Last week, teams became unburdened by the prospect of having a free agent signing count against the following year’s compensatory pick formula. Many times, this signals the floodgates opening on the secondary market, though the current landscape is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
Injured players cannot be examined by potential employers. Coaches are buried, attempting to tread water through virtual classroom sessions. There is a backlog of undrafted free agents and a potential glut of incoming talent in the supplemental draft that will also increase the available talent pool.
That said, some names will not remain available for long once the NFL world pivots toward normal business. Here’s a look at the best players available, position-by-position, and where they might fit in …
The 2015 MVP and former No. 1 overall draft pick will not only wait for the right (starting) opportunity, but will wait for other teams to get a good look at him before they’ll make a long-term commitment. As many have pointed out, it would seem to be a missed opportunity for a team not to sign Newton knowing that, eventually, he will get back to full strength and reclaim his place as a top 10-12 quarterback in the NFL. Even if he did not fit onto your roster, his trade value would more than make up for the roster space he’d take up and the financial commitment you’d likely be spending anyway.
Best landing spots: Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee, Arizona, Tampa Bay
Other quarterbacks still on the market: Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles, Mike Glennon, Cody Kessler, Trevor Siemien
Devonta Freeman was let go back in March, a casualty of the great running back depression of spring 2020. He was eventually replaced in Atlanta by Todd Gurley, another back who signed a lucrative, long-term deal and was eventually clipped as a cost-saving measure. Freeman is the highest-profile free agent left at the position when accounting for everything (sample size, age, mileage, etc.) but will likely have to wait out the training camp process. There were 18 running backs drafted in 2020 by 16 different teams, establishing a bit of a queue and pecking order for Freeman to hop into.
Best landing spots: N.Y. Jets, Jacksonville, L.A. Chargers, Tampa Bay, San Francisco
Other running backs still on the market: Carlos Hyde, LeSean McCoy, Lamar Miller
PAUL RICHARDSON, TAYLOR GABRIEL
It isn’t the worst market if you’re looking for a budget field-stretcher or general jack-of-all-trades receiver. Richardson was plagued by injuries in Washington but, at his best, was a middle-tier home run option (703 yards, six touchdowns, 55% catch rate in his final year with the Seahawks) and could slide into a role for a team still in search of vertical proficiency. Gabriel, meanwhile, finished a two-year run in Chicago where he caught nearly 100 balls on 141 targets and also contributed in the running game.
Best landing spots for Richardson: Seattle, Green Bay, N.Y. Jets
Best landing spots for Gabriel: Philadelphia, Dallas, Miami
Other receivers still on the market: Josh Gordon, Demaryius Thomas, Chester Rodgers, Tavon Austin, Delanie Walker (tight end)
Having just turned 38, Jason Peters already has a stellar, Hall of Fame worthy career behind him. That said, it doesn’t seem like he’s done yet, as Peters could be in play for a handful of teams looking for an immediate fix at the position. Teammate Albert Breer listed a few in particular in his most recent MMQB column.
Best landing spots for Peters: Philadelphia, Denver, L.A. Chargers
Other offensive linemen still on the market: Ronald Leary, Justin Britt, Cameron Erving, Marshall Newhouse, Kelvin Beachum
JADEVEON CLOWNEY, EVERSON GRIFFEN
Clowney headlines a position in an interesting holding pattern. There is no shortage of good pass rushers on the market, but a bit of a glut at the position. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the the EDGE market come back to earth a little bit after a Khalil Mack-aided surge. Clowney seems content to wait out the situation, which, for a player in his particular spot (with a history of injuries) might not be the worst thing. Griffen, who recently told NFL.com that he’s emerged from the other side of life in a sober house following a string of incidents in Minnesota, could also be a valuable late camp addition. Griffen, who will turn 33 in December, has 57 sacks since 2014.
Best landing spots for Clowney: Seattle, N.Y. Giants, New England, N.Y. Jets
Best landing spots for Griffen: New England, Minnesota, Tennessee, Oakland
MIKE DANIELS, DAMON HARRISON
Two gold-standard run stuffers now in their 30s, both Harrison and Daniels could still add some valuable depth to a team that has holes on their defensive interior. Teammates last year in Detroit, Daniels played nine games while Harrison logged 15 with two sacks, three forced fumbles and three tackles for loss. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Harrison return to form, given his steady play and the emotional weight of what seemed like a miserable tour in Detroit.
Best landing spots for Daniels: Dallas, Cleveland, Houston
Best landing spots for Harrison: Houston, Indianapolis, New England
Other defensive tackles still on the market: Akeem Spence, Jarran Reid, Xavier Williams
OLB: MARKUS GOLDEN, NIGEL BRADHAM
ILB: MYCHAL KENDRICKS, ALEC OGLETREE
If you’re pawing around the linebacker market at the moment, it may not be your finest hour. The position is specializing rapidly in the NFL and unless there are teams with hyper-specific needs they did not address in the draft, it seems they’ll take their chances with the influx of new college talent.
Teams that need LB help: L.A. Rams, L.A. Chargers, N.Y. Jets, Cincinnati, Carolina
Other linebackers still on the market: Manti Te’o, Stephone Anthony, Darron Lee, Mark Barron, Clay Matthews, Anthony Chickillo
There’s a decent amount of depth at the cornerback class this year, arguably headlined by Ryan, the former Patriots and Titans standout. Ryan had four interceptions and 18 pass breakups last year, along with 4.5 sacks in Tennessee’s versatile defense. As it stands at the moment, a relatively settled roster situation across the league, coupled with Ryan’s financial desires, could be causing his eventual commitment to stall. There’s no reason to believe Ryan is still sidelined on opening day as a glut of capable cornerbacks are essential to almost any modern defensive scheme.
Best landing spots for Ryan: Washington, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, N.Y. Jets, Indianapolis, Kansas City
Other cornerbacks still on the market: Dre Kirkpatrick, Prince Amukamara, Eli Apple, Trumaine Johnson
ERIC REID, ERIC BERRY
Eric Berry’s reemergence onto the scene could be nothing, or it could be a fascinating development. It’s hard to forget how singularly vital Berry was to some of Kansas City’s recent defenses, how he could take over a game on his own. Eric Reid, who was let go by the new Matt Rhule regime in Carolina, was a super-productive 16-game starter in 2019, logging 130 tackles, four sacks and six pass breakups. While on-field production was never the central issue for teams afraid of players speaking their mind, it would be disappointing to see Reid on the sidelines for much longer.
Best landing spots for Berry: Indianapolis, Dallas, Cleveland, Atlanta
Best landing spots for Reid: Philadelphia, Dallas, L.A. Rams
Other safeties still on the market: Reshad Jones, Morgan Burnett, Tony Jefferson
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