Posted August 11, 2011

There’s still talent to be found in free agent market

NFL Free Agency

Just three seasons removed from three straight Pro Bowls, Lofa Tatupu still has a lot to offer. (Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRE)

Even in NFL summers that are not shackled by lockout, the number of elite free agents available is pretty small by the time the preseason rolls around. This year’s no different — the majority of the big-name free agents quickly found homes (most of them in Philadelphia) very soon after the CBA was ratified.

The market’s not totally devoid of talent, though. On the eve of the 2011 NFL preseason slate opening, here are a few of the better players still looking for a team:

Kirk Morrison, LB (Former team: Jacksonville): It looked like the Jaguars had every intention of hanging on to Morrison, who started every game for them in 2010 and made 89 tackles. Then, Jacksonville went out and signed Paul Posluszny instead. Morrison has started every game but one in his six-year NFL career and has averaged 120 tackles per season. Someone will take a shot on him soon.

Matt Roth, DE/LB (Former team: Cleveland): While Morrison may be the best inside linebacker available, Roth could hold the same title on the outside. And yet, the 28-year-old can’t find a home, despite coming off his best NFL season (86 tackles, 3.5 sacks). He reportedly just told teams he’d sign a one-year, $3-million contract, if anyone wants to offer. (Update: Signed with Jacksonville)

Lofa Tatupu, LB (Former team: Seattle): Are you catching the pattern here? There are some linebacker options out there. Tatupu, 28, made three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances after coming into the league in 2005. His production has fallen off since then, but he still started all 16 games last season and can be productive.

Kelvin Hayden, CB (Former team: Indianapolis): When he’s healthy, Hayden’s a solid NFL cornerback. There’s the rub, though: He’s seemingly never healthy. Hayden missed five games with a neck injury last season, seven games in 2010 and six in 2009. Still, if a team’s willing to gamble on him, he could pay off big time.

Darren Sharper, S (Former team: New Orleans): At 35 and after losing most of 2010 to injury, Sharper’s no longer in his prime. That said, he’s also not far removed from a nine-interception 2009. Sharper reportedly has “multiple options,” including a possible return to New Orleans. He’d be a nice depth signing for teams in need of secondary help.

Brian Westbrook, RB (Former team: San Francisco): Unlike linebacker, the running back position does not boast a ton of viable free agent options. There are some marginal young players (Mike Hart, Noel Devine) and a couple of banged-up vets (Clinton Portis, Kevin Smith), but Westbrook may be the pick of the litter. He had a terrible 2010 with the 49ers and has concussion-related injury concerns. Still, a team in need of a third-down back could do worse.

Troy Smith, QB (Former team: San Francisco): Does your team need a backup quarterback? Does it really, really, really need a backup quarterback? If so, Smith might be the best option left out there … which isn’t saying much.

Langston Walker, OT (Former team: Oakland): Earlier this offseason, the 31-year-old Walker had to shoot down rumors that he had retired. Now, he’s apparently drawing interest from several teams. Several of the other free agents at this position — Max Starks, Bryant McKinnie, Jared Gaither — are either injured or out of shape, so Walker has value.

Trai Essex, G/T (Former team: Pittsburgh): Essex won’t be booking a Pro Bowl trip any time soon. He could, however, help a team with depth issues on the line. Essex played both guard and tackle for the Steelers, and brings more versatility to the table than most of the other line options.

Stylez G. White, DE (Former team: Tampa Bay): White was a decent player for the Bucs — he had 24 sacks in his four seasons with them — but developed a reputation for a poor work ethic. He’s no longer needed in Tampa Bay after the Bucs drafted Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn, but he’s still capable of pressuring the quarterback.

Jerricho Cotchery, WR (Former team: New York Jets): The big caveat here is that Cotchery, who’s coming off back surgery, may not even be close to 100 percent right now. If he is, though, he’s probably the best WR option still available — prior to a disappointing 2010, Cotchery had averaged 942 yards over the previous four seasons. (Updated: Signed with Steelers)

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