Considering the team’s past history, free agent Dez Bryant may want to quash any rumors of him signing with the Cleveland Browns.
However, even as one of the game’s premier remaining unsigned free agents — who doesn’t have a job — beggars can’t be choosers.
Whatever the case, Bryant is still just 29 and not far removed from multiple 1,000-plus yards receiving seasons.
He is just one of 100s of free agents still looking for contracts this year, from former super-duper stars like Bryant to guys like Trey Griffey (son of Ken Griffey Jr.), who kicked around the edges of the NFL long enough to get a reserve/futures contract with Pittsburgh (which has meant nothing to him yet).
We have pored over that long list of NFL hopefuls and have come up with a list of 20 players from a diverse group of positions that NFL teams may want to throw a contract offer at. In no particular order.
20. K Patrick Murray
There were better kickers than Tampa’s Patrick Murray in 2017, and there were also worse ones, from a statistical perspective. Murray, 27, who replaced a suddenly errant Nick Folk five games into the 2017 season. Murray was pretty good anywhere from 20 to 49 yards, going 17-for-18 on field goals (8-for-8 from 30-39 yards). His percentage took an overall dip to 82.6 because of the three of five attempts he missed from 50+ yards. As far as extra points go, Murray was 21 out of 22 for a 95.5 percent efficiency rate. The Fordham grad made a tick under $400,000 last season. Murray would be an upgrade on what Cleveland has (Zane Gonzalez) and Green Bay (Mason Crosby) to name two teams.
19. ILB Brian Cushing
If Cushing can put his PED scandals behind him and start fresh, he could be useful in a back-up role or as a spot starter as need be. The Texans all-time leading tackler was released after being suspended last year for 10 games for again violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He is still just 31 and not far removed from the halcyon days in Houston. Last year, in five starts, he had 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks. In nine seasons with the Texans, the former Defensive Rookie of the Year played 104 games, all starts, and logged eight interceptions, 30 pass deflections, nine forced fumbles, 13.5 sacks and 674 tackles. He has a dead cap hit of $1.2 million heading into the 2018 campaign.
18. WR Eric Decker
It wasn’t a banner year for veteran WR Decker with Tennessee in 2017. But, neither was it a total lost cause. He made eight starts in 16 games and hauled in 54 passes for 563 yards and a touchdown. He equaled his TD count in one playoff game for the Titans, snaring the game-winning 22-yard pass from Marcus Mariota as Tennessee beat Kansas City 22-21 in the AFC wild card game. The 31-year-old Minnesotan isn’t far removed from a stretch of four seasons with Denver and the New York Jets where he surpassed 1,000 yards receiving and 10+ touchdowns in three out of four of those campaigns. He played on a one-year, $4 million deal with incentives last year and given the right circumstances and money, could still attain decent numbers on a new team.
17. RB Orleans Darkwa
Lately, free agent RB Darkwa had been worked out by the Buffalo Bills. The Bills do have LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory, so Darkwa may or may not be a good fit in the Queen City. This much we know, the fifth-year running back had his best season with the Giants in 2017. He started 11 of 15 games and ran for 751 yards on 171 carries and five touchdowns. The Tulane product also grabbed 19 passes for 116 yards out of the backfield. There are plenty of teams who could use help in the backfield, Cincinnati being one and the Seattle Seahawks being another. In fact, not one back listed on the Seahawks depth chart ran for more than 240 yards last year and their nominal first-string rusher right now is rookie Rashaad Penny, who was drafted 27th overall this year.
16. TE Antonio Gates
Even at the ripe old age of 37 in 2017, Antonio Gates was still doing his thing with the L.A. Chargers, albeit in a more limited role. The eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro started four of 16 games for the only team he has ever known (15 seasons) and caught 30 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns. He is in talks to come back to the Chargers for a 16th season, because incumbent starter Hunter Henry tore an ACL. Career-wise, Gates is legendary for his production. His 114 TD receptions are first among all tight ends (three ahead of Tony Gonzalez) and sixth among all pass-catchers in NFL history. Gates also has 11,508 total receiving yards, which puts him 30th on the all-time list. Gates was on the tail end of a two-year, $11 million contract in 2017 and there is no reason not to believe he’ll give the Chargers a hometown discount to play this season.
15. DT Johnathan Hankins
As notionally the best defensive tackle still available in free agency, Hankins name has been tied to a plethora of teams, including Washington, Cleveland, Dallas and Detroit. And yet, he remains unsigned as of July 26. Hankins had signed a three-year, $30 million deal early last year to play with Indianapolis, which released him after only one season. In 2017, the Ohio State product started 15 of 15 games, recording three pass deflections, 2.0 sacks and 44 tackles. In the four seasons preceding his time in Indy, Hankins toiled for the New York Giants, where he had 41 starts in 52 games, four pass deflections, three forced fumbles, 10.0 sacks and 140 tackles. The Cowboys, whose two starting DTs are nursing injuries, may have the inside track.
14. CB Bashaud Breeland
Of all defensive players on this list, it is kind of flying in the face of overall league talent that CB Bashaud Breeland is only rumored to have been offered a contract. A source in sports radio said on Twitter that the Kansas City Chiefs offered the young corner a “prove it” deal worth one year at $7-8 million. The 26-year-old former Clemson Tiger played four seasons with the Washington Redskins and played admirably. In 60 games (58 starts), he registered eight interceptions (one for a pick six), 59 pass deflections, seven forced fumbles, a sack and 268 tackles. Last year he was fifth overall in the NFL in pass deflections with 19. Breeland was apparently offered a deal by Carolina in March and will visit with both Indianapolis and Cleveland before making any career decision.
13. FS Kenny Vaccaro
Vaccaro, like Bashaud Breeland above, is another of those cap crunch victims who should already have a contract for the 2018 season. Vaccaro, a five-year pro with New Orleans, is still just 27 and coming off yet another very consistent season in the Saints defensive backfield. He started 12 of 12 games, had three interceptions, seven passes successfully defended, 1.5 sacks and 60 tackles. The Texas grad is coming off a four-year contract that paid him a touch under $9.5 million total, including $5.676 million in 2017. His numbers warrant another deal with an average closer to his 2017 salary, but to date he has found no suitors. However, he is coming off surgery to correct wrist and groin problems, so his overall value is still up in the air.
12. ILB NaVorro Bowman
Bowman was a tackling machine in 2017, recording 127 combined tackles in 15 games split between the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers. The seventh-year pro became disgruntled after he was benched in week 5 of the 49ers season last year and was subsequently released when the team couldn’t trade him. He had played 89 games with them from 2010 to 2017. Last year, he also registered a pass deflection and had 1.5 sacks in 10 games with the Raiders. A team with the cap space and room on its roster to offer Bowman a contract is Indianapolis, which features two rookies and two players (out of six listed on their depth chart) with very limited time as pros at the linebacker position. Bowman made $2.6 million as a member of the Raiders and could probably be had for a bit more, if the Colts are willing to take the plunge.
11. OLB Elvis Dumervil
Dumervil is a stout ball of fury who has been to the Pro Bowl five times and has been an All-Pro twice, but finds himself jobless at the moment. He led the NFL in sacks with 17 for Denver in 2009 and set the Baltimore Ravens all-time sack mark with another 17 in 2014. Last year, with San Francisco, Dumervil appeared in 16 games, (no starts) and recorded 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles. The former Louisville Cardinal, though, didn’t have the option picked up for second season on a contract that paid him a total of $3 million and would have been bumped to $3.5M in 2018. The speculation is that at age 34, he is well passed his prime and is just a situational pass rusher who can no longer handle the rigors of full-time work at the outside linebacker position.
10. DE Jared Crick
Crick hasn’t played since 2016, sitting out the ’17 season with a back injury. Now fully healed, he’s been confirmed as having had a workout with Buffalo and with the season fast approaching, may get more workouts. Before he was sidelined for the entire 2017 campaign, Crick, 28, was a durable and effective force first for Houston between 2012 and 2015 and Denver in 2016. He missed just one of 80 games in those five years and totaled 199 tackles, 8.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 19 pass defences. Crick’s last contract was an affordable two-year, $4 million pact he signed with the Broncos. He has stated he would like to go back to the Mile High City, most likely at a team-friendly price on a short term deal.
9. WR Jeremy Maclin
Just about everywhere on the internet, a host of free agents are rumored to be an option for the Cleveland Browns. Heck, if they signed every one that we have noted, they might actually win more than two games. Just a couple of days ago, scuttlebutt suggested the former Pro Bowl wideout should be a target of Browns management and upon further review teams like Dallas, Buffalo, Washington, Baltimore, New England and Indianapolis popped up as potential destinations. And why wouldn’t they be interested? He’s had a rough couple of seasons coming into 2018, with a torn groin dogging his 2016 season with Kansas City and then Baltimore in 2017. However, he logged two straight seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards in 2014-15, along with 18 touchdowns. If he is healthy, there are worse options available than Maclin.
8. CB Kayvon Webster
Given the chance to start every one of his 11 games last year with the Rams, CB Kayvon Webster did very well until a ruptured Achilles tendon prematurely ended his season. He failed a physical earlier this year and was released by the Rams and has hinted that he would like to return to Denver, where he played his first four seasons. In those 11 games, Webster had 38 tackles, seven pass deflections and his second career interception. Webster is also a valuable special teams player who played a big role in that regard during the Broncos extended playoff run in 2015. He may have to take a hometown discount significantly less than the two-year, $7.75 millon pact he signed with L.A. before the 2017 season.
7. QB Matt Moore
There are a few NFL teams, with no other real options, contemplating starting relative greenhorns or previously under-utilized quarterbacks this season. For instance, Buffalo has A.J. McCarron no. 1 and Kansas City pegs Patrick Mahomes II as a starter. There are also a lot of unproven back-ups, for that matter. This is where a solid no. 2 guy like Moore can step in and provide veteran leadership and depth. Over his career with Carolina and Miami, Moore started 30 of 49 games and logged a 15-15 record. He completed 59.6 percent of his passes, throwing for 6,938 yards and 45 touchdowns, against 36 interceptions. With Brock Osweiler coming in and Ryan Tannehill healthy, Moore was released. His last contract was a two-year, $3.55 million pact signed with the Fish in 2016.
6. FS Eric Reid
The whole absurd national anthem non-scandal in the NFL might claim another victim. Despite being a healthy, young safety with plenty of upside, free agent Eric Reid has a complaint in on the Cincinnati Bengals, who he visited to discuss a contract. However, the Bengals never intended to sign Reid if he insisted on continuing to kneel for the Star Spangled Banner (they possibly bargained in bad faith before the new anthem rules were put in place, which was against the collective bargaining agreement). So, Reid is still a better-than-average safety without a home after spending his first five seasons in the NFL with San Francisco. Over that span, Reid played in 70 games (69 starts) accumulating 327 tackles, three forced fumbles, 36 passes defended and 10 interceptions. He was a member of the 2013 All-Rookie Team and a Pro Bowler.
5. CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Even playing mostly as a reserve defensive back last year, Rodgers-Cromartie was nearly as effective as he was a starter in years previous. In a down year with the Giants, he started six of 15 games and recorded a half sack, 48 tackles and one pass deflection. The tackles numbers were close to the 49 he registered in 2016 with New York, but he also had a more characteristic 21 successful pass defences and six of this 30 career interceptions, which would put him high up the list of active NFLers (assuming he gets a contract to play somewhere this year). There is no reason to believe the 32-year-old product of Tennessee State can’t be a good depth signing, considering he was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2015.
4. FS Mike Mitchell
Some pundits said that Mike Mitchell’s 2017 season was his worst in a career that has seen him play four seasons with Oakland, one with Carolina and the last four with Pittsburgh. We won’t disagree too much, since his tackles (53) were well down from the average 76 tackles he recorded in the four seasons leading up to 2017. Mitchell aslo failed to record an interception (he has 10 in his career) and had just two successful pass defences (43 career before that). But, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t get back to 2016 form, which would do him well in Arizona, where he will be visiting the Cardinals. They currently have just one veteran safety, Antoine Bethea, along with fellow starter Budda Baker. The rest are rookies or second year players. Mitchell had one year remaining on a five-year, $25 million contract before being released by the Steelers.
3. RB Jamaal Charles
We were going to slot Adrian Peterson into this spot, but, he would be expensive and there is no guarantee he could even get close to the form he displayed during his halcyon days. Enter Charles, who was great for years in Kansas City, but after injuries took a bit of a toll, had to adapt to being a decent role player. A four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro with the Chiefs during nine seasons there, Charles signed with Denver in 2017 and got into 14 games after seeing action in only eight between 2015 and 2016. He rushed for 269 yards on 69 carries, with a touchdown. He also caught 23 of 28 passes thrown his way for another 129 yards. Denver inked him to a one-year, $2.5 million deal in 2017, so his money wouldn’t constrict many budgets. With training camps set to get into full swing, he may have to wait until injuries deplete some depth charts to get an offer.
2. TE Julius Thomas
When talking about the best tight ends in the NFL, Julius Thomas name would seldom cross anyone’s lips. Yet, he is among some of the best, at least where the red zone is concerned. A Pro Bowler with Denver in both 2013 and 2014, Thomas scored 12 touchdowns in both those seasons (24 total) despite logging just 1,278 receiving yards on 108 catches. That is a pretty crazy TD rate, by anyone’s calculation. A move to Jacksonville in 2015 didn’t prove as fruitful and injuries forced him to miss seven games in 2016. Last year with Miami, Thomas caught 41 passes in 14 games for 388 yards and three touchdowns. However, he was released with one year remaining on a two-year deal he signed in March, 2017. There are quite a few teams who could use a veteran on their depth charts and Thomas would be a solid addition.
1. WR Dez Bryant
The biggest name on this list, in our estimation, is Dez Bryant’s. Still just 29, it astounds us that he still remains unsigned this close to the season. A three-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in eight seasons with Dallas, Bryant had a pretty decent bounce back year in Big D in 2017, catching 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns. Now, those kind of numbers are rather pale when put up against his three best years (2012-14, when he had 3,935 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns), but, he remains a quality wideout. As we stated above, the Browns are an active suitor and have room to slot him in as a no. 1 to catch passes alongside the likes of newly acquired Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon. He nearly signed a multi-year deal with Baltimore, but has said he would prefer a one-year deal for max money. Wait and see.