Greg Hardy heads list of best remaining NFL free agents
Editor’s note: This list has been updated after two players — defensive tackle Nick Fairley (Saints) and cornerback Brandon Boykin (Panthers) — signed contracts on Monday.
Courtney Upshaw‘s signing with the Atlanta Falcons was the 201st agreement in the 2016 unrestricted free-agent class (now up to 203).
Ninety-eight players have moved to different teams, 105 have re-signed. That leaves 193 free agents available, mostly at bargain prices.
History says it’s hard for a player to generate more than a one-year deal or a big contract this late in free agency. Normally, there are one or two free agents a year who can net better than a $3 million contract this late.
Last year, Michael Crabtree signed a one-year, $3.2 million deal with the Oakland Raiders and parlayed it into a long-term deal during the season. Two years ago, Jared Allen agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal at the owners meetings. Brent Grimes grabbed a one-year, $5.5 million contract on April 1, 2013.
Over the next few months, between 35 and 50 players will likely sign with new teams. Several will re-sign with their previous teams. Clearly, there is value on the market.
Here are the top 15 remaining free agents:
1. Greg Hardy, defensive end: Hardy may be a headache for a coach, but he’s clearly the best player on the market, the only elite player left. Owners who mandate they won’t sign players who have domestic violence issues may shy away from Hardy, but someone will sign him. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys signed him to a contract worth more than $11 million even though he started the season with a four-game suspension. My best guess is a team that doesn’t get the pass-rusher it was looking for in the draft might sign him, but his market will pick up at some point.
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback: Fitzpatrick, who has an offer on the table from the New York Jets worth more than $7 million a year, is one of the few remaining players who can get more than $6 million a year. The Jets know he doesn’t have too much of a market so they don’t want to bid against themselves. But they need him. The two-year, $15 million contract Robert Griffin III signed with Cleveland may convince the Jets to offer more money. He did take the team to 10 wins last year. The Jets need him.
3. Percy Harvin, wide receiver: For talent, there are few better than Harvin. He’s fast. He can get behind defenders on pass plays and can be explosive from the slot in passing situations. Still, he has gone from being an $11 million-a-year player to someone with questions about whether he still wants to play. The Buffalo Bills think he wants to continue playing and are waiting out a decision from him.
4. Reggie Nelson, safety: The entire league is surprised no one has signed him yet. He may be 32, but he’s coming off a season in which he intercepted eight passes and had 14 pass defenses. He’s a playmaker, but he needs a team to sign him. Most people thought he would sign around the time Eric Weddle did. Weddle ended up going to the Baltimore Ravens.
5. Aldon Smith, linebacker: Even though he’s serving a year-long suspension, he could offer a great half season (he returns in mid-November) for a team looking for a playmaker. Before he was cut in San Francisco, Smith was one of the best defenders in the game. The Raiders are still interested in bringing him back, but for now he sits.
6. Stefen Wisniewski, center: The Jaguars got 16 decent starts out of Wisniewski. He has 77 starts in his career and is only 27. The center market has been slow in free agency this year. Teams may be thinking about getting a center in the draft. Whoever signs him gets a starter at a low price.
7. Greg Zuerlein, kicker: Zuerlein may have had his worst season, making only 20 of 30 field goals, but he has one of the most powerful legs in football. The rule change that gives kickers a chance to minimize returns may help his market. He can ice a returner with touchbacks.
8. Ronnie Hillman, running back: Hillman may not be an elite running back, but he’s not bad. Last year, he rushed for 863 yards for the Denver Broncos, averaged 4.2 yards a carry and had seven touchdowns. At 24, he’s young and can still develop. Plus, he will come at a low cost.
9. Walter Thurmond, safety: Thurmond is versatile enough to play cornerback or safety. He did good things for the Philadelphia Eagles last year. There seems to be some questions, though, about whether he wants to continue playing.
10. Amini Silatolu, guard: He’s the best remaining guard on the market. At 27, he is young enough to start for a team. At 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he can help a team in need of a run-blocker.
11. LeGarrette Blount, running back: Blount is a big back who can help a power offense. It’s strange that the New England Patriots haven’t re-signed him. He was the ideal option when the weather turned cold and the elements entered the game. Blount has an impressive 4.6-yard career average, strong for a 250-pound back.
12. Anquan Boldin, wide receiver: Boldin may be 35, but he’s physically tough and can be a value to a winning team looking for a receiver. He caught 69 passes last year. At his age, he may not have a 1,000-yard season in him, but he can bring leadership and productivity to a team.
13. Zach Brown, linebacker: A team looking for a third linebacker would have to consider Brown. He had 33 starts for the Tennessee Titans, 27 in his first two years. He could help as a middle or inside linebacker.
14. Mike Neal, defensive end/linebacker: Neal started 15 games for the Packers last year and had four sacks. He’s coming off a two-year, $8 million contract. He could play end in a 4-3 or linebacker in a 3-4.
15. Josh Brown, kicker: Brown is aging like a fine wine. He’s 36 and coming off a Pro Bowl season. He made 30 of 32 field goals and had 37 touchbacks in 92 kickoff attempts. Great younger kickers can command salaries of more than $4 million. Because of age, Brown will be a bargain for the Giants or his next team.