Top 10 free agents still on the market
With one week of free agency in the books, there are still quality players available to improve teams’ rosters. Each of the following players sits among PFF’s top 75 free agents, with Eric Weddle near the top of that list.
Here are the best free agents that remain unsigned up to this point.
1. Eric Weddle, S, Chargers
(Editor’s note: Signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Mon., March 14.)
At the safety position in the NFL over the last five years, no one has been able to match the consistency of Weddle in coverage. From 2011 to 2014, he graded out in the top five every single year before slipping back to seventh in an injury-plagued 2015. He may be 31 years old, but Weddle is the type of playmaker at safety that should thrive off instincts and natural talent well into his mid-30s.
2. Nick Fairley, DT, Rams
It’s quite possible that in five years we look back at Fairley as the most-productive defensive lineman of this entire free-agency period—he has that kind of upside. The only question is, can he stay healthy enough to play a full season’s worth of snaps? Last year on a snap-for-snap basis, Fairley was a top-five defensive tackle, with a +20.0 cumulative overall grade in only 427 snaps (0.0 is considered average). The problem is that he’s never seen more than 693 snaps in any given season in his career. This late in free agency, though, whoever signs him should be getting great value for their money.
3. Evan Mathis, G, Broncos
Even at 35 years old, there are still few that can match Mathis’ production in a zone scheme. He showed obvious rust the first couple weeks of the 2015 season after joining the Broncos late, but from Week 3 and on, Mathis was once again a top-five guard in the NFL. He may very well retire after getting a ring, but if not, he’s well worth a one-year rental.
4. Kelvin Beachum, LT, Steelers
(Editor’s note: Signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Tues., March 15.)
Beachum is the lone remaining offensive linemen that checks both the “young” and “good” boxes. He’s only 26, but he’s hitting free agency a year too late. In 2014, the left tackle was at the top of his position in terms of pass protection, allowing 19 total pressures all season. Disaster struck, though, last year when he tore his ACL in Week 6, and now teams are wary of the long-term effects associated with the injury. He may have to take a “prove-it” deal, but at full strength, Beachum would shore up the blind side of any team in need.
5. Donald Penn, LT, Raiders
Penn is still perhaps one of the most underrated tackles in the NFL, having quietly graded out positively every year since PFF began grading back in 2007. Over that span, he’s also averaged 1,037 snaps per season, with only one year (2007) where he didn’t start every game. Old reliable showed no signs of slowing down, either, at 33 years old; he finished 2015 as PFF’s 11th-highest-graded tackle.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Jets
Fitzpatrick knows he’s the only quarterback left on the market who performed competently at some point over the past two seasons, and he’s trying to manufacture a bidding war for those services. The problem is that he went through stretches in 2015 where he looked completely lost as a passer. At only 33, it’s not ridiculous to think that Fitzpatrick has another five good years left in him.
7. Patrick Robinson, CB, Chargers
Robinson saw a bit of a resurgence in his one season in San Diego after being moved to the slot full-time. Unfortunately for him, the Chargers aren’t bringing him back anytime soon after signing Casey Hayward for the same role. The slot corner is a huge role in modern defenses, though, and may even be undervalued, as evidenced by Hayward’s minor deal. Robinson played 713 snaps last season and was our 30th-highest-graded corner.
8. Walter Thurmond, S, Eagles
There is a rumor going around that the 28-year-old Thurmond is contemplating retirement after only six seasons in the NFL. The timing is odd, considering he’s on the verge of his first big multi-year deal, but there’s not a wrong time to think about life after football. Thurmond thrived in his first season as a safety in Philadelphia, earning a 79.3 grade across from Malcolm Jenkins. His ability to drop down and cover the slot as a safety should be coveted on the open market.
9. Leon Hall, CB, Bengals
After a solid 2014, Hall was curiously demoted to nickel corner in favor of Dre Kirkpatrick for Cincinnati. The results weren’t great for the Bengals, but Hall once again graded positively in coverage for the ninth straight season. At 31, he’s a bit past his prime, but competency at cornerback is difficult to come by.
10. Russell Okung, LT, Seahawks
Okung has been able to muster one season in his six-year career that justified his top-10 selection. That year was 2012 when he was our 10th-highest-graded tackle. Every year since, though, he’s graded out negatively as injuries have plagued his development. He’s only 28, and there’s still hope that he can regain that form, but even if he can’t, a slightly below-average tackle is still a massive upgrade for a lot of teams.