With the NFL draft less than one week away, little will happen in regard to free agents until after the marquee event. However, many quality players remain available and could be signed for a fraction of the cost of the pre-draft “big signings.” Here are 20 players that will not demand an overwhelming amount of money who are waiting to help out a team.
1. Cedric Benson, RB – Benson posted his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season in 2011, proving to be durable after injury problems earlier in his career. Although all running backs wear out, Benson’s late emergence indicates he has some production left in him.
Similar signing – BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Cincinnati)
2. Andre Carter, DE – He had 10 sacks in 14 games before a quad injury knocked him out for the rest of the season. Carter’s career has been up and down, but anybody who is capable of double-digit sacks will easily be able to find a suitor.
Similar signing – Mark Anderson (Buffalo)
Potential fits – New England, New York Jets, Green Bay
3. Marcus McNeill, OT – Injuries have plagued McNeill’s career, but he is only 28, allowing him plenty of time to resurrect his once-promising career. Regardless of injury problems, he is an above-average tackle.
Similar signing – Eric Winston (Kansas City)
Potential fits – New York Giants, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland
4. Plaxico Burress, WR – Forty-five receptions, 13.6 yards per catch and eight touchdowns were good numbers for a guy coming back after two years out of the game. It is clear Burress can still play, but his past issues could keep teams from calling.
Similar signing – Vincent Jackson (Tampa Bay)
Potential fits – Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami
5. O.J. Atogwe, S – He was once considered a franchise player with St. Louis. After one season in Washington, he became an afterthought. Atogwe will easily find a new home.
Similar signing – Brandon Meriweather (Washington)
Potential fits – New Orleans, Detroit, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay
6. Braylon Edwards, WR – He has proven that he can be unstoppable at times, but due to injuries and a bad attitude, Edwards’ 2011 campaign was a nightmare. Although he is five years removed from his Pro Bowl season of 2007, teams are definitely aware of the 16 touchdowns he hauled in with the less-than-stellar Derek Anderson under center.
Similar signing – Legedu Naanee (Miami)
7. Andre’ Goodman, CB – Like many players, Goodman is on the decline, as he will turn 34 in August. Still, he had a solid 2011 season. Although he was released by Denver shortly after the Tracy Porter signing, Goodman will not be a free agent for long.
Similar signing – Shawntae Spencer (Oakland)
Potential fits – New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Buffalo
8. Dallas Clark, TE – It is unknown whether Clark will retire following his second consecutive injury-shortened season. Perhaps a good amount of rest will help him come back, but there is no guarantee he will be dominant player he once was. Getting a tight end that knows how to work the middle is a valuable commodity that will attract teams though.
Similar signing – Jacob Tamme (Denver)
Potential fits – Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Seattle
9. Jeremy Shockey, TE – Shockey has clearly had his rough patches, but the former Giant and Saint can still play. Plus, there is always a need for receiving tight ends. The main question surrounding Shockey is his attitude and behavior.
Similar signing – Martellus Bennett (New York Giants)
Potential fits – Chicago, Oakland, New York Jets
10. Yeremiah Bell, S – Bell is 34, and can no longer take the toll of playing special teams in addition to starting safety. If he is no longer expected to play special teams, he could still be an effective safety in the NFL.
Similar signing – Mike Adams (Denver)
Potential fits – New England, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Philadelphia
11. Shaun Ellis, DE – His production plummeted last season as he finished with a mere 14 tackles and a career-low one sack. Still, finding a 12-year veteran who can play end in a 3-4 or a 4-3 is not easy.
Similar signing – John Abraham (Atlanta)
12. Matt Roth, DE – Roth is a prototypical journeyman: a guy with just enough ability to have a solid role on a team, but not enough to ever be a star. He has had at least 3½ sacks in each of the past six years, but never more than five.
Similar signing – Derrick Harvey (Cincinnati)
Potential fits – Carolina, Seattle, Dallas, San Francisco
13. Aubrayo Franklin, DT – Run-stopping defensive tackles consistently have long careers in the NFL. At 31, Franklin will receive another chance to play for someone after a disappointing season in New Orleans. He was once considered a standout while in San Francisco, and although he will not produce at the same level, but he will definitely get picked up.
Similar signing – Brodrick Bunkley (New Orleans)
Potential fits – Denver, New York Giants, San Francisco, Minnesota
14. Kareem McKenzie, OL – McKenzie is big, smart and tough. He can play either right tackle or right guard. There is a never-ending demand for good offensive linemen in the NFL.
Similar signing – Levi Brown (Arizona)
Potential fits – Cleveland, St. Louis, Seattle, Houston, Miami
15. Jason Brown, C – Brown was once the highest-paid center in the league, but his attitude forced St. Louis to release him just three years into a seven-year deal. Brown is talented, but he will have to have to work on his demeanor to continue playing professional football.
Similar signing – Samson Satele (Indianapolis)
Potential fits – Tennessee, Dallas, New Orleans
16. Ryan McBean, DT – McBean is facing a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancement policy, but is suing the league in an attempt to get the suspension reversed. He could well be worth the risk as he played in 58 percent of the Broncos’ defensive snaps in 2011, tops among Denver’s defensive tackles.
Similar signing – C.J. Mosley (Jacksonville)
Potential fits – Houston, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville
17. Jim Leonhard, S – Each of his last two seasons ended in injury, and he is not exactly a physical specimen at 5-foot-8. However, there are few players as smart as Leonhard, which is extremely valuable in the secondary.
Similar signing – Will Allen (New England)
Potential fits – Carolina, Philadelphia, Denver, New England
18. Mat McBriar, P – McBriar ended last season on injured reserve and posted his third-worst career average at 43.8 yards a punt. However, he is only one year removed from being a Pro Bowler. Plus, he is 32, which means he is in his prime as a punter.
Similar signing – Donnie Jones (Houston)
19. Gary Brackett, ILB – Prior to suffering numerous injuries over the past couple seasons, Brackett was a tackling machine. He racked up 561 tackles from 2005-09, but after playing in only one game in 2011, Indianapolis released the former anchor of its defense. Although his health is a concern, it is unlikely Bracket will be without a team come the 2012 preseason.
Similar signing – London Fletcher (Washington)
Potential fits – Arizona, Pittsburgh, Denver
20. Ryan Grant, RB – Grant’s production in Green Bay has been limited due to injuries and the emergence of James Starks. It is unlikely Grant will return the Packers, but his two 1,000-plus yard seasons (and one 956-yard campaign), will guarantee the five-year pro a home in 2012.
Similar signing – Kevin Smith (Detroit)
Potential fits – Indianapolis, Cleveland, San Diego, New England