Free Agency: Over-30s Still Available
As free agency starts to wind down, the bargain bin is open for business as shrewd teams will scour the remaining free agents to assess their potential value, even if only on a one-year contract. We’ve learned through the years that name recognition means little in football as players age and often the decline in physical skills is an overnight experience rather than a gradual one. Three years ago is an eternity in the NFL, and we often see yesteryear’s Pro-Bowlers relegated to part-time roles if not out of the league completely.
Despite the quick drop-off, there are still a number of 30-plus-year-old players capable of making an impact, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where snap counts can be managed and specific skillsets highlighted. Here’s a look at some of the top over-30 players remaining who could still provide value in a one-year contract situation.
Four big names highlight this list of 30-somethings, and while none of them will be an every-down presence, there is some pass rushing potential to tap into. Last year, Dwight Freeney and James Harrison showed that they still had enough left in the tank to affect opposing quarterbacks, even with Harrison coming out of a brief retirement to make an impact.
Freeney graded at +13.9 as a pass rusher to go with a -7.7 mark against the run, proving if used to rush off the edge in passing situations, he still has plenty of value, even at age 35. He played 590 snaps on the season, so a similar workload, or perhaps even the 450-500 range, is likely his sweet spot.
Eased back into the lineup in Week 4, Harrison finished the season in vintage style with a monster +6.4 performance in Week 16 against the Chiefs before posting a +5.5 effort in the Wild Card loss to the Ravens. He played 491 total snaps including the playoffs, finishing at +14.5 as a pass rusher and +4.7 against the run. At 36 years old, Harrison is more well-rounded than others on this list as he is a more capable defender against the run while still showing an ability to make an impact off the edge.
Umenyiora was less successful than Freeney and Harrison as he played the role of pass rush specialist for the Falcons. He rushed the passer on 84 percent of his snaps, sprinkling in a few positively-graded efforts that put him at +4.2 as a rusher on the season. A similar role is preferred, and Umenyiora should be able to add at least an average pass rushing presence at this point in his career.
A bit more of a risk than the others, Abraham was limited to only 37 snaps for the Arizona Cardinals due to injury, but he finished at +6.9 as a pass rusher in 2013. He’ll be 37 years old at the start of the season, so little should be expected from Abraham, but a productive 300-400 snap season rushing off the edge isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
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Other Over-30 Candidates
Chris Myers, C
Still one of the best run blocking centers in the league, Myers is perfect for a zone blocking scheme that he ran for much of his time with the Texans. New head coach Bill O’Brien runs a more diverse system that uses more man concepts than Myers is used to, so the fit was not ideal. Despite the change, Myers finished at +14.4 as a run blocker a year ago, though it’s his -9.7 pass blocking grade that raises concerns. It was his second straight season grading in the red as a pass blocker, but for teams willing to sacrifice a little bit on that end to get a strong run-blocking center, Myers still has plenty to offer in that regard.
Lance Briggs, OLB
Even on a bad Bears defense, Briggs graded at +7.6 overall in eight games last season, including a +8.6 mark against the run. He’s played only 1026 snaps the last two seasons, so a limited role is likely in the cards if another team takes a chance on the 34-year-old. Two straight years of injuries and declining coverage grades suggest that early-down run stopper may be Briggs’ best fit.
Rashean Mathis, CB
The league isn’t exactly filled with cornerbacks in their mid-30s, never mind productive ones, but that’s exactly what Mathis was a year ago. He finished at +10.5 overall on 1073 snaps including the playoffs, impressive work for a player viewed as nothing more than a stopgap at this time a year ago. He could provide some valuable secondary depth again this season if given a chance in another one-year, stopgap role.
Justin Blalock, G
After a slow start to his career, Blalock has graded positively every year since 2010, including a +3.8 effort last season. He did finish with a disastrous -6.3 performance in Week 17, but at just 31 years old, the former second-rounder still has plenty to offer. Given some of the subpar guard play around the league, Blalock should find a home and unlike some of the other players on this list, he’s deserving of a full-time starting role.
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