Landing Spots for Remaining Top-10 NFL Free Agentsby Christopher Gallagher May 27, 2021 0 comments
With organized team activities beginning to kick off across the NFL, franchises are beginning their preparations for the upcoming 2021 season. Moving along in the league’s offseason calendar as the draft has come and gone, the deadline for compensatory picks also remains in the rear-view mirror.
Slated for 4 p.m. EDT on May 3, general managers across the NFL can now sign veteran free agents without impacting the compensatory pick formula. A deep free-agent class remains with lots of talent left on the board. Surprise cuts of veteran players have also left many intriguing options for teams looking to add talented contributors rounding out their respective rosters.
Due to injury or age concerns, the names left without a contract mostly included players who enjoyed down years in 2020. Led by longtime Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva (Baltimore) and Chargers veteran Casey Hayward making the intra-divisional move to the Las Vegas Raiders, here are the best landing spots the top-10 remaining NFL free agents.
10. Richard Sherman: San Francisco 49ers
Still without a contract after navigating an injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Sherman would provide San Francisco with a continued veteran presence inside their defensive backs room. Without Robert Saleh (who inked a deal to become the New York Jets head coach), the team agreed to deals with Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley, and K’Waun Williams early on in the offseason. The 49ers also added defensive backs Ambry Thomas and Talanoa Hufanga in the draft.
However, with Kyle Shanahan‘s group expected to return to full health in the coming season after having over 16 players spend time on the injured reserve list, the franchise remains in win-now mode behind one of the best rosters in the NFL. Two years removed from a second-team all-pro campaign, Sherman and the Niners have reportedly begun contract talks to bring the veteran back to the Bay Area.
9. Melvin Ingram: Miami Dolphins
Reportedly already having undergone a meeting with Miami on Monday, Ingram missed nine games a year ago after battling a nagging knee injury. Still a productive player over his previous two seasons with the Chargers, the 32-year-old recorded 91 tackles, 14 sacks, 28 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles in 29 games. In need of a bolster to their pass-rushing group, the Dolphins racked up 41 sacks a year ago.
Led along the interior by third-year man Christian Wilkins and nose tackle Raekwon Davis, the team drafted University of Miami standout Jaelan Phillips to help improve their presence off the edge. However, with close to nine million dollars remaining in salary cap space, Ingram would provide veteran experience and production to a young defense.
8. Mitchell Schwartz: Seattle Seahawks
A point of emphasis heading into the offseason, the Seahawks have made significant improvements to their offensive line. This was after reports surfaced that star quarterback Russell Wilson was becoming increasingly frustrated with the team. Earning their highest pass blocking grade in the era of their star signal-caller, the group ranked 16th in the NFL in pass blocking a year ago. However, after being dominated up front by their divisional rival Los Angeles Rams in the wildcard round, general manager John Schneider acted quickly as the offseason began by acquiring longtime Raiders guard Gabe Jackson. Circling back on the position, the team would also ink deals with tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and guard Jordan Simmons.
One of the most consistent and under-appreciated tackles over the last decade, Schwartz played in 100 percent of the Chief’s offensive snaps in seven straight seasons while surrendering just eight sacks throughout his tenure with the team. Back healthy after a nagging back injury forced him to miss time, the 31-year-old would provide a second bookend tackle across Duane Brown to help maximize the Seahawks Super Bowl window.
7. Steven Nelson: Arizona Cardinals
After being released from the Steelers to help the team clear salary cap space, Nelson struggled during his second season with the team. Battling a knee injury for a chunk of the season, the 28-year-old 43 receptions, leading to a passer rating of 97.0 when targeted in coverage. The Oregon State alumn allowed 7.5 yards per target and 8.5 yards per reception.
Remaining a quality player when healthy as he enters his 7th season in the league, the veteran would provide a stable option as a replacement for Patrick Peterson in the Cardinals secondary. Inking a one-year deal with former Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler early on in free agency, Arizona is currently pencilled in to have the former undrafted free agent join veteran Robert Alford as the two projected starters. However, with Alford yet to step on the field since 2018 due to injuries, Nelson would be a much-needed addition to the team’s defensive backfield.
6. Russell Okung: Pittsburgh Steelers
A team that appears to be unsettled at the tackle position, the Steelers are set on bringing back former third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. A starter in 15 games at the right tackle spot in 2020, the team remains hopeful that the Western Michigan alumn can make a move to the left tackle spot after they agreed to terms with Zach Banner in the offseason.
Choosing to let longtime tackle Alejandro Villanueva move on, Pittsburgh now heads into next season with one of the worst protection units league-wide as they look to keep 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger upright. One of the last impact tackles left on the market, Okung has missed time over the last two seasons with a pulmonary embolism and a cal injury. However, the former first-round pick would be able to step in right away and anchor down the blindside spot in front of Roethlisberger as the Steelers take their last shot at returning to the Super Bowl.
5. K.J. Wright: Los Angeles Rams
Currently projected to head into next season with Kenny Young and Micah Kiser in the middle of their defense, the Rams have little depth at the inside linebacker spot behind the two veterans. Choosing to spend one of their limited draft selections at the position, the team selected South Carolina’s Ernest Jones with the 103rd pick.
Making the transition to the inside linebacker spot for the first time in his ten-year NFL career, Wright turned in one of his most productive seasons. Recording 86 tackles, ten pass breakups, and two sacks, the 31-year-old appeared in all 16 games for Ken Norton Jr.’sdefense for the second season in a row. However, with the Seahawks poised to give second-year man Jordyn Brooks a bigger role in 2021, the Mississippi State alumn remains a free agent. Familiar with the NFC West after being a thorn in the Rams side over his NFL tenure, Wright can still make an immediate impact for any group.
4. Justin Houston: Baltimore Ravens
In need of a veteran pass rusher, the Ravens lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency after they inked deals with the Patriots and Raiders. Poised to head into next season with veterans Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell manning the defensive line, the team drafted Penn State pass rusher Jayson Oweh with the 31st pick in the first round. Remaining a raw prospect, the 22-year-old failed to record a sack in his final year with the Nittany Lions, leaving him years away from contributing to Don Martindale’s group consistently.
Providing a wealth of experience to any group with ten seasons under his belt in the NFL, Houston has remained a productive player over his previous four seasons. Racking up 37.5 sacks, 165 tackles, and 62 quarterback hits, the longtime Kansas City Chief could offer Baltimore another rotational piece off the edge. In tough again next season in the loaded AFC North, signing Houston would be smart business for general manager Eric DeCosta.
3. Brian Poole: Dallas Cowboys
Struggling once again in the back half of their defense in 2020, the Cowboys allowed opposing quarterbacks to have a passer rating of 123.6 on passes longer than ten yards downfield. Looking to make improvements to their secondary behind second-year man Trevon Diggs, Poole would provide defensive coordinator Dann Quinn with the ability to make an impact both in the slot and out wide.
Enjoying one of his best seasons as a pro a year ago, the 28-year-old racked up 44 tackles, two quarterback hits, and two interceptions in 7 games for the Jets. Currently projected to have a market value of just over four million dollars according to Spotrac, he would provide a cheap veteran option for the cash-strapped Cowboys.
2. Sheldon Richardson: Las Vegas Raiders
A disappointment once again a year ago, the Raiders defense ranked 26th in passing yards against, 24th in rushing yards against, and 29th in points per game. A key contributor to their disappointing 8-8 finish, the team choose to move on from both Maurice Hurst and Arden Key early on in the offseason. Adding depth to their defensive line during free agency, Las Vegas inked deals with both Quinton Jefferson and former third overall pick Solomon Thomas.
Furthermore, the team also agreed to terms with edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue on a two-year 26 million dollar contract. However, with limited depth along their interior defensive line rotation, adding a veteran like Richardson would be a strong fit for Jon Gruden’s group. Productive during his final two seasons with the Browns, the 30-year-old racked up 126 tackles, seven sacks, and 16 quarterback hits while appearing in all 32 games for the team.
1. Morgan Moses: Cincinnati Bengals
Released by the Washington Football Team a week ago, Moses will be looking for a new home for the first time in his NFL career after being selected in the third round by the team in 2014. A productive player during his seven seasons with Washington, the 30-year-old made 96 consecutive starts at the right tackle position while also earning a grade of 88.0, according to Pro Football Focus a season ago.
Shoring up their right tackle spot in the offseason, the Bengals agreed to terms with longtime Minnesota Viking, Riley Reiff. Furthermore, the team also selected Clemson guard Jackson Carman in the second round of the draft. Looking to shore up their protection in front of Joe Burrow, signing Moses would allow Cincinnati to kick Reiff inside to guard. This would give them three legitimate starters along their retooled offensive line.
Follow Chris Gallagher on Twitter @ChrisGally06
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