Posted March 22, 2013

Best of the rest in the second tier of free agency

NFL Free Agency
Victor Butler might be the best player still available. (Getty Images)

Victor Butler might be the best player still available. (Getty Images)

The first (extremely hectic) wave of free agency has subsided, with the NFL owners meetings grabbing the spotlight this week — and possibly striking up some pre-draft trade talks.

Even so, there are plenty of players still floating on the free-agent market, including more than a few who could step in as starters in 2013.

Who are the best of the remaining bunch? The top three remaining free agents, by position:

BURKE: Grading the biggest signings in free agency

Quarterback

1. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick is far from a jewel, but his experience should at least make him useful as a backup somewhere. He’s never been able to shake his extremely turnover-prone ways. (UPDATE: Signed with Titans)

2. Kevin Kolb: He’s not a free agent yet, but that’s just a matter of time. Kolb’s younger than Fitzpatrick and may have been doomed to fail in a bad situation with the Cardinals. Any team out there looking at Kolb as a potential starter is in bad shape for 2013.

3. Jason Campbell: There does not appear to be much left in the tank at this point in Campbell’s career, but teams could do worse in the search for a backup. He’s at least been through the ringer as an NFL QB.

Running back

1. Ahmad Bradshaw: A healthy Bradshaw would be an elite find among this year’s free-agent class. Even though he’s constantly banged up, Bradshaw remains a dual-threat weapon.

2. Michael Turner: If you want a big-play threat, look elsewhere. If you need an experienced back capable of handling 220-plus carries, though, Turner still fits the bill.

3. Felix Jones: There just has to be more Jones can do, right? Somewhere, hiding within a battered and inconsistent player is the guy that led the league with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average a few years back.

Wide receiver

1.  Brandon Lloyd: New England may not want Lloyd back, but he should find a home after a 74-catch 2012 season. There were reports that Lloyd was a bit of an issue in the locker room, so that could drive down his market.

2. Darrius Heyward-Bey: DHB appeared ready to turn the corner after a strong 2011 season, only to slip back to mediocrity in 2012. He’s still young and remains a dangerous weapon outside, especially if he winds up in a solid offensive situation.

3. Julian Edelman: The poor man’s Wes Welker may have trouble finding a place where he fits as well as New England … and he still could wind up back with the Patriots. Still, for a team in need of a cheap, versatile slot receiver, Edelman has to be in consideration.

BURKE: Best, worst contracts from free agency’s first week

Tight end

1.  Fred Davis: Davis lost more than half the 2012 season to a torn Achilles. He’s a legitimate threat for a passing attack when he’s at 100 percent.

2. Kellen Davis: The Bears signed Martellus Bennett to play tight end because Davis proved nearly incapable of catching a pass. He is good enough, however, to warrant a shot as at least a second tight end. (UPDATE: Signed with Browns)

3. Dante Rosario: Rosario had that three-touchdown game last season with Antonio Gates hurt, then barely made a peep the rest of the year. That explosive performance hints at the potential that’s there, though.

Offensive tackle

1.  Andre Smith: Smith had a sensational 2012 — one that wasn’t quite in line with the rest of his career. So, teams will be wary of paying for a player who could revert back to his disappointing previous form. That said, 2012 Andre Smith was a beast.

2. Sebastian Vollmer: If not for injury worries, Vollmer probably would be ahead of Smith here. He’s a hulking but athletic presence on the edge and has proven to be a terrific fit for New England’s offense.

3. Eric Winston: Winston should come cheaper than either Smith or Vollmer. Of course, there’s a reason for that: Winston is a step down from these players.

Guard/Center

1.  Brandon Moore: The best interior lineman on the market, Moore should see the buzz around him pick up now that the top tier free agents are off the board.

2. Kevin Boothe: The ex-Giant delivered an underrated performance in 2012. Better yet, he can slide out and play tackle, too.

3. Dan Koppen: The Patriots cut Koppen last year, only for the veteran to step in and play very well for Denver. He’s reaching the end of the line, but he showed in 2012 that he can get the job done.

BANKS: Five non-playoff teams who improved the most

Defensive tackle

1.  Richard Seymour: Seymour might retire rather than suit up in 2013 — he’s reportedly asking for big money, which could price him out of just about every team’s range. That’s too bad, because he played well for Oakland last year before an injury sidelined him.

2. Sedrick Ellis: A lot of the free-agent DTs have come off the board already, leaving high-upside, low-production guys like Ellis, the No. 7 pick in 2008.

3. Sen’Derrick Marks: Sort of in the same boat as Ellis, as his play on the field has never really lived up to the hype. Still just 26 years old, the undersized Marks could be a solid depth addition.

Defensive end

1.  Elvis Dumervil: All of the sacks, none of the fax. A ridiculous Kinko’s-related snafu last week released Dumervil onto the open market. He did not play well enough in 2012 to earn the $12 million he was set to make in 2013 (before agreeing to that ill-fated pay cut). He does still bring enough pass-rushing ability to the table to be arguably the top available player out there right now.

2. John Abraham: That the pass-rush-needy Falcons sent Abraham packing is a bit of a red flag, and the incredibly cold market for defensive ends won’t help him. Abraham did have 10.0 sacks in 2012.

3. Dwight Freeney: The 33-year-old Freeney managed a mere 5.0 sacks in 14 games for the Colts last year. But his veteran savvy should earn him some points.

Outside linebackers

1.  Victor Butler: Maybe the most overlooked member of this year’s free-agent class, Butler might thrive if given a shot to play on a full-time basis.

2. James Harrison: Harrison will turn 35 in May and his production has been on a steady decline since a 16.0-sack season back in 2008.

3. Daryl Smith: He should come extremely cheap after a groin injury limited him to fewer than 125 snaps last season. Smith is far from a great pass rusher, but he did have two seasons of 107 tackles from 2009-11.

Inside linebackers

1.  Karlos Dansby: Pushed out by Miami’s defensive revamping, Dansby should field plenty of calls from teams in need of reliable inside ‘backers. He was on the field for more than 1,100 snaps in 2012 as a three-down player.

2. Brad Jones: The 26-year-old Jones never could nail down a starting role in Green Bay, so teams will have to temper their expectations.

3. Brian Urlacher: The name is more of a sell now than the player. Urlacher would be a nice fit on a young, talented defense in need of a veteran voice. Just don’t expect him to be a Pro Bowler.

Cornerback

1.  Brent Grimes: Possibly the next big piece to fall (maybe by returning to Atlanta), Grimes earned the franchise tag prior to 2012, only to tear his Achilles. He could wind up a bit of a steal.

2. Antoine Winfield: Minnesota’s surprise release of Winfield could be another franchise’s gain. The veteran has been sensational as a slot corner for multiple seasons, and he was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated CB overall in 2012.

3. E.J. Biggers: With apologies to Nnamdi Asomugha, Biggers deserve a mention here after how he played for Tampa Bay’s brutal defense last season. He’s not a No. 1 guy, but he should be strong addition to someone’s secondary.

Safety

1.  Ed Reed: How much does Reed have left? If the 2012 season was any indication, the hourglass is almost out of sand. And yet, he’s now a Super Bowl champion with a terrific locker room presence and the ability to change a game in a heartbeat. (UPDATE: Signed with Texans)

2. Kerry Rhodes: Rhodes played amazingly well for Arizona last season, so his release — even though he was owed $6 million — was a surprise. If Reed is commanding attention, then Rhodes should be, too.

3. Michael Huff: The Raiders played Huff at corner for most of last year because their roster was such a mess. He should be back at safety in 2013, where he’s a better player.

BURKE: How free agency has impacted the draft

12 comments
Scramble
Scramble

Elvis is now in the Ravens house.

MRMc
MRMc

The Pats should hook up with Nnamdi Asomugha. They have over 10 million in cap space available and with him and Talib in the backfield they can turn a liability into an asset!

John32070
John32070

I think Fitzpatrick would be a good fit in Arizona (FITZpatrick to FITZGerald) and he's a better QB than any of the others they have there.

HarshRealities
HarshRealities

There are several players on this list that meet some glaring needs of the Tampa bay Bucs. There is only one problem with all of them, they would cost the Bucs ownership money. The less you pay players, the more you can stick in your pocket. The Bucs owners are experts at filling their pockets with money instead paying players. They are the only reason the CBA has the minimum salary cap. The Bucs have had the lowest payroll for the last 6 years running.

falls
falls

Is Andre Carter still a free agent? If so, I would think he would be rated better than Dwight Feeney.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

Antoine Winfield epitomizes the balance a top-flight defensive back should maintain between his tackling duty and the big play (INTs).  Most DBs today (with coach support) pattern themselves after Deion Sanders (a great player in his own way), fixating on the INT and some, the highlight-reel blind-side hit.  Vikes may've felt Antoine's best days are behind him (15 yrs), though he had a terrific '12 (101-T / 3-INT) and will get HOF consideration.  Good listing.

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

 @HarshRealities That is rough, HR.  But look on the bright side, you'll always have John McKay, Doug Williams, one of the great alternate logos ("Bruce") and 2003, ranked in that order.  It looked like Bucs were gonna' be one of 2012's nice surprises with win @ Minnesota (WK8?) and then the wheels came off.  Maybe they can get that back.

Luke'g-spiel'Keun
Luke'g-spiel'Keun

 @falls Freeney at least plays some run defense and is consistent. Don't be fooled by the brief resurgence he had with New England (8.5 sacks?) he had 3 in one game.

Luke'g-spiel'Keun
Luke'g-spiel'Keun

 @StevenKeys Great points. He's the best player remaining and, short term, may end up the best signing. Too many corners try and bait QBs like Sanders and they simply don't have the closing speed to do it. Asante Samuel and DeAngelo Hall are two ideal examples. Not to mention you become somewhat limited to zones as a d-coordinator. Winfield remains a great man corner that plays especially well in nickle-packages (used 60% by some teams) and 3rd downs. Always had a knack for that nice stop-em-in-their-tracks hits. Just don't go signing him as a 1 or 2 cb

StevenKeys
StevenKeys

 @Luke'g-spiel'Keun Yes, "short term" might be key here.  But if there's still gas in that tank, that desire, he's a terrific 'stick-man,' "stop-in-their-tracks" guy with know-how.