With NFL training camps winding down and the regular season fast approaching, it's that time of year when many remaining veteran free agents finally latch onto a club.
We've already seen a flurry of moves in the market recently. Yannick Ngakoue took his edge-rushing talents to Chicago. Justin Houston inked a deal with Carolina. John Johnson returned to L.A. Teddy Bridgewater joined Detroit to back up Jared Goff. And this week, the running back position provided two headline-grabbing signings, with Dalvin Cook landing in New York and Ezekiel Elliott taking his bowl and spoon to New England.
Less than a month before the season kicks off, veteran players dangling on the open market can still aid a club's playoff quest. Here are ideal team fits for 10 notable unsigned free agents:
Clowney visited the Ravens and Jaguars in the past week, two clubs that can use pass-rush aid. I like the fit in Jacksonville, where the AFC South champs are thin behind Josh Allen and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker. Clowney is no longer an every-down player, but he can still provide pressure and is stellar against the run.
EDITOR'S UPDATE: Clowney is signing a one-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported on Aug. 18.
The Ravens' defense got bulldozed by the Eagles in the first preseason game -- 271 first-half yards allowed -- highlighting the unit's lack of depth. Second-year linebacker David Ojabo had an up-and-down performance, unable to keep the edge on one third-and-long QB run. Adding a versatile, savvy veteran like Van Noy would immediately help the group. The 32-year-old still has juice in his legs and is an intelligent defender who would fit well in Mike Macdonald's scheme. The Ravens could also look to add a more traditional pass rusher like Carlos Dunlap or Robert Quinn.
The Chiefs' lack of pass rush stood out in their preseason opener, when they were pushed around by the Saints' O-line. Chris Jones wasn't on the field, but starters George Karlaftis and Charles Omenihu (suspended the first six games of the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy) could use some help on the edge. It's a hole we've noted all offseason. At 34, Dunlap can still get in the backfield, having netted 27 pressures and four sacks last season in K.C. Adding Dunlap or another veteran presence on the edge seems like a given heading into the season. First, though, the Chiefs need to figure out Jones' contract to free up some cap space.
Since this list is essentially wishcasting, let's send another edge rusher to a Super Bowl contender. This is not about Nick Bosa's deal getting done, but rather providing depth on the edge. Clelin Ferrell looked solid Sunday, netting a sack in five pass-rush snaps, but can the 49ers count on the former Raiders first-rounder to do it for an entire season? Similarly, the Niners expect a Year 2 leap from Drake Jackson, but the jury remains out on that front. Adding a veteran like Ingram would give veteran depth to the group in case some of the young players don't ascend as hoped. Ingram can still bring pop in bursts (37 pressures and six sacks in 479 snaps with Miami last year, per Next Gen Stats).
Hunt visited the Saints, Colts and Vikings, leaving each without a deal, which indicates he has yet to get an offer of his liking. Those three landing spots all make sense on paper with unsettled depth charts. I also considered Washington here, given Hunt's familiarity with Eric Bieniemy's offense and coaching style, which became pertinent recently. However, sixth-rounder Chris Rodriguez Jr.'s performance last week (39 yards on five carries for 7.8 yards per tote) makes me want to see more out of the rookie before adding another veteran to the mix in D.C. So we're back to New Orleans, which will be without Alvin Kamara for the first three weeks. Rookie Kendre Miller suffered a knee sprain in the first preseason game, and while there is optimism he'll be ready by Week 1, there are depth issues in the Saints' backfield. While he might have lost a step in recent years, Hunt could give New Orleans a boost alongside Jamaal Williams until Kamara returns, as well as injury insurance for a team aiming to win the NFC South.
Given the state of play we saw from offensive lines trotting out mostly backups in the first week of preseason action, a host of clubs should give Risner a call. Units in Carolina, Washington, Tennessee and others could all use some help. I'll go with Minnesota here due to guards Ed Ingram and Ezra Cleveland struggling in camp, the fact that Risner has already visited the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the guard's social media interactions and, most importantly, familiarity with offensive line coach Chris Kuper from their days together in Denver. An above-average pass protector, Risner would immediately boost the blocking in front of Kirk Cousins. The 28-year-old remains the top O-lineman on the market and could be waiting for a bigger payday than the Vikes want to shell out.
Giants general manager Joe Schoen noted last week that Barr wouldn't visit the club following the linebacker's workout in New Orleans. New York wants to get a look at youngsters Darrian Beavers and Micah McFadden, who are competing for the spot next to Bobby Okereke after Jarrad Davis' season-ending injury. But nothing is stopping the Giants from reversing gears in the coming weeks. The 31-year-old Barr would bring experience to a Big Blue defense that's fairly young in the back seven.
Let's head back to Baltimore, where the offense being more settled than the D feels topsy-turvy. Along with more juice up front, the Ravens could use corner help. Injuries have already reared their heads in the Baltimore secondary: Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey is dealing with a foot injury that will require surgery and cause him to miss the first several games of the season; Trayvon Mullen suffered a season-ending toe injury; free-agent addition Rock Ya-Sin has been sidelined with a knee issue; and Arthur Maulet is dealing with a hamstring injury. Callahan authored a bounce-back season with the Chargers last year and could be the type of veteran presence who can solidify Baltimore's back end.
UPDATE: The Ravens did add some secondary depth on Thursday, signing CB Ronald Darby to a one-year deal worth up to $3.2 million.
With Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott off the market, it's time for veteran RBs to grab a chair. With Jonathan Taylor's lingering situation and Zack Moss' injury, let's ship Lenny to Indy. Fournette can provide the Colts a power runner with some pass-catching ability. Fifth-rounder Evan Hull and third-year pro Deon Jackson currently sit in line for meaningful snaps to open the season, and veteran Kenyan Drake is also in the mix. But adding Fournette would give the backfield more insurance if Taylor's elongated absence extends. Having a veteran back would also aid rookie QB Anthony Richardson, who was officially named the team's starter this week.
Let's shoehorn a kicker on our list. Cowboys brass has backed former soccer player Brandon Aubrey, but kicker feels like a spot where Dallas will add a veteran at some point. Aubrey made his only field-goal attempt Saturday and was 2 of 3 on PATs. Would the Cowboys really enter the season with an unproven kicker after Brett Maher's postseason debacle? Gould remains a free agent, and while he doesn't have the biggest leg, he is as reliable as they come. Of note: Gould has never missed a postseason kick in his career (29/29 on FGs; 39/39 on PATs).
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