Where the best remaining free agents fit after the draft
The month of May is about as close as the NFL gets to taking a breather. The draft has come and gone, and training camps will not begin until late July. What we’re left with in the interim are the brief team workout sessions (rookie minicamps, OTAs and, in June, mandatory full-team minicamps).
Free agency has downshifted into neutral, too, with the majority of coveted talent off the market and many players now waiting for openings to arise via injury or other means come camp.
But there are at least a few potential impact players still searching for homes. Who are they and where will they sign? Here are some possibilities for 10 of the top names left:
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
It might be easy to forget that Bradshaw rushed for 1,000 yards last season, despite missing two games and constantly battling a foot injury. Those problems with his feet may never go away — he’s now undergone three surgeries on his right foot and at least one other on his left — but the 27-year-old Bradshaw reportedly has medical clearance to get back on the field, in plenty of time for camp.
Possible landing spots: Kansas City, New York Giants, Tampa Bay
Brandon Lloyd, WR
Lloyd finished second on the Patriots only to Wes Welker in receptions last season with 74. The Patriots cut him loose anyway and, after they drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, seem unlikely to bring him back. There has not been much buzz around Lloyd in free agency thus far, but there are few remaining players at that position who can match Lloyd’s recent production.
Possible landing spots: Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland
Max Starks, LT
The 31-year-old Starks allowed a rather preposterous 40 QB hurries last season (though only five sacks). On the plus side, he started all 16 games on Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside and has 96 career starts under his belt. The market for left tackles is all but depleted. Given the choice between Starks and Jared Gaither, who basically walked away from the Chargers last season, Starks is a safer choice.
Possible landing spots: Arizona, Detroit, San Diego
Eric Winston, RT
The best player left on the other side of the offensive line, Winston has started every regular-season game since 2007 … and he was cut in both 2012 and ’13. Miami appeared to be a natural fit until the Dolphins signed Tyson Clabo. Just 29, Winston ought to find another team willing to give him an opportunity, if he lowers his asking price enough.
Possible landing spots: Carolina, Dallas, Tennessee
Brandon Moore, G
Pro Football Focus rated Moore as the fourth-best guard in all of football last season. So, why doesn’t anyone want him? Well, he’s about to turn 33, for one, while the National Football Post’s Dan Pompei reported that an NFL front-office man called Moore “overhyped” — in other words, Moore’s opinion of his value does not appear to match the league’s feeling. In spite of all that, plenty of teams could use a boost along the interior line and Moore would provide one better than any other free agent.
Possible landing spots: Buffalo, Dallas, Miami
Sione Pouha, DT
The second straight member of the 2012 Jets on our list, Pouha was cut in a March salary dump. New York simply could not justify a nearly $5 million contract here after Pouha struggled through a difficult season, but the 325-pound lineman may have enough left in the tank to plug gaps for a team shy on bodies up front. He had 57 tackles just two years ago. A nice depth piece, provided Pouha is not asked to do too much.
Possible landing spots: Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City
Dwight Freeney, DE
Both Freeney and John Abraham remain homeless, though Abraham recently has been rumored to be closing in on a deal with the Titans. Either player could provide some pop off the edge. Freeney has 107.5 career sacks, despite his season total dropping to 5.0 last year. He is no longer the dominant edge rusher he once was, but Freeney still can get after it and be counted on to play heavy minutes — he finished fourth on the Colts’ defense last year in snaps played, despite missing two games.
Possible landing spots: Denver, Detroit, Miami
UPDATE: Signed with Chargers
Karlos Dansby, LB
The Dolphins released the 31-year-old Dansby after signing Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler this offseason. Nevertheless, it is a bit of a surprise to see Dansby still available after he racked up a career-high 134 tackles in 2012. Several teams that had been mentioned as interested suitors here addressed their linebacking corps, at least in part, during the draft. Don’t expect Dansby to linger too much longer, though.
Possible landing spots: Arizona, Buffalo, New York Giants
UPDATE: Signed with Arizona
Kerry Rhodes, S
Rhodes was a standout for the Cardinals’ defense last season, chalking up 67 tackles and four interceptions. Arizona decided to take a $6 million cap savings rather than bring him back, and Rhodes has lingered on a free-agent market that’s proven somewhat chilly for safeties. Now that the draft has come and gone, multiple teams looking for a confident veteran anchor in the secondary should give Rhodes a call.
Possible landing spots: Cincinnati, Cleveland, St. Louis
Sheldon Brown, CB
The cornerback well has run fairly dry, so Brown sticks out after more than holding his own in Cleveland’s secondary last season. Brown did turn 34 in March, so he should not be considered a long-term option by any teams. Rather, on a one- or two-year shot, Brown may be able to replicate a 2012 season that saw him break up 12 passes, pick off three, make 60 tackles and prove to be a steady No. 2 corner alongside Joe Haden. While handing him a starting role would be a gamble, Brown’s experience and recent performance make him more than worthy of a chance to help at CB.
Possible landing spots: Houston, Jacksonville, New Orleans