank on another team scooping up Whitner, who was unexpectedly cut by the Browns early last month. The 30-year-old scuffled last season (who didn’t on that Cleveland defense?) but still averaged 93 tackles over his two Cleveland campaigns.
Arian Foster, RB
When will Foster be ready for game action again? How confident will his new team be in his health when he is? Still rehabbing the Achilles tear that ended his 2015 season in October, the 29-year-old Foster has ample NFL success on his resume to use as a pitch when he’s ready. The days of him being counted on as a No. 1 back are over, though.
Danny Lansanah, LB
The two-down linebacker is starting to go the way of fullback, squeezed out by the evolution of NFL offenses. Lansanah, 30, realistically should come off the field on passing downs or when the opposition spreads the field, but he did pick off three passes during his breakout 2014 season. Even in a limited role, he will wind up on a 53-man roster.
Randy Starks, DT
For about seven or eight seasons now, Starks has been among the most underrated players in football. He did show signs of fading during the 2014-15 seasons, first in Miami and then Cleveland, but remains a reliable rotational interior defender.
Louis Vasquez, G
Vasquez was a Pro Bowler in 2013, his first season after hopping ship from San Diego to Denver. While he did not maintain that level of play in 2014 or ’15, he was a full-time starter for the Super Bowl champs. Still just 29 and now with 100-plus appearances, Vasquez is the type of veteran who signs in June or July and then locks down a first-team role by August.
Pierre Thomas, RB
Thomas learned firsthand last season how the NFL views running backs once they hit 30 years of age—he was not signed anywhere until November, when San Francisco came calling, then finished out 2015 with Washington. Another long wait could be on the horizon in 2016. Even so, Thomas still can contribute as a passing-down back and he has averaged 4.6 yards per carry during his career.
Will Beatty, OT
Few tackles of note remain on the market, which means any teams still looking are either out of luck or will wait until cuts happen. The 31-year-old Beatty could rise as an X-factor from that muck. He missed the entire 2015 season due to multiple injuries: a torn pec out of camp and a shoulder injury that required rotator cuff surgery late. His recovery timetable is TBD, but multiple teams reached out earlier this off-season. Beatty started 47 games at left tackle for the Giants from 2012–14.
Kevin Williams, DT
The Saints’ defense, if we can call it that, was shredded to the tune of a league-worst 29.8 points allowed per game last season. Lost amid the carnage was that Williams turned in a useful performance. Pro Football Focus ranked him 33rd among 123 interior defenders, one spot back of Kansas City’s Dontari Poe. He will turn 35 in August, so this could be the end of the line, but a team needing help vs. the run could do worse.
Chris Canty, DE
Speaking of linemen who can stand up against the run, Canty has done so effectively throughout his long career. The pressing issue—aside from his age (33)—is that he has been unable to stay healthy. Canty missed seven games in both 2012 and ’15 and another five in 2014. He should come cheap, after the Ravens declined his $2.15 million option for the coming season.