Top 10 free agents still on the market
This year’s free-agent crop has been fairly well picked through at this point, but there are still quality players on the market that can come in and start right away for most teams. Here are our top 10 remaining free agents after the first two weeks of free agency.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Walter Thurmond, S, Eagles
There is still the possibility 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.
5. Reggie Nelson, S, Bengals
The age-talent balance is always one that teams have to weigh in free agency, especially at positions that put a premium on speed. Nelson is 32 and has still graded out like a top-10 safety in coverage over the past few seasons. Just how long that will last is what teams must decide, but I don’t see him dropping off a cliff within the next couple years.
6. 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.
7. Greg Hardy, DE, Cowboys
Everyone knows Hardy’s story by now, and if the Cowboys aren’t willing to take another chance on him, I’m guessing there are few that will. He can get after the passer, though, as he totaled 21 combined sacks and hits in 610 snaps a year ago. This is the same guy who was our fourth-highest graded edge defender back in 2013 and at only 27 years old he’s still well within his prime.
8. Aldon Smith, OLB, Raiders
Like Hardy, Aldon Smith is another player with more than simply his on-field performance to worry about. Smith will be serving a suspension that could take him all the way through Week 10 of next season, and that significantly decreases his value to a team. Off-field issues aside, though, Smith has been one of the most feared edge rushers since the day he stepped foot on an NFL field. He’s taken a bit of a step back the past few seasons after a Hall-of-Fame-worthy start to his career, but even last year he graded out very well in only 530 snaps.
9. Brandon Boykin, CB, Steelers
Routinely one of the top slot cornerbacks in football when he was in Philadelphia, Boykin retained that steady performance in Pittsburgh, despite seeing his snap count take a nose dive. He was Pittsburgh’s highest-graded cornerback, despite playing only 407 snaps. In Boykin’s career-year of 2013, he totaled 16 combined interceptions and pass breakups, the fourth-highest figure in the league.
10. Manny Ramirez, C, Lions
For some reason, the Lions made a draft-day trade to secure Ramirez a year ago, but then tried everything in their power to not let him see the football field. A versatile interior player, Ramirez was the highest-graded offensive lineman in Detroit in only 502 snaps spread out between left guard, center, and right guard. At 33 years old, he’s not much more than a stop-gap at this point, but he’s an extremely competent one at that.