Marquee players such as Peyton Manning and Mario Williams always get the big money contracts and the media attention when it comes to unrestricted free agency in the National Football League, yet, while many of the top players have signed, there are still a number of talented veterans, who can help a football team in 2012, just maybe at more of a bargain rate then Manning and Williams, who each signed mega deal with their new teams.
Paying players big salaries in no way guarantees that the player will produce, therefore some teams wait for the first wave of free agency to finish, before getting involved in the process and in effect, staying out of costly bidding wars. So now that the bargain shopping has begun, here is a list of the ten best free agents still available.
1. Curtis Lofton, Atlanta, LB – Lofton is an extremely productive player who posted 147 tackles, a sack, eight tackles for loss and forced four turnovers. For some reason, the Falcons appear ready to move on without him after signing former pro bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Lofton, who has totaled over 100 tackles three straight years, would be a solid addition to any linebacker needy team and at this point in free agency, he probably isn’t going to break the bank. This guy is a sure-fire starter and turns just 26 in June.
2. Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, TE – While Clark has had injury problems each of the last two season and turns 33 this June, I still believe Clark can be a productive player. He may not be a traditional starting tight end but he never really was in Indy either. He is better as a move tight end, who primarily functions as a pass catcher. Even with Curtis Painter throwing him the ball, he still managed 34 receptions for 552 yards and two td’s in 11 games, which makes me believe that if he were re-united with Manning in Denver or with another good quarterback, he would show he can still play at a high level.
3. Kareem McKenzie, New York Giants, RT – McKenzie was a premium free agent in 2006 when the Giants signed him for a big money contract, now he’s a second-tier guy. The important thing about him though, is that he can still pass block. Yes, he’s 33 years old, but good tackles don’t just grow on trees, so if a team wants a veteran tackle, who’ll be a legitimate starter, McKenzie is the best option.
4. London Fletcher, Washington Redskins, LB – Yes, Fletcher is 37 years old, he’s also 5’9, you may ask why would anyone want to sign him to be their starting middle linebacker.? The answer, because the guy is a tackling machine. He hasn’t missed a single game in his 14 year career and since becoming a full-time player, has averaged 136 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.6 turnovers a year. Last season was one of his best statistically with a career-high 166 tackles, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and 1.5 sacks. The Redskins want him back, they just don’t want to overpay for a 37-year old middle linebacker. However, Fletcher could be a great bargain at this point and appears to have a couple of good years left in him, and I guarantee whoever signs him will not regret it.
5. Antonio Garay, San Diego, DT – Good defensive lineman are rare in the free agent market after the first wave and Garay is one of the few capable of starting, who’s still unsigned. He’s big at 6’4 and athletic enough to be an effective pass rusher. Last season he posted 2.5 sacks but in 2010 he recorded 5.5. I believe he can fit in the 3-4 at nose tackle or end but I think his best position is at end. He’s also a good nickel rusher. Garay would look great in Green Bay, but Packer GM Ted Thompson likely won’t want to pay enough to lure him Lambeau.
6. Tracy Porter, New Orleans, CB – Porter didn’t have his best season in 2011 and the Saints appear not to want him back, however, Porter has proven he is a solid cover guy and you can never have enough of those guys in this league. In four season, Porter has played 43 games, intercepted 7 passes, broken up 33 and forced four fumbles, while also recovering two. Any team in need of corner help and doesn’t want to wait till the draft should take a shot on Porte, who’s turning 26 in August.
7. Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco, DL – Franklin was stout as the nose tackle of the 49ers 3-4 defense but chose to sign with the Saints, a 4-3 team, last offseason, causing a player, who averaged 40 tackles over the previous three years, to register just 17, in a system that didn’t really fit his talents. In the right defense, Franklin could prove to be a bargain.
8. Luis Castillo, San Diego, DL – Castillo was released after playing only one game in 2011, but Castillo is a former pro bowler, who at the right price could be a steal. In six years before the injury, he had 210 tackles, 19 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He’s a definite health risk but because of that won’t command much money, therefore I believe teams in need of defensive line help, should take a risk on him.
9. Vernon Carey, Miami, OG – There are very few starting offensive lineman still available and Carey is the best guard out there. He also brings position versatility, playing tackle at one point in his career, therefore any team in need of a starting guard should give Carey a call.
10. E. J. Henderson – People forget how good Henderson was before injuries cost him 16 games from 2009-2010. Yet, he has come back strong, posting back-to-back seasons with over 100 tackles, while also forcing an average of four turnovers and 1.5 sacks. He isn’t generating much buzz right now but any team willing to sign him, will get a starting caliber middle linebacker.