The Top NFL Free Agents on the Market

06/15/2018
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When we reach the off-season, we love it and hate it. We hate it because it means we’re months away from football, but we love it for the NFL Draft and free agency. But if you’re a fan of any team, odds are everything doesn’t go your way during the offseason.

For example, if you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan, there’s a chance you love yourself some Dez Bryant. Unfortunately for you, he got released, and for whatever reason, he’s still unsigned. He’s not the only player left unsigned, though. More often than not, veterans are left on the market until they find a team for training camp, and if they’re lucky, they stay with that team for another year or two.

One of the key points that needs to be focused on is the health of these veteran players. Most of them have been in the league for a handful of years at this point, and if they’re on the open market, there’s a good reason for it. Every now and again there will be a character concern or a contract dispute that causes a player to be released, but a lot of the time, health is the major concern. Here are four players who have had interesting offseasons, to say the least, but who could provide for a team right away:

Disputing Contract: The Dez Bryant Story

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Maybe the feeling was mutual, but more than likely, Dez Bryant got released as a business decision. Just short of three years removed from a contract extension, Bryant was cut two weeks before the 2018 NFL Draft.

In 2015, the Cowboys reached an agreement with him on a five-year, $70 million contract that included $45 million in guaranteed money and a $20 million signing bonus. Sure enough, this contract came after a season where he caught 16 touchdowns and had over 1,300 yards. From 2012 to 2014, Bryant had over 85 receptions and double-digit touchdowns in each season.

But a fractured foot in 2015 put him on the shelf and he missed the first half of the regular season. Two years removed from the injury, Bryant has bounced back, but slowly. In 29 games since the injury-riddled season, he’s caught 119 passes for over 1600 yards and 14 touchdowns.

At 29 years old, he’s played eight seasons in the NFL and will look to settle into a veteran receiver role. The money will be the interesting point for teams to figure out, but there are teams that have money to spend. With over $30 million in cap space, the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers could look to give him a one-year contract if the price is right.

If I had to give a prediction, I would go with the Houston Texans. Starting with the money side of things, the Texans have just over $29 million dollars, so there shouldn’t be any issue there. They could easily find a role for Bryant; he wouldn’t have to leave his home state of Texas, and he’d pair up nicely with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Furthermore, he’d help with the development of Deshaun Watson. His market has been quiet, but there’s no doubt that he’ll be signed before the start of the season.

Literally the Unknown: Jonathan Hankins

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For the last two years, Jonathan Hankins has been a free agent. After the New York Giants let him walk, he spent weeks on the open market. Finally, the Indianapolis Colts signed him to a three-year, $30 million dollar contract. Now that the Colts have gone through a coaching change, the defense has changed and the Colts felt it was best to cut him loose. After 44 tackles and two sacks on the 2017 season, Hankins is back on the open market.

Even though he’s far from his 2014 season where he recorded seven sacks, there’s a lot to like about Hankins. He’s primarily played as a three-technique, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play as a nose tackle. Hand usage needs to become more consistent, and he’ll have to stop relying on his strength. Getting into the backfield isn’t all about power; it’s about great technique and having proper gap integrity. For the most part, Hankins will provide that for a defense.

After getting cut in March, there’s been some interest but zero traction on a deal. He’s met with the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, and Washington Redskins, but the team that seemed to be the favorite was his hometown  Detroit Lions. Being a native of Detroit, there was speculation that the Lions have had interest in him. But with A’Shawn Robinson on the roster, drafting Da’Shawn Hand and signing Sylvester Williams, the Lions don’t seem to be the ideal fit anymore.

Despite having visits and not finding a suitor yet, you can believe that Hankins will be signed by the time the season begins. If he wants to play right away, the Cleveland Browns could be an immediate landing spot. Pairing him with Larry Ogunjobi could give the Browns a serious threat in the middle of their defensive line. Despite the unknown reasons Hankins is unsigned, he will sign and be a consistent contributor on Sundays.

Battle Scarred but Not Broken: Jeremy Maclin 

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Formerly a first-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Jeremy Maclin is back on the market. After signing with the Baltimore Ravens last year, Maclin was released going into the offseason. Ever since he tore his groin in the 2016 season, it’s been hard for Maclin to find what he once was; he’s easily one of the better wide receiver options on the market.

Even though he’s far from his 80-plus reception, 1,000 yard-seasons, there’s a lot to like about Maclin. He provides a veteran presence for a younger locker room and could help with the growth of a young quarterback. The first team that comes to mind is the Buffalo Bills.

During the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bills moved up and drafted Josh Allen. Before doing so, they signed A.J. McCarron and still have Nathan Peterman. Personally, I think Allen shouldn’t be the starter for the 2018 season, and I don’t think he should see the field at all. For that reason alone, we’ll see Allen on the field early, and I believe they need to surround him with some (better) weapons. Kelvin Benjamin is a decent start, but bringing in a possession receiver like Maclin could do wonders.

Relying on Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy will only get this offense so far. As I’ve mentioned, Maclin won’t light up the stat sheet, but with his next contract being the fourth team of his career, the contract should be relatively cheap. It won’t be pennies on the dollar, but for the position, it’ll be decent. If the Bills aren’t interested in the 30-year-old, the Arizona Cardinals would also make a ton of sense.

The Cardinals drafted Josh Rosen in the 2018 NFL Draft, and there’s a good chance he’ll be their starting quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald isn’t getting any younger, and outside of him, the only other receiver that I have any confidence in is Christian Kirk. The market for the veteran receiver has been quiet, and a lot of it has to do with some of the injury concerns. Maclin has battled some over the last few seasons, but there’s no doubt that he has one more good season left in him. Whoever signs him should get good value.

Tre Boston, Anyone? 

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Is it me, or is there something going on in the safety market? Could it be that teams are waiting to see if the services of Earl Thomas become available? Tre Boston is a great talent and has been found in zero conversations this offseason. We all know he’s not the most athletic player on the field; he won’t be returning kicks or punts, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t play defense.

Last year, he signed a one-year contract worth $900,000 with the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s safe to say after 79 total tackles and five interceptions, he had a pretty good year. You’d think that going into a contract year, teams would be all over him and throwing money everywhere. Instead of saying “dollar dollar bills, y’all”, we’re simply waiting for a phone call. Eventually, some team will call and get one hell of a safety. He’s met with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, but there’s been nothing else discussed, and landing with one of those teams doesn’t seem likely at this point.

On the field, Boston can play as a single-high safety or take a deep third of the field. It doesn’t matter where you play him; he’s going 100% all of the time. There are plenty of times that you see him coming downhill and into the box to make a tackle. With 15 pass breakups and seven interceptions over the last two years, there’s no questioning his playmaking ability in coverage.

Determining where he might fit shouldn’t be hard. There’s a chance he remains in Los Angeles with the Chargers, but if that were the case, they probably would have signed him by now. The team that I continue to circle back to is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Last season, they had the worst-ranked pass defense in the NFL. However, in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bucs drafted Carlton Davis, Jordan Whitehead, and M.J. Stewart. Those are three defensive backs who all have the ability to play in year one, especially Davis.

Even though they drafted plenty of defensive backs, they could certainly use a playmaker at the safety position. Tre Boston would fit that role and would make a player like Chris Conte expendable. He’s from Fort Myers, Florida, and returning to his home state could very much be in the mix. Without any real hint of what teams are interested in, it’s a shot in the dark determining where Boston might end up.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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