NFL Free Agents 2014: Predicting Landing Spots for the Best Remaining FAs
Be it through free agency and/or the draft, all 32 NFL teams did their best this offseason to upgrade their rosters with the ultimate goal of getting to (and winning) Super Bowl XLIX.
Still, it never hurts to have a little insurance.
Hence, we will take a look at eight unrestricted free agents who have yet to be scooped up by a team and give our thoughts on where they could wind up in the next few months. On the back end, we point out seven other players released by their teams this offseason and possible destinations for them as well.
Why these 15 players? For some by name only, the reasons are obvious. Still, we have focused on these individuals not only based on their recent body of work but their career as well. Hence you won't find many four-year veterans on this list. Instead, we point out some successful and productive pros that have been around the block, earned their share of Pro Bowl accolades or salary-cap casualties that still have plenty of years remaining in the league.
Could one of these performers wind up earning a starting job with a team and eventually help make the difference between a playoff appearance and a long offseason?
Time will tell…soon.
OLB James Anderson
Projected 2014 Team: Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs each of the past three seasons and are the defending AFC North champions.
Marvin Lewis’ talented team also knows a little something about defense. In 2013, the Bengals allowed the third-fewest yards in the league and were the only team in the league to rank in the top five versus both the run and the pass.
But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use a little additional assistance, especially given the fact that veteran outside linebacker James Harrison, who started 10 games in 2013, was released from the club after only one season in the Queen City.
It’s a little surprising that outside linebacker James Anderson is still on the open market. Few members of the Chicago Bears defense this past season can claim they had a stellar season and the one-time Carolina Panthers standout is guilty as charged.
However, he did lead Marc Trestman’s team with 102 stops and would make for an interesting addition to pair with the team’s top two tacklers in the form of linebacker Vontaze Burfict (a Pro Bowler in 2013) and Rey Maualuga.
ILB Patrick Angerer
Projected 2014 Team: Arizona Cardinals
It was a busy three-day draft for the entire NFC West.
The division drafted a combined 39 players, the most of any division in the league.
Seven of those 39 selections were by the Arizona Cardinals, one of the feel-good stories of the 2013 season. Under new head coach Bruce Arians, the team finished 10-6, doubling its wins from the previous season. And although the finish didn’t result in a playoff berth, things appear to be looking up for a franchise that hasn’t won an NFL title since 1947.
None of those seven picks was an inside linebacker. Keep in mind that veteran Karlos Dansby, the team leader in tackles this past season, signed with the Cleveland Browns this offseason. The heir apparent is Kevin Minter, a second-round pick in 2013 who played in 13 games as a rookie.
The addition of inside linebacker Pat Angerer would make sense as an insurance policy, assuming he’s fully recovered following knee surgery this past season. A former second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2010, he’s been limited to 11 games each of the past two seasons, finishing fourth on the club with 63 tackles in 2013.
TE Jermichael Finley
Projected 2014 Team: New York Giants
Many assumed that the New York Giants would come out of the 2014 draft with a tight end who could help the team immediately.
General manager Jerry Reese did not address the tight end position during the draft, however. The club currently has four players at the position on the roster: Adrien Robinson, Larry Donnell, one-time Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks performer Kellen Davis and journeyman Daniel Fells (who did not play in 2013). In 2013, those four players combined for six catches and one touchdown, all by Donnell and Davis.
But perhaps adding a tight end via free agency has been the Giants' plan all along. And as far back as February, Giants safety Antrel Rolle was hoping that former Green Bay Packers standout Jermichael Finley would be a future teammate. The duo watched Super Bowl XLVIII together.
"Actually, we were recruiting each other," Rolle said three months ago, via Tom Rock of Newsday. "He said that he would love to be a part of the Giants. Going up against this guy for a number of years now, I said I would love for him to be a part of the Giants so we don't have to face him."
Of course, we are all still waiting to see whether Finley is healthy enough to resume his NFL career. In six games this past season, he totaled 25 catches for 300 yards and three scores before going down with an injury that required spinal fusion surgery this offseason.
In six seasons with Green Bay, Finley totaled 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns.
NT Aubrayo Franklin
Projected 2014 Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Once upon a time in 2013, the Kansas City Chiefs were 9-0 and being lauded for their defensive play, limiting each of their first nine opponents to 17 points or fewer.
Unfortunately for Andy Reid’s club, that didn’t last long. The team dropped five of its last seven outings and proceeded to squander a 28-point third-quarter advantage in a 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts during Wild Card Weekend.
This offseason, the Chiefs took their hits in free agency. But the bottom line is that this club ranked 24th in total defense in 2013 and did little this offseason to improve the unit.
While nose tackle Dontari Poe came up big in his second season and earned a Pro Bowl berth, a veteran such as Aubrayo Franklin would be a nice luxury to have if the standout defensive lineman goes down. The 11-year pro has played for four different teams the last four seasons, but did start 15 games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 and totaled 29 tackles.
TE Dustin Keller
Projected 2014 Team: New England Patriots
A knee injury suffered in the preseason versus the Houston Texans ended the 2013 season for tight end Dustin Keller before it even started.
The one-time first-round pick of the New York Jets had signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins but never played a down during the regular season for Joe Philbin’s club.
As we all know, the New England Patriots have an affinity for tight ends. And they have one of the best in the business in Rob Gronkowski, who unfortunately also knows a little something about knee injuries.
Also keep in mind that the Pats did not draft a tight end with any of their nine picks this year.
CB Terrell Thomas
Projected 2014 Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
Defense has always been the calling card of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But Dick LeBeau’s unit has not been the big-play unit that it used to be. Mike Tomlin’s club has totaled only 55 takeaways in its last 48 regular-season games. The Steelers have forced 20 turnovers or fewer each of the last three seasons. In 2013, LeBeau’s defense was ranked 21st versus the run.
This offseason, general manager Kevin Colbert and the organization have been unusually busy in terms of free agency. So why not add one more veteran that may be able to help a secondary that is getting a little long in the tooth? Starting cornerback Ike Taylor is entering his 12th season.
This past season, New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas totaled 67 tackles, knocked down seven passes and grabbed one interception. Slowly but surely he seems to rounding into the form that saw him amass 101 stops, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and 21 passes defensed before knee injuries shelved him for both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
DT Kevin Williams
Projected 2014 Team: Seattle Seahawks
When it was all said and done, the Seattle Seahawks turned six selections into nine draft choices in 2014.
But did the defending Super Bowl champions do enough to bolster a roster that took a few hits this offseason?
This past season, no team in the league gave up fewer yards and fewer points and totaled more takeaways than Pete Carroll’s club. But despite being tied for seventh in the NFL in rushing defense, the Seahawks were pretty inconsistent in that department.
While there are some promising young players on the roster and veterans Tony McDaniel (53 tackles) and Brandon Mebane (45 tackles) combined for 98 stops this past season, could Carroll and company tap their favorite resource in the league?
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was named to six Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, a team that has seemingly provided the Seahawks with major talent in recent seasons. Williams could also be a very positive influence on second-year defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams.
T Eric Winston
Projected 2014 Team: Carolina Panthers
At least for now, the Carolina Panthers' starting tackles this season are Nate Chandler and Byron Bell.
The unexpected retirement of three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross hasn’t been talked about nearly enough.
So could a suddenly well-traveled veteran blocker aid the defending NFC South champions?
Eric Winston has played for the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals the last three years. The current president of the NFLPA could find a home with the Panthers, who did not address the tackle position during the draft.
No doubt that Winston would be a reliable addition. The 6’6", 305-pound performer has started every game for his team each of the last seven seasons.
Best of the Rest (Players Cut)
WR Miles Austin
The former two-time Pro Bowler has had his issues staying on the field in recent seasons. Austin missed six games in 2011 and five more contests in 2013. This past season, he totaled just 24 catches for 244 yards and didn’t score a touchdown for the first time in the past six years.
WR Earl Bennett
In six seasons with the Chicago Bears, the former Vanderbilt Commodore totaled 185 catches for 2,277 yards and 12 scores. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under head coach Lovie Smith, were thought to be a landing place (per Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune) before the team landed wideout Mike Evans in the first round of the draft.
G Daryn Colledge
In eight seasons, the former Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals performer has started 124 out of 128 regular-season games, starting every game for the latter each of the past three seasons. ESPN's Adam Caplan reported that Colledge is scheduled to visit with the Philadelphia Eagles this week.
WR Santonio Holmes
The former Super Bowl XLIII MVP is having a difficult time finding a team, but perhaps that will change as he gets healthier. Holmes is an eight-year veteran who began his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent the last four seasons with the New York Jets.
Could a team like the Cleveland Browns take a flier on him? Holmes is familiar with head coach Mike Pettine from their time spent together in New York and could help immediately should Pro Bowl wideout Josh Gordon be gone for half or all of 2014. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport named Holmes and Miles Austin as two players for Browns fans to monitor at receiver.
G Davin Joseph
Joseph was part of the 2014 housecleaning with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The eight-year pro missed all of 2012 due to injury but came back to start all 16 games with the Bucs in 2013.
While the former two-time Pro Bowler had his struggles this past season, Zuri Berry of Boston.com reported that Joseph visited with the New England Patriots last week.
G Uche Nwaneri
The seven-year pro and former Jacksonville Jaguars guard started 91 out of 95 games he played the past six seasons. You would think that the 6’3”, 303-pound veteran could add some depth to a team like the Miami Dolphins or perhaps the Seattle Seahawks.
CB Asante Samuel
This past season, the 11-year pro totaled only one interception while racking up 30 tackles and three passes defensed in 11 games. Samuel has 51 career interceptions with the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.
And let’s not forget his prowess in the postseason; Samuel has picked off seven passes in 21 postseason games and owns NFL postseason records for interception return yards (227) and interception returns for touchdowns (four).