With the initial rounds of free agency finished and the draft complete teams now have limited options to build for 2018. One option is a crop of unproven college players who did not grade high enough to be drafted. The second option is to look at what remains on the veteran free agent market. At this point, these players could be potential bargains for teams. With the threat of not playing in 2018 looming over the heads of these veterans, they may be tempted to take a below-market “prove-it” contract. So who are the best veteran free agents available on the open market right now?
Dez Bryant, WR
When Dez Bryant was released I did not expect the NFL to go nuts but I expected more than we have seen. Pre-draft there were a number of wide receiver-needy teams but many have now added young depth. Bryant will likely now have to either wait for these draft guys to fail or take less money to get a shot. Bryant has faded the last three seasons. His receptions, yards, and touchdowns are all well below his career peak. I do not think Bryant is completely cooked but his role is going to be greatly diminished. No longer is he the big dominant receiver and he will have to expect a niche role wherever he signs.
His best bet right now is to try and sign on a young team as a veteran presence. Whether he wants that role I am not sure but it might be all he has. A young team with a good quarterback would be his best shot at all-around redemption. The ideal fit for him is probably the 49ers but I cannot see it working from their side. Another option is a team that can utilize a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Did I hear someone whisper the words New England…
Johnathan Hankins, DT
Defensive tackle is certainly not a sexy position for free agency but it is an important one. There is every chance the Lions might sign Hankins after trading away Akeem Spence. Hankins failed to really make a mark with the Colts in 2017 but did rank in the top 50 in tackles among defensive linemen. The question now will just be finding the right number when it comes to his salary. A team to watch here are the Atlanta Falcons who need another veteran defensive tackle.
Nick Fairley, DT
Fairly had seven sacks and started 16 games for the Saints in 2017. Unfortunately, a heart condition appears to have signaled the end of his career. If Fairley does get cleared by another NFL team he could be a solid contributor as a rotational piece on the defensive line.
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Tyvon Branch, S
Branch still has a ton of talent and likely finds a home at some point in 2018. The issue is that right now his ACL injury means he may not be ready for week one. He will need to prove his health as the season draws nearer and could find himself a late addition following a preseason injury. At the moment his location is impossible to speculate because of the injury. However, whoever ends up signing him could get a good player at a cheap price.
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Kenny Vacarro, S
Injuries derailed Vacarro’s last two years in New Orleans. Prior to the injuries, he had been a good player at safety, getting three sacks and 71 tackles in 2015. In the last two years, he has five interceptions in 23 games demonstrating he has good ball skills. I expect Vacarro to get signed sooner rather than later with Miami a current rumored landing spot.
NaVorro Bowman, LB
After his release from San Francisco Bowman was a solid pickup for the Oakland Raiders. Gone are the days of him being a 100 tackle player but he is a good veteran. A young team who needs a leader on defense could definitely benefit from his addition. Bowman likely won’t be headed back to Oakland after they signed another veteran in Derrick Johnson. If it was not for the way his time in San Francisco ended that would be the perfect landing spot. Why am I hearing people whispering New England again?
C.J. Anderson, RB
Coming off his first full season as a starter and his first 1000 yard season I expected more for Anderson. Yes, he is not the most explosive back but he is solid across the board. The intriguing thing for Anderson is that he is a great pass blocker. That is a big thing for a lot of NFL teams and could be the reason he finds a home in 2018. A lot of teams will be carefully evaluating their rookie running backs to see if they can cut it pass blocking. If any team finds they have a glaring hole Anderson could find a role there. It is a niche role for sure but when you don’t have a team anything is better than nothing.