Best Available NFL Free Agents

The most high-profile free agent signings occurred more than three months ago, but as we near July there are still talented NFL free agents available on the open market. Most of these players (with perhaps one exception) won’t command much, if any, guaranteed money, and given that we’ve passed the May 12 deadline, none will factor into the compensatory draft pick formula. Let’s take a look at the players who will try to find a home as training camp approaches…

1. Evan Mathis, G: Having been released by the Eagles on June 11, Mathis is the clear cut No. 1 on this list — despite playing in only nine games last season, the 33-year-old graded as the second-best guard in the league, earning a +25.8 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Mathis’ Philadelphia contract called for him to earn a $5.5MM base salary, and given that as many as 10 clubs have expressed interest in signing him, it’s conceivable he could match that total. The Dolphins, Bills, Patriots, Vikings, and Seahawks are among the teams that have been linked to Mathis.

2. Jake Long, T: Long is undoubtedly an injury risk, as he’s suffered a torn ACL in each of the prior two seasons. His last knee injury came in October, so it’s not even clear if he’ll be ready for the beginning of the 2015 season. But on talent alone, the former No. 1 overall pick is certainly among the best unsigned players available, as he rated among the top 10 tackles in 2013 per PFF before going down. Long took a visit with the now Will Beatty-less Giants near the end of May, and could interest other clubs (Broncos? Panthers?) who are in need of help at tackle.

3. Jermaine Gresham, TE: Only 27 years old, Gresham surely would have found a landing spot by now had he not undergone back surgery in March to repair a herniated disc. The former Bengal totaled 62 receptions and four touchdowns in 2014, and is a willing and able blocker in both the pass and run game. Gresham visited with the Saints a couple of weeks ago, and was heavily linked to the Raiders during the outset of free agency.

4. James Jones, WR: Jones probably won’t ever approach his high-water mark season of 2012, when he led the league with 14 touchdown receptions while catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. But he’s still only 31 years old, and has remained remarkably durable (missing just eight of a possible 128 career games) and consistent, averaging 48 receptions for roughly 620 yards and five scores each year. The Seahawks, Giants, Chiefs, and Jaguars have all made inquiries on Jones since he was released by Oakland on May 4.

5. Dwight Freeney, DE/OLB: Freeney is the archetype of the type of NFL free agent usually available at this point in the summer. A former superstar, in his mid-to-late thirties, who while still a very serviceable player, might be asking for too much money to generate any serious interest. As I wrote when examining Freeney in April, the ex-Colt/Charger is still very adept at disrupting the pocket, despite largely pedestrian sack totals. The 35-year-old ranked third among 3-4 OLBs in quarterback hurries, and ninth in QB hits, and his ability to play both standing up and with his hand in the ground should afford him more opportunities.

6. Dawan Landry, S: A veteran of nine NFL seasons, Landry spent the past two years with the Jets; in 2014, he started 14 games, racking up 67 tackle and 1.5 sacks, grading as the league’s ninth-best safety per PFF. Landry also spent a fair amount of time in the slot (174 snaps), so his ability to move down and cover shifty receivers adds to his versatility. The 32-year-old paid a visit to the Bills in April, and signing with Buffalo would reunite Landry with his former Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

7. Rob Sims, G: Stability is the name of Sims’ game — since signing with the Lions prior to the 2010 season, Sims has not missed a single contest, starting all 80 games during that period. Sims, 31, said in February that he’d like to return to Detroit, but the club’s move since then have made a reunion unlikely. The Lions not only spent their first-round pick on guard Laken Tomlinson, but swung a draft-day trade for interior lineman Manny Ramirez. Along with stud RG Larry Warford, Detroit has talent and depth in the middle of its line, leaving little room for Sims. Plus, Sims has intimated that the team had low-balled him contract-wise, so he’ll probably be looking for work elsewhere.

8. Red Bryant, DL: Bryant has always been more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher, and things were no different in 2014, when he ranked as the third-best 4-3 end against the run, despite grading as just the No. 31 DE among qualifiers per PFF. Still, the 31-year-old was released just one season into a four-year deal with the Jaguars, and hasn’t taken any known meetings with other clubs. Seattle’s defensive line might be too crowded for a Bryant reunion, but I wonder if the Falcons (with former Seattle DC Dan Quinn as head coach) might be interested.

9. Chris Myers, C: The second-oldest free agent on this list, the 33-year-old Myers is the epitome of consistency, having started all 16 games in each season dating back to 2007. He finished as the league’s 16th-best center in 2014 according to PFF (with an atrocious pass-blocking grade), but that was the worst mark of his career, as he’d finished as a top ten center in each of the seven prior seasons. Whether last season is indicative of an impending decline is unclear, but Myers has generated free agent interest, meeting with the Seahawks, and talking with the Broncos and Raiders. Houston has also expressed interest in bringing Myers back in the fold.

10. Anthony Collins, OL: Collins was a major flop with the Buccaneers after signing a five-year, $30MM deal last March, so much so that Tampa Bay released him after one season despite having handed him $15MM in guarantees. There’s no getting around Collins’ 2014 sub-par play, but he was solid as recently as ’13, when he started seven games at left tackle for the Bengals as part of an offensive line reshuffling. Yet to turn 30 years old, and with the ability to play both tackle and guard, Collins could be a solid buy-low candidate, perhaps for a team that misses out on Long.

Just missed the cut: C Brian De La Puente; DE Osi Umenyiora; RB Pierre Thomas; LB Geno Hayes; S Bernard Pollard; RB Ahmad Bradshaw, QB Michael Vick..

Note: LB Brandon Spikes and DE Ray McDonald would have shown up on this list based on talent alone, but given their legal troubles, they could struggle to land even a minimum salary deal.

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