With OTAs underway and the offseason beginning its lethargic crawl to the finish line -- where real, genuine football awaits like a cooler of Gatorade on a hot summer's sideline -- there's not a whole lotta meat left on the bones of the free agency market. Teams have addressed most of their needs through either the draft or the initial wave of free agency, and the majority of big name veterans have already secured roster spots.
So it now becomes desperation time for any active players not yet assigned a team-branded helmet. Any veterans still wading around the free agency pool will have to reevaluate their stock, and many will need to take smaller contracts than they're comfortable with if they want to play in the NFL in 2017.
But there are a couple handfuls of very talented players who slipped through the cracks and still haven't found a new home. And that's a real shame, because all of the players listed below deserve the chance to suit up again. Hopefully, once managers across the NFL come to their senses, these guys will get scooped up and have another opportunity to lace up their cleats.
15 Vincent Jackson, WR - Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco may be a great quarterback, but you have to give the poor guy a decent set of hands to throw to. With Steve Smith Jr. officially retired, that leaves just Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman as the only battle-tested receivers on the roster. Vincent Jackson's time as a top-tier NFL receiver is over, but if he's able to stay healthy, there's no reason he couldn't come in to provide some much-needed insurance for the Ravens' feather-light receiving squad.
We saw what a jump to Baltimore could do for a receiver's career last year when Wallace racked up 72 receptions for over 1,000 yards. (His numbers about half that the previous year with the Vikings.) Jackson's numbers dipped significantly over the past couple of seasons thanks to knee injuries, as well as new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's reluctance to use him, but if there's any diesel fuel left in the tank, there's no doubt Flacco and coach John Harbaugh can figure out a way to get it pumping.
14 DeAngelo Williams, RB - Detroit Lions
No team needs a workhorse running back right now. The draft was thick with them, and veterans like Adrian Peterson and LeGarrette Blount have plugged any remaining needs for teams without an RB1. Besides, with few exceptions, modern NFL backfields rely less on one player running the show. (Just look at the cavalry the Patriots are employing on the running back depth chart.)
But DeAngelo Williams proved in 2015 that, even as an older player, he could still take the reigns and stuff the ball down a defense's throat when he needed to. There may not be a ton of gas left in the tank, but a reasonable one-year deal might provide the offense with enough balance to finally get Matthew Stafford deeper into the playoffs.
While it's usually favorable to go young at running back and bet on upside, the Lions just need someone who can run the damn ball. Nebraska wrecking ball Ameer Abdullah can't stay healthy, and Theo Riddick is more of a converted wide receiver than a true running back. Detroit needs someone who can run between the tackles, and Zach Zenner just isn't cutting it.
13 Sam Shields, CB - Arizona Cardinals
Until his injury in Week 1 of last season, Sam Shields was the closest thing Green Bay had to a shut-down corner. Unfortunately, Shields never returned to the field after suffering his fifth career concussion, and the Packs' secondary fell to pieces without him. One year removed from his prime, it's not a matter of whether or not Shields can play at a high level, but whether a team is willing to take a risk on his concussion history and, perhaps more importantly, whether Shields should risk his long-term health for another chance.
Since Shields made it clear after being cut that he has no intentions of retiring, Arizona could benefit from his presence in the secondary. To be clear, no one's questioning that the Cardinals have been dominant against the pass in recent years, but with Tony Jefferson, Calais Campbell, and D.J. Swearinger all out the door, they don't have room for poor cornerback play opposite Patrick Peterson. Even if Shields' performance dips, he'd still be an upgrade over the Cardinals' current options.
12 Jairus Byrd, S - Tennessee Titans
In 2016, the Titans gave up the third-most passing yards to opposing quarterbacks, so shoring up their secondary is an absolute necessity heading into this season. Curiously, in a draft loaded with corners and safeties, Tennessee only nabbed one guy to stick in the secondary: USC corner Adoree' Jackson. Then again, that might be because the team picked up a solid cast of shut-down players prior to the draft, including former Patriots' CB Logan Ryan and former Jaguars' safety Jonathan Cyprien.
Still, with veteran difference-maker Jason McCourty gone, Tennessee could use a little extra insurance in the middle of the field to make things a easier on those untested outside corners. Byrd had 82 combined tackles and a pair of interceptions with the Saints last year, and the 30-year-old could bolster an already impressive unit for a reasonable price.
11 Jeremy Maclin, WR - Buffalo Bills
In a contract year, Tyrod Taylor has found himself with an overwhelming dearth of weapons to throw the ball to. Sammy Watkins is stellar when he's on the field and healthy, but that's been an extreme rarity up to this point. The rest of the Bills' wide receiving group is a who's who of "who the hell is that", which means the guy set up to get the most receptions this year is probably LeSean McCoy.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, decided to roll with a youthful group at the wide receiver position and cut 29-year-old Jeremy Maclin to save a cool $11 million in cap room. Despite recording career low numbers in Kansas City last season, Maclin is just one year removed from notching 1,000+ yards and 8 TDs, which are impressive numbers for anyone catching passes from checkdown specialist like Alex Smith. He's played well both in the slot and on the outside, so the Bills could use him however they choose, depending on how the rest of the unproven receivers pan out.
10 Jay Cutler, QB - Los Angeles Rams
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jay Cutler is technically "retired." For now. But how confident are you that Jay Cutler, a man with the general demeanor of a tortoise who overdid it with his pain meds, will excel in the broadcast booth? Besides, according to his own statement, Cutler doesn't know if "retirement is the right word" and that no one "really retires from the NFL."
Supposing he'd be open to return to the field for the right price, the Rams seem like the best fit. Jared Goff's rookie season in L.A. was so full of growing pains it deserves to be edited into an after-school special, but the hope is that he'll make a substantial jump in his second year. Still, if he's unable to step up his game in a big way this season, the Rams don't have a chance at the playoffs. L.A. has some decent receivers on the roster, but they need someone who can sling the ball down the field and tap into their big play potential.
Also, judging from his offseason vacation photos, Cutler probably wouldn't mind living in a warm city with quick access to the beach.
9 Nick Mangold, C - Green Bay Packers
With much of the Packers' all-star 2015 offensive line already out the door -- Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, and J.C. Tretter all made rather unexpected departures over the last two years -- Ted Thompson needs to make sure his franchise quarterback stays protected long enough to make those magical throws he's known for.
Packers' starting center Corey Linsley spent much of last year on the PUP list with a hamstring injury, and underwent ankle surgery this offseason. As the roster currently stands, if something were to keep Linsley off the field, duties at center would fall to mediocre tackle Don Barclay. Nick Mangold sustained an ankle injury that kept him out of 8 games last season, but if he can stay healthy, he'd be at least a quality back-up and insurance for a somewhat unproven offensive line.
8 Jonathan Grimes, RB - Baltimore Ravens
When the Texans needed big plays last season, they called on undrafted free agent Jonathan Grimes, as they had so many times during his five years in Houston. Although he never sniffed the workhorse role, it seemed like Grimes was constantly getting them the dire first downs they needed to stay alive, even if in long-yardage situations. That's the kind of player the Ravens need in their backfield.
32-year-old Danny Woodhead is coming off a major ACL injury last year, and it remains to be seen whether he'll retain the zip that's kept him a constant threat, particularly on passing downs. They might need another guy to step in to complement Kenneth Dixon (once he returns from a 4-game PED suspension). And despite waves of hype the last couple of years, Buck Allen probably isn't that guy. Meanwhile, Grimes deserves another chance to show what he's made of, and Baltimore would be the perfect city to behold his backfield breakout.
7 Jared Odrick, DE - New Orleans Saints
Both the Giants and the Patriots have expressed interest in versatile defensive lineman Jared Odrick at the beginning of the offseason, but it's unlikely either team will pull the trigger on the 29-year-old, who was released by the Jaguars due to some "minor friction" over the way he prefers to train and rehab.
Odrick spent much of the 2016 season battling a pervasive shoulder injury that eventually landed him on IR, but assuming he gets a clean bill of health, the powerful lineman would make a nifty addition to the Saints' defense, who desperately need to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks so they can take pressure off their ragtag secondary. New Orleans signed a couple of pass rushers in the later rounds of the draft to start rebuilding their defensive line, but they still have plenty of cap space to add a proven veteran into the mix, at least as a temporary patch to help ease the new guys in.
6 Ryan Clady, OT - New York Giants
Which teams in the NFL needs offensive line help? Everyone! But first on the list after this year's draft is the Giants, whose O-line caved like a cheap soufflé down the stretch last year. Eli Manning spent more time on his back than a cat sleeping in a sunbeam, and that's because he had, unequivocally, the worst pair of tackles in the league protecting him.
2015 1st-round pick Erick Flowers hasn't blossomed into the solution they were hoping for at left tackle, and Bobby Hart was beaten swiftly and severely all season long. Unfortunately for Manning, the Giants didn't select an OT until their last pick of the draft, which means he desperately needs a guy like four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clady. Though he's been injured more than he's been healthy the last couple of years, there's no doubt Clady would be willing to prove his worth with a short-term contract. That would benefit the Giants, who don't have a ton of cap space to work with.
5 Erik Walden, OLB - New England Patriots
Bill Bellichick has a long and storied history of getting the most out of players other teams have discarded onto the scrap pile, and Erik Walden seems like he has plenty of juice left to be squeezed. It's a match made in metaphor heaven. The Patriots still haven't found true successors for Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones, and it showed last year, as their front seven simply couldn't find a way to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Although New England added a trio of defensive ends through the draft and trades -- picking up Kony Ealy should pay especially big dividends -- this team thrives on depth, and adding Walden into the mix would make this team almost as dangerous on defense as it is on offense. Walden enjoyed a career year last season, recording 11 sacks and 42 tackles. Those are the kind of stats Tom Brady would like to see, so that he can finally rest his arm a little and continue playing into his 60s.
4 Elvis Dumervil, OLB - Green Bay Packers
Going into the draft, one of the biggest perceived needs in Green Bay was at outside linebacker. The Packers nabbed Vince Biegel in the 4th round, but have otherwise remained stagnant at the position. Unfortunately, Biegel underwent surgery on his foot soon after the draft, and it's possible he'll miss some or all of training camp. This puts the Packers' edge rushing troop in a bit of a pickle, as they're relying on an oft-injured and inconsistent Clay Matthews to lead the team alongside Nick Perry.
Even if Matthews is able to stay healthy this season, they still need some rotational guys who can get after the quarterback so the team's suspect secondary can shoulder less of the weight. Elvis Dumervil has spent 10 years in the NFL terrorizing quarterbacks, and although he's unlikely to replicate his 17-sack 2014 season, he's still a valuable asset to any front seven. Given how effectively he employed Julius Peppers the last three years, Dom Capers could make use of a Pro Bowl player like Dumervil as a situational pass rusher to great effect.
3 King Dunlap, LT - Denver Broncos
There isn't much meat left on the bones of the free agent tackle market, but the mega-dollar contracts handed out to the likes of Matt Kalil, Russell Okung, and Riley Reiff prove the position is one of the most important in football. If you don't have a capable left tackle to protect your quarterback's blindside, your quarterback's not going to have a pleasant year.
And you know who doesn't have a proven left tackle? The Denver Broncos. Coach Vance Joseph believes this year's 1st round pick, Garett Bolles is a "true left tackle" who can come in and compete right away, but the stats don't lie: Offensive tackle is a much tougher job in the NFL than it is in college, and most players won't even get decent until at least year two. King Dunlap is the best tackle still available on the market, and his numbers from last season are similar to Okung's. Dunlap would give either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch a fighting chance and hopefully help the team's flailing running game find some footing.
2 Colin Kaepernick, QB - Seattle Seahawks
"Why hasn't anyone signed Colin Kaepernick?" That's been the prevailing question of the offseason, with endless editorials and trivial think pieces trying to answer it. Is it because his on-and-off-field politicizing? Is he too polarizing of a figure for teams to touch? The short answer: Who cares. The guy's been to a Super Bowl and went to the NFC Championship Game three years in a row, and his stats have remained consistent since he entered the league. He'll end up on another team at some point.
There are plenty of shaky quarterback situations in the NFL right now, including Kaepernick's former team, but it's a matter of finding the team who can best utilize his unique skill set. The only other starting QB in the NFL today who shares that skill set is Russell Wilson, and he's coming off an injury-ravaged season that saw him play far below his talent level. Seattle's backup forecast is cloudy at best after Trevone Boykin's multiple, recent run-ins with the law. If Wilson goes down with an injury this year, Kap could slide right into Pete Carroll's offense as an above-average second fiddle.
1 Gary Barnidge, TE - Jacksonville Jaguars
The Barnyard Dog didn't have a remarkable season with the Browns in 2016, but did anyone in Cleveland? The 31-year-old tight end still wound up with the second-most receiving yards on the year, hauling in 55 receptions for 612 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Barnidge was ousted from the Browns because the team is undergoing a major rebuild and used their third 1st-round pick on stud tight end David Njoku out of Miami. But he's still the best TE on the market, and there are plenty of teams who need a reliable pass catcher with Barnidge's size and blocking abilities.
The Jaguars are in win-now mode according to GM Dave Caldwell, which is evident by the vast amount of money they've spent in free agency. And yet, they still have plenty of wiggle room in terms of cap space, so why not go out and find an impactful tight end like Barnidge, who would be an immediate improvement over stalwarts Marcedes Lewis and Mychal Rivera, to pair with the likes of Leonard Fournette on offense? That combo might finally allow Blake Bortles to reach his full potential.
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