Top 10 free agents still on the market

Mike Renner takes a look at the best free agents that remain unsigned entering the third week of free agency.

| 7 months ago
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • cka2nd

    Under Aldon Smith, that should be “set foot on” or “stepped on,” not “stepped foot on an NFL field.

  • Tito Puente

    Reggie Nelson would be perfect for the Raiders on a two-year deal, come off the books just as they re-sign Mack and Carr.

    • Johnny Rotten

      Even if just for a year as a stop gap. The two starters could be Nelson and a rookie we draft. The next year draft Nelson’s replacement. If Nelson wants more than a 1 year contract Reggie can set up a 2 year contract that won’t hurt the cap if he cut after a year. Or is he’s still pretty good keep him the entire 2 years.

  • TJ Smith

    Aldon Smith should wait until when his suspension is near done. Then sign a long term deal.

    • Tim Edell

      No team with sign Aldon Smith to a long term deal and if they do it will involve very little to no guarantees money.

      • TJ Smith

        He wouldn’t get big guaranteed money. So a team could cut him anytime. The raiders aren’t going to keep signing him short deals. He would have went over a year with only a minor incident. I think they hope he will be a core player.

        • Johnny Rotten

          Whether he comes back in 2016 or 2017 it will be for a 1 year deal. Both years will probably be for 1 year deals. I don’t think he’ll be that effective if he steps in mid season after being out of football for a year. So any long term deal made in 2017 would be for cheap. I think he’d wait and not sign a long term deal in 2017. He’ll probably want to sign a 1 year deal in 2017 to prove he’s a top tier pass rusher so he can earn a big money contract in 2018 and beyond.

          I hope the Raiders sign him this year when he’s eligible. Even if he doesn’t get much playing time. I just want him back in the building, back with the coaches, back on the practice field, back in the defense, and back into football shape. Then figure out what he wants to do in 2017. Like sign a team friendly long term contract or another 1 year prove it contract so he can show the Raiders front office what he can do playing an entire season with an entire off season of training.

          • cyberry

            Aldon Smith would be stupid to sign a long term with no guaranteed money. If he awesome year, he would be stuck with that same “low” contract for 5 years. He is better off to sign a one year deal… show he back to old self. Then re-enter free agency..

            BTW.. If an agent told his client to sign a long term contact without guaranteed money, he should be fired. That would be like a ordinary guy starting a job and signing a paper that said “no raises”, “no bonus” and if you quit you can’t work in this field for 5 years.

            He better off looking for a team making a play-off run or injury to their top pass rusher..

  • TJ Smith

    When the hardy details came out groups asked the cowboys to drop him at that moment. If anyone signs Hardy they will hear about it. Many owners will pass on that. Not to mention he acted a fool in Dallas and the cowboys don’t want him back. I’m betting training camp hardy still looking for a spot.