Five years ago the free agents who still had yet to sign with NFL teams would have started bidding wars between starry-eyed owners and GMs who were looking for a star player. Oh have the years not been good for some of these men. Every year there is a crop of players that features Pro-Bowlers and outstanding playmakers from yesteryear who are unsigned as late as September. This year is no exception.
There are a good amount of ex-stars who haven’t found a new team to play for yet. At this point it is more and more likely that they will have to wait until after all the teams have finished their pre-season games and have made all their final roster cuts. Players who get signed that late still have the potential to be great (think of James Jones and Dwight Freeney from last season).
Some players will be very pickey as to where they are willing to go because they are aging and want specific things from their teams, such as a starting spot or a chance to go to a Super Bowl. With that in mind, here are the best spots for the top 15 free agents still remaining.
29 Anquan Boldin WR - Kansas City Chiefs
Anquan Boldin has made a career in the NFL as one of the toughest and most reliable receivers in the game. Every team he’s play for has lauded his leadership and reliability when a ball comes his direction. He holds the NFL records for fastest to reach to 200 receptions, 300 receptions, 400 receptions, 500 receptions, and 600 receptions. Boldin can be very useful for any team both as a veteran presence in the locker room or as a reliable receiver in third down situations. The Baltimore Ravens would love to bring him back, especially with the questions about Breshad Perriman’s knee and Steve Smith’s Achilles. The Seahawks may look his way following the Ricardo Lockette retirement and uncertainty of the young receivers behind Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. We think that the best spot for Boldin would be with the Kansas City Chiefs. The receiving corp. in Kansas City was literally a joke 2 years ago, they went the entire 2014 without a receiver catching a touchdown pass. They brought in Jeremey Maclin last year and that helped a ton, as we saw with their playoff berth last year. However, Maclin is just not enough to compete for a Super Bowl this year, which is what Andy Reid and Alex Smith will be doing. Behind Maclin, the recievers consist of Rod Streater, De’Anthony Thomas, Albert Wilson, and Chris Conley. Together they have a career total of 10 touchdowns (8 from Streater), and 2,770 yards (1,564 from Streater). Streater is coming off a season where injuries held him to 1 game, Thomas will be playing his first full year at the receiver position, and both Wilson and Conley are in their second and third season respecitively. It’s tough to belive all these guys will be productive. Adding a guy like Boldin, who had 789 yards and 4 touchdowns last year, would be huge for the Chiefs.
27 Arian Foster RB - San Diego Chargers
Arian Foster is not far removed from being the best running back in the NFL. The undrafted runner out of Tennessee was a pleasant surprise for the Texans back in 2010 when he ran for 1,616 yards, and then he just kept going despite numerous injuries. In 2013 Foster injured his back and was only able to play 8 games, but he rebounded well in 2014 gaining 1,246 yards and 8 touchdowns. Last season Foster ruptured his Achilles tendon and it limited him to only pay 4 games and run for 163 yards. He finished his Texans career with 6,472 yards and 54 rushing touchdowns, both franchise records. He is still on the free agent list as he has been dealing with injuries and will be 30 in August, and NFL teams do not trust a running back over 30. So who wants Arian? Miami is probably the most talked about team as they have a questionable running back in Jay Ajayi starting. Dallas may want somebody to replace the injured Darren McFadden and have shown that they are willing to take risks on running backs with injury problems. We think that the Chargers would be the ideal spot for Foster. San Diego used much of the offseason to work on their offense signing Travis Benjamin and drafting Hunter Henry. What they didn’t do is work on their running back situation. Danny Woodhead is a nice weapon out of the back field, but their sophomore back Melvin Gordon is expected to carry most of the load. He couldn’t do that in his rookie year and ended the season on IR. Last year wasn’t spectacular for Gordon, but if the Chargers added a veteran runner who plays a similar running style as Gordon we would expect to see significant growth. Foster would be able to take a bit of the carries which may help prevent Gordon from getting injured again and give him a mentor to learn from.
25 Ryan Fitzpatrick QB - New York Jets
Ryan Fitzpatrick was the biggest surprise of the NFL season in 2015. The Harvard Alumi has been in the NFL for quite a while and even saw moderate success during his time in Buffalo. In 2014 he was the backup quarterback in Houston and only started when Ryan Mallett got hurt, and was then benched for rookie Tom Savage. He had shown some flashes of greatness when he threw for 6 touchdowns against the Titans, but much of the season was pedestrian and nothing special. Fitzpatrick was traded to the Jets for next to nothing, and he only started games because of the locker room incident that ended with Geno Smith getting his jaw broken by a teammate, Fitzpatrick made the most of it. In 2015 Fitzpatrick has a career high 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns. He has since been in negotiations with the Jets, but it seems that the two are still far away from getting a deal done. Houston may look into signing their old backup as a fail-safe in case Brock Osweiler fails or gets hurt, but Fitzpatrick would probably retire as opposed to sitting on the bench for a season. Denver looked into signing him, but determined he was too expensive. Seeing as they refuse to pay their best players, they aren’t about to reach for a guy of Fitzpatrick’s talent, even if that means they’ll be starting Mark Sanchez. The New York Jets is easily the best spot for him. They have a telented receiving corp. whom he has a great relationship with, upgraded the running back postion, and have a fantastic defense. Fitzpartick should accept a deal, otherwise the Jets will be happy to start Geno instead.
23 Greg Hardy DE - Cincinnati Bengals
Greg Hardy may not be signed, but it has little to do with his on field performance. Last year in Dallas he had 6 sacks in 12 games and had some games where he looked like the player he was in Carolina. He was arrested not long ago on domestic violence charges, but they were dropped following a string of very shady incidents including his ex disappearing for a time. While that should be the reason NFL teams won’t sign Hardy, it may not be all of it. Teams have shown that they will ignore illegal activity as long as the player produces on the field, but Hardy didn’t produce at a dominating level and has shown no regret for what he did. When it came time to make an apology during his recent interview with Adam Schefter, he may as well have said “she deserved what I did.” Dallas refused to resign him before that interview even happened, citing his issues with him not following team rule and skipping mandatory meetings. We expect no team to give Hardy a chance, but his talent and previous NFL signings may lead to other thoughts. Buffalo needs a defensive end, and Rex Ryan has been able to deal with violent players. Pittsburgh has shown that they have a short memory when it comes to criminal behavior, just look at the 2015 QB depth chart. Cincinnati may be the most likely spot for Hardy, as the team pretty much built it’s defense by going to prison yards and handing out contracts. Between Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict, they have two players that most other teams actively avoided letting on their team. Even Cincinnati will probably refuse to sign Hardy, but if someone get’s injured, anything is possible.
21 Jahri Evans OG - Seattle Seahawks
Jahri Evans was once part of the best guard tandems in the NFL with Ben Grubbs in New Orleans. In 2010 the Saints signed him to a seven-year, $56.7 million contract that, at the time, made him the highest paid guard in NFL history. He was a 6 time Pro-Bowler (being selected as recently as 2014) and a 4 time All-Pro He regressed a bit in 2015 and became another victim of the Saints plans to cut everyone that Drew Brees likes. A number of teams should give Evans a chance as it’s hard to find good backup guards, but Evans is most likely holding out for a starting postion. The Bengals have a decent couple of guards, but may look for an upgrade to compete with the defensive lines in their division. Los Angeles has a bad O-line and could use an upgrade. We think the Seahawks is the best spot for Evans to land. Seattle has a rookie and a sophomore starting at the guard positions and another rookie behind them on the depth chart. If either of those guys don’t play at a Super Bowl winning level during pre-season they may choose to bring Evans in.
19 Percy Harvin WR - Minnesota Vikings
Percy Harvin has had a very up-and-down career. He never had a season where he gained 1000 yards receiving, yet he was still noted as one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. When Seattle traded a first round pick for Harvin, most people looked at the trade and said “yea, that’s about right.” Once he went to Seattle his career took a significant downturn. The worst things he did in Minnesota was get hurt, but in Seattle he was accused of fighting in the locker room, and benching himself during games. He was dumped off to the Jets after a total of 6 regular season games in Seattle. He wasn’t able to preform in New York, and when they traded for Bradon Marshall, Harvin was cut. Rex Ryan (his coach in New York) immediately gave him a shot to play for his new team in Buffalo. While with the Bills, Harvin collected less than 20 receptions for 218 yards (51 from one catch) and 1 touchdown. He won’t be going back to Buffalo because he was totally ineffective, and has even said that he is retired, but we just aren’t buying it. His ineffectiveness really was due to numerous injuries, and if the right team comes calling in September and his hip isn’t hurting, it would be no surprise for him to come back. Pittsburgh is in need of a wide receiver, especially if Sammie Coates doesn’t progress to a higher level. Baltimore has some injury concerns at receiver, as we have mentioned already. The place that would be most enticing for Harvin would be a return to Minnesota. The Vikings don’t have the best receivers with Stefon Diggs and rookie Laquon Treadwell penciled in to start. If they give Harvin a million dollars to come in and play a few downs a game in front of the only fans that ever embarrassed him, it would be tough to say no.
17 Louis Vasquez OG - St. Louis Rams
When Louis Vasquez was cut by the Broncos, a lot of people were left scratching their heads. He’s only 29 years old, was named an All-Pro in 2013, and started all but one game during his tenure in Denver. He had some injuries in 2015 that limited his ability and he was asked to shift positions numerous times. He was never approached by the front office to restructure his contract and even he seemed blind-sided by the cut. Just another thing John Elway has done to piss off his Super Bowl winning team… However, no one has signed Vasquez, which shows that maybe Denver knew what they were doing when they cut Vasquez. No one seems chomping at the bit to give Vasquez a contract even though a number of teams need an upgrade at the guard position. In August we expect Vasquez to be signed to a new team. Baltimore may be in the market for a competent back-up after they lost half of their line to free agency this past off season. The Panthers are often rumored to be looking for upgrades, especially at the guard postion. We think Los Angeles would love to sign Vasquez to replace either Rodger Saffold or Jamon Brown. They are a new team and a recognizable name is an asset to both sell tickets and gain fans. Vasquez fits their blocking scheme and it’s not like the line can get much worse than it’s been.
15 Will Beatty OT - Indianapolis Colts
Beatty has been a solid starter for the Giants for a number of years. He hasn’t been great, but a blind-side tackle is one of the most important pieces on an NFL team and their importance cannot be overstated. That is why Will Beatty will be signed to a team before he season starts. He isn’t a Pro-Bowler, an All-Pro player, or even a top 15 tackle, but he’s a startable player with playoff experience and has proven he can play while injured. Oakland may be interested in Beatty, if only to be a backup for the playoff run they hope to go on. Arizona may want to save some money and cut Jared Veldheer and replace him with the equally effective Beatty. However, Indianapolis would be the most likely place for him to go. After the horrifying play of the Colt’s line last year, they really should look for someone reliable to protect Andrew Luck. They just gave him the most guaranteed money of all time, so the management and coaching staff will have a heart attack if they see him hit the ground so often again.
13 Leon Hall CB - Denver Broncos
Leon Hall has been a great cornerback in the past. He wasn’t a shutdown corner on the level of Revis or Sherman, but he was a fantastic coverage corner who picked off a ton of passes and deflected a lot more. Over the past few years his play has really regressed due to a myriad of injuries including 2 torn Achilles tendons. In 2015, Hall was a serviceable corner getting 2 interceptions and 8 pass deflection. He was even named NFL’s defensive player of the week 12 when he had 6 tackles and an interception for a touchdown against the Rams. Obviously he can still play, even if he’s not the top corner on a team anymore. Cincinnati has a ton of young corners, so the fact that they didn’t sign hall immediately should not reflect too poorly on the veteran, and there have been numerous reports that he may be going back to the Bengals in 2016, but we aren’t sure. A lot of teams are very weak at the position and may be able to offer him a larger role for the season. Dallas needs so much help in it’s secondary that we wouldn’t be shocked if he got a call from the Cowboys soon. Baltimore also desperately needs help at corner and would like to poach Hall from their division rival. Denver may be the most likely spot for the veteran though. He wants to win a ring and Denver has proved that they are in the market to win. He may be holding out to see what happens with the Aqib Talib situation and know whether he will be suspended at all. If Talib is, the Broncos will scramble to replace him and Hall would be the best solution.
11 Brandon Boykin CB - Jacksonville Jaguars
Brandon Boykin was already signed this offseaon by the Panthers, then they cut him two months later to make room for undrafted rookies. That’s the worst sign for Boykin’s longevity that we have ever seen. Boykin has never been great in the NFL during his time with the Eagles and the Steelers. He had a great 2013 season where he picked off 6 passes, but the rest of his career has been average at best. He played in every possible game he could, but never solidified himself as a starter. He will sign somewhere to add depth for a team that is looking to strengthen their secondary, but he is not going to start anywhere. A return to Philadelphia is not out of the question as the team has very few corners who can make an impact and one injury to someone like Nolan Carroll can ruin the season. Indianapolis may want someone that they can use to give Vontae Davis a breather as he gets older. We think Jacksonville would be a good spot for Boykin. They have rookie Jalen Ramsey starting and a questionable player in Prince Amakumara on the other side. Adding depth behind those guys is the best way to help them excel and Boykin may be a better fit than Davon House or Aaron Colvin.
9 Joique Bell RB - New York Giants
We already mentioned the NFL doesn’t trust running backs once they turn 30. Bell will turn 30 in August. That means the NFL doesn’t trust Joique Bell, it’s simple math. Bell has been an underdog his entire career, he was an undrafted free agent who bounced from team to team until he found a home in Detroit. Nothing was expected of him, but through perserverance and commitment Bell carved out a role with the team as their back-up running back. Even though he was always low on the depth chart, year-after-year made an impact on the team and was one of their most consistent players throughout his tenure in Detroit. They have to turn the page now that Calvin Johnson’s gone, so Bell’s respectable performance is not good enough to really help their offense. He can be a huge asset to a team that lacks depth at the running back position. Houston would be a good spot as Lamar Miller has never proved that he can handle a full load for a season, though it may be because the Dolphins didn’t let him. The Dolphins are using Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams, and Kenyon Drake. They obviously could use an established runner to help that group of runners. The best spot for Bell would be playing for The New York Giants. Right now they are using Rashad Jennings, who is about as equally talented as Bell, and then the rest of the running backs are Andre Williams and Shane Vareen. Bell can be used as an all-purpose back who can either be a pass catcher for Eli Manning, or a running back for when Jennings inevitably fades this season.
7 Donte Whitner S - New England Patriots
When Cleveland cut Donte Whitner, many people were very confused. Whitner is not far removed from going to Pro-Bowls and being one of the most feared safeties in the NFL. Whitner was very upset about being cut as it was a month after free agency started and put Whitner in the situation where he has to wait until training camp to see which team will be the most interested. It wasn’t that the Browns shouldn’t have cut Whitner, he was getting paid a ton of money, but the timing was very strange and it’s understandable why he was upset. After playing for the Browns, Whitner will now only listen to teams who have a chance to make a Super Bowl run. Those teams really should give Whitner a chance too. He is a tough player, a hard hitter, and hungry to win. San Francisco may want a reunion with their safety, but they are no where near ready to win a Super Bowl with either Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick at QB. Houston would love a safety like Whitner, but they also don’t seem to be a Super Bowl Contender. New England would be an ideal spot for Whitner. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty are good, but having a hitter like Whitner would be a huge asset for the Pats and may elevate their secondary to a new level. If the Patriots come calling, Whitner would take whatever contract they offer.
5 Roddy White WR - Carolina Panthers
Roddy White had a few years where he was considered the most dynamic receiver in the NFL. This was the same time that guys like Miles Austin were taking the league by storm because defenses were baffled by the idea of a slot receiver. At that time, White was faster and more elusive than anyone who would cover him and once he paired with Matt Ryan, they were nearly unstoppable. White made 4 straight Pro-Bowls and is the Falcons all time leader in Receptions, Receiving Yards, and Receiving Touchdowns. The Falcons are going to feel much different next season as it will be the first time White isn’t suiting up with them in over 10 years. White is a shell of what he used to be. It’s not his fault, the NFL is a brutal game and injuries have taken a lot out of him. Despite losing much of his explosive speed, White was still able to put up 500 yards and a touchdown. He won’t be a team leader next season, but White could still be a threat for a team that needs some receiver depth. New Orleans would be an ideal spot for him as Drew Brees would get the most out of the aging receiver. However, we don’t see White going to a rival team that doesn’t have real Super Bowl aspirations. Tennessee is an interesting spot as well because they need a veteran wide-out to help coach up some of their young talent, but again White may want to be on a competitive team. We think Carolina would be the best spot for him. He can be the 4th target for Cam Newton, and help the Panthers compete for a Super Bowl. Looking at the Panther’s depth chart, we would prefer to have White over Ted Ginn, Stephen Hill, or Corey Brown, who right now sit at 3, 4, and 5 at receiver, and it’s not as if Devin Funchess is a proven commodity as the number 2 receiver behind Kelvin Benjamin. Carolina should have already signed White in our opinion; the partnership is just too perfect.
3 LaMarr Woodley OLB - Detroit Lions
Woodley’s career has been completely derailed because of injuries. His stops in Arizona and Oakland were absolutely miserable and his last three seasons in Pittsburgh weren’t great. Neither the Cardinals or Raiders utilized him correctly when he was healthy (The Raiders even tried using him on the defensive line) so he will be looking for a team that can plug him in as a linebacker. He isn’t on the hunt for a ring as he already has one from his time with the Steelers, but that may play a role in where he chooses to sign. Few teams will be taking the risk on him because of his injury history, but if healthy he can help almost any team. Pittsburgh may want to bring him back to help mentor their young linebackers. They also have shown to be open to signing aging, over-the-hill linebackers (see James Harrison). Denver is an interesting spot depending what happens with Von Miller. However, Detroit feels like the most likely spot for Woodley as they have a fairly weak linebacking corp. highlighted by Stephen Tulloch. The Lions may be desperate for some help by the time training camp ends and may turn to Tulloch’s old teammate.
1 Reggie Bush RB - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Reggie Bush is most likely done, and everyone knows it except Reggie Bush. It’s not that Bush had a terrible career, he had a few good years in Miami and Detroit, but he never lived up the being drafted #2 overall or got any better than his time at USC. Last year was not a good year for Bush and he ended it on IR following his trip in St. Louis. He says that he is healthier than he has ever been and that he has never lost what made him so great in college, but the fact that he is still a free agent means that teams don’t quite believe him. There may be some interest around training camp for a guy like Bush, but it won’t be until every team knows what they have. A return to Miami is plausible, but we think they would prefer a more established player. New England is also an interesting spot because Bush and LeGarrette Blount pair well together. We think Tampa Bay will be the best place for Bush to play because he pair well with Doug Martin and both Charles Simms and Storm Johnson are younger injury prone versions of Bush. If either of those guys go down, the Bucs should reach out to Bush ASAP.