By: Jake Leicht
Most NFL fans were eagerly waiting for free agency to start on March 12th this year. That was the date that teams could start “legally” tampering with free agents. News always comes fast and furious in the NFL world, and this year was no different. By the time players were permitted to actually sign with a new (or old) NFL team, most of the top flight guys were already committed to a franchise. Although players like Kirk Cousins, Andrew Norwell, and Trumaine Johnson were able to sign for big time money, not all of the talent on the market was gobbled up by teams during the first round of free agency.
Every year, NFL teams are able to find valuable players on the free agent wire late in the NFL offseason. This year is no different. There is currently a former Super Bowl starting quarterback available, as well as a former league rushing champ. There is also a former top of the line receiver that needs to find a job too. A tight end that has been with one franchise over his entire 13 year career is still a viable option for teams in need of depth at the position. Along the offensive line there are still young players available that were once top five overall draft picks. To put it bluntly, there are still interesting options to be had for NFL teams looking to add some talent to their offensive depth charts for the 2018 season.
Here are the top players still available in free agency at each offensive position:
Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick (Age 30)
I am not talking about politics here, I am only talking about his ability to play football.
Kaepernick is one of the best 64 quarterbacks on the planet right now. In fact, he is probably one of the best 32 quarterbacks. His last season in the NFL was 2016, and he only started 11 games. Over that stretch, Kaepernick only threw for 2,241 yards, and he had a completion percentage of 59.2%. He did have several positive stats including 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He also had 468 yards on the ground with 2 touchdowns as well.
Kaepernick could bring a very unique set of skills for any team willing to take a chance on the 30 year old quarterback. He has the ability to make plays in the pocket as well as on the ground. He gave defensive coordinators fits during his career with the 49ers. One aspect of his game that he has struggled with throughout his career is his accuracy. He only has a career completion percentage of 59.8%. Although he comes with “baggage” that stems from his political views, Kaepernick is still a former starting Super Bowl quarterback. That unique experience alone should lead any team looking to add talent to their quarterback room to give Kaepernick a call. He is by no means a great NFL quarterback, but he is certainly good enough to be in the league.
Team Fits: Bills, Dolphins, Chargers
Running Back: DeMarco Murray (Age 30)
DeMarco Murray has been one of the better running backs in the NFL during his 7 year career. Although he has been injury-prone, especially early in his career, Murray has still accumulated 9,339 yards from scrimmage in his career. His best season came all the way back in 2014 when he rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Dallas Cowboys. Since then, he has posted only one season in which he went over 1,000 rushing yards. Two years ago, he signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans, and he posted a 1,287 yard rushing performance to go along with 9 touchdowns.
The problem for Murray is that he is entering his age 30 season, and he is coming off of a down year. Although he started 15 games for the Titans, Murray had only 659 yards rushing. His speed seemed to diminish over the second half of last year. He didn’t quite hit holes with the same burst of speed that he had become known for throughout his career. He is still a threat out of the backfield to catch the ball though, as he posted 39 catches for the Titans last season. Due to his experience and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, I think DeMarco Murray will get a contract offer from a team looking to add some competition in training camp.
Team Fits: Colts, Saints, 49ers
Wide Receiver: Dez Bryant (Age 30)
At one point in his career, Dez Bryant was one of the best red zone receivers in the league. He was able to take the top off of opposing defenses, and defensive coordinators were often forced to double team him because of his playmaking ability. Dez was fun to watch early in his career, and he was a beloved member of the Dallas Cowboys during his 8 year tenure with the team. During his first five years with the team, he averaged 11 touchdowns a year. Bryant was known for “throwing up the X” after each of his touchdown catches.
The problems for Bryant started in 2015 when he was injured after his 9th game of the season. He was not having a productive year before the injury. In 2016, the Cowboys were forced to change their offense after Tony Romo went down with an injury during training camp. Bryant was never able to get it going with Dak Prescott during their two year run together. Last year with the Cowboys, he started every game, but he only posted 69 catches for 838 yards. Dez has never been a very good route runner, and as he has gotten older, his athleticism has not been enough to get him open. If Dez can revamp his game, he can definitely still be effective. The question is whether or not he can be realistic and see that he needs to change his game to help his new team.
Team Fits: Packers, 49ers, Texans
Tight End: Marcedes Lewis (Age 33)
Marcedes Lewis has played for the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2006. Over his 12 year career with the Jags, he posted 375 catches for 4,502 yards and 33 touchdowns. While those numbers are not eye popping, he has been a consistent player for the Jaguars even when they were struggling as a franchise. By all reports, he has been a model citizen in Jacksonville, and he has been a team leader for them for the better part of a decade. His leadership in the locker room has helped the team develop into one of the better teams in the league. It seems like the Jaguars have added a ton of free agents each year, and having steady leaders like Lewis has helped new players become acquainted with the Jaguars style on and off the field.
Lewis is obviously at the end of his career, but he still has at least one or two more productive years left in the tank. He is no longer the receiving threat from the tight end position that he once was, but he can still make plays in the red zone. At this point in his career, Lewis is probably better served as a number two tight end that can be a factor in the running game with his ability to block. He is not the sexiest name on the market, but Lewis could easily help fill a void for a team if they have tight end injuries during training camp this year.
Team Fits: Chargers, Saints, Cowboys
Offensive Tackle: Greg Robinson (Age 25)
When Greg Robinson was picked with the 2nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Rams, most draft experts believed that he was going to be one of the top tackles in the league. Coming out of Auburn, Robinson was seen as an athletic tackle for his size (6–5, 332 pounds) that would transition nicely to the NFL. That has not happened whatsoever. Robinson lasted only three short years with the Rams, and they were not particularly good years at that. He was constantly beat by speed rushers, and the Rams even tried to slide him inside to guard to cover up his weaknesses. Even that did not work. Last season, he played in Detroit where he only started 6 games for a team that was desperate to upgrade their line play. Simply put, Robinson has been a huge disappointment thus far in his career.
In order to be effective on the outside of any offensive line, Robinson is going to have to cut some weight and add some footspeed. The fact that he is only 25 years old still gives me hope that Robinson can at least somewhat salvage his NFL career. Ideally Robinson would go somewhere in which he could get some intense coaching. I am not sure if a team will ever feel comfortable with him starting at left tackle, but he should at least be good enough to make a NFL roster out of training camp. The fact that Robinson is only 25 years old and he still has not been given an opportunity with a team scares me. Offensive linemen are quickly scooped up in free agency. A young player that was good enough to be the number 2 overall pick four short years ago should be intriguing to teams. Hopefully Robinson can get a chance to prove that he can still play in this league.
Team Fits: Browns, Cowboys, Chiefs
Offensive Guard: Luke Joeckel (Age 26)
Speaking of a former 2nd overall pick, Luke Joeckel is out on the free agent wire as well. Joeckel was the 2nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Although that draft did not have many big names players in it, the fact that he was good enough to be drafted so highly speaks to how NFL scouts evaluated him out of Texas A&M. Joeckel did not have a great showing at the 2014 NFL Combine, posting a 5.30 40 yard dash at 306 pounds. The Jaguars still tabbed the 6–6 left tackle with the second pick, but he only started five games in his rookie season. The Jaguars slotted Joeckel as their number one left tackle in 2014 and 2015, but he was ineffective. Like the Rams did with Greg Robinson, the Jags tried to slide him inside to guard, but it didn’t work out. Joeckel ultimately was let go, and the Seahawks picked him up and played him at both guard positions in 2017.
The Seahawks decided to let him go in free agency, and he has not signed with anyone so far. Joeckel is not quite the physical specimen that Robinson is and he is a year older, so he might have a difficult time finding a job before training camp. His biggest problem thus far in his career is that he does not use his hands well in either the passing or running game. Like Robinson, he also has some problems with his footwork. Bad hands and slow footwork are not a great combination. Joeckel will probably have to wait until a team loses a guard to injury before he is considered for a roster spot in training camp.
Team Fits: Steelers, Texans, Cardinals
Center: Brian Schwenke (Age 27)
Unlike both Robinson and Joeckel, Brian Schwenke was not a first round pick. In fact, Schwenke was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. During his five year career with the Titans, he has never been a solid starter for them. The most games in a season that he has started is 11, and he did that in 2014. Schwenke did manage to play in all 16 games the last two years, but he only started in a combined 5 total games during that stretch. The Titans never gave him a real chance to be their center of the future.
If he is able to play his absolute best, Schwenke can only be considered as a viable back up center option. If he is forced to play for an extended period of time, the team playing him will probably not be thrilled with the results. The positive aspect about adding him would be the fact that he can possibly play on the punt team, though that is probably still a stretch.
Team Fits: Colts, Patriots, Ravens