Top 10 remaining NFL free agents
The NFL’s free agent frenzy has died down to a slow crawl, stifled even further by the impending draft, which will give teams a better picture of what they still need to add.
Despite the rush to scoop up the premier free agents, the market remains stocked with players who could contribute in 2012. Many of those guys are coming off disappointing or injury-hindered seasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that a plethora of valuable veterans are still waiting for jobs.
We start our look at the best of the remaining free agents with a quick rundown of those who fell just outside the top 10:
Honorable mention: Remi Ayodele, DT; Jason Brown, C; Plaxico Burress, WR; James Hall, DE; Albert Haynesworth, DT; E.J. Henderson, LB; Jim Leonhard, S; Kareem McKenzie, T; Rocky McIntosh, LB; Donovan McNabb, QB; Shaun Rogers, DT; Visanthe Shiancoe, TE; Jerome Simpson, WR; Max Starks, T
There are more than a few serviceable options on that list, starting with guys like Leonhard and Starks, who have proven their worth time and again but must work their ways back from injury. Brown has been a flop, but is still young enough to turn his career around.
Then there’s the All-Disappointment Team: Burress, Haynesworth, McNabb, Rogers and Simpson, a handful of players who might have something left in the tank. Haynesworth, specifically, was decent in spurts last season, though his baggage and huge contract overshadowed his play.
Ayodele will be an option for several teams, pending any punishment for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. Hall, Henderson, McKenzie, McIntosh and Shiancoe all should hear their phones ring as well, given that they’ve produced in this league for multiple seasons.
And, now, on to the top 10:
10. Jonathan Goff, LB: There are several aging linebackers left on the market, and a team looking for a proven veteran might take a shot on someone like James Farrior, Rocky McIntosh or E.J. Henderson — the third of those three still producing at the highest level. But for my money, I’d take a shot on Goff, who missed all of the 2011 season with a knee injury but had 80 tackles in 2010 and is just 26 years old.
9. Braylon Edwards, WR: You take the good, you take the bad, you take ‘em both and there you have the facts of Braylon Edwards’ career. When Edwards, 29, is healthy and motivated, he will produce, as he showed in 2010 with the Jets (53 catches, 904 yards, seven TDs) and from 2006-08 with the Browns (80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 TDs in ’07). However, he played just nine games and caught only 15 passes in 2011, plus has had sporadic off-field trouble. The ceiling is high, though, especially if Edwards is motivated to prove that last season is behind him.
8. Matt Roth, DE/OLB: Roth is sort of the perfect example of what teams can expect to find at this point in free agency. He is a proven player, with 23.5 career sacks, and can play either as a 4-3 end or 3-4 outside linebacker. He’s coming off a concussion, though, which cost him almost half of the 2011 season.
7. Cedric Benson, RB: Benson is what he is at this point in his career as a 29-year-old running back. He’s durable, having gone over 300 carries in both 2009 and ’10, and can grind out some yards. On the other hand, he’s about as far from a home-run threat as you’ll find in an every-down back — his longest NFL run is just 46 yards. Oh, and he averaged a meager 2.1 yards after contact last season. Still, a team would be better to pounce on him now than scramble for depth later.
6. Aubrayo Franklin, DT: Franklin flopped in 2011 with the Saints, one year after San Francisco hit him with the franchise tag. He’ll be 32 before the season starts, so his declining production should not come as a huge surprise. That said, if he finds the right situation and can channel that 2011 letdown into a motivated showing in 2012, he might be a steal at a cheap price.
5. Channing Crowder, LB: You didn’t forget about Crowder, did you? After an injury-plagued 2010, Crowder said he was retiring, then sat out all of 2011. He’s apparently ready to jump back on the field and, at 28 and after sitting out a year, should have plenty left in the tank. Injuries are a concern (like with most guys on this list), but he has two seasons of 100-plus tackles under his belt and might be an early Comeback Player of the Year candidate.
4. Jake Scott, G: Tennessee’s decision to remake its offensive line might wind up being another team’s gain. Scott, 31, has started every game for the past seven seasons (four with the Titans, three with the Colts). He was the sixth highest rated guard in the NFL in pass protection last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics, so while he may not be a road-grader in the run game, he’s a durable and reliable option to keep a QB on his feet.
3. O.J. Atogwe, S: Atogwe struggled with injuries all season and wound up starting just half of Washington’s games in 2011. He will be 31 when the season starts, too, so he might be higher on this list than he should be. But he gets a bump because of two things: 1. He’s clearly the top safety left on the market; and 2. The draft is pretty devoid of players at that position, as we’ll all see when teams start reaching for fringe prospects on Day 2. If he can stay healthy in 2012, Atogwe will upgrade some team’s secondary.
2. Andre Carter, DE: Another aging vet (Carter will be 33 in May) coming off a serious injury — his season ended when he tore his quad in December. Prior to that, however, Carter was the best defender on New England’s defense. He racked up 10 sacks and 52 tackles in 14 games and looked right at home when the Patriots played their 4-3 defense. At 100 percent Carter would give his new team (or continue giving New England, should he re-sign) a top-flight pass-rusher.
1. Marcus McNeill, OT: McNeill has a pair of Pro Bowls and six years of starting experience under his belt, but he tends to be overhyped — a problem I’m aware I am contributing to with his ranking here. When he is on his game, McNeill can be a dominant left tackle, making him an extremely valuable commodity in the NFL. Unfortunately, he rarely plays at his peak level for an entire game, let alone an entire season. His recent spate of injuries, which caused him to miss seven games last season and five in 2010, won’t help either. Despite all those red flags, he is the best player on this board when he plays like he’s capable. If McNeill’s new team can harness that potential, he could return to being a perennial Pro Bowler.