By Matt Citak
The NFL’s training camps have opened, meaning the countdown to Week One has officially begun. While teams have done their best all offseason to create rosters able to withstand a disastrous injury or two, the NFL has taught us over the years that you never truly know what might happen. Every year, there seem to be several major injuries to key players during training camp that leave teams scrambling for a replacement. Lucky for everyone around the league, there are still numerous veteran free agents on the market that are capable of stepping in and contributing at a high level. Let’s take a look at some of the top free agents still available.
QB Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick is by far the best available quarterback on the market. In 12 games with the 49ers last season, the 29-year old quarterback completed 59.2 percent of his passes for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. He also added 468 rushing yards on 69 carries (6.8 yards per carry) and two touchdowns to his stats. These numbers are far from jaw-dropping, but definitely worthy of a roster spot. Yet here we are at the end of July and Kaepernick remains a free agent. It is clear that no team believes in the quarterback’s skills enough to overshadow his 2016 anthem protest or the amount of public attention the team would likely attract this season by signing him.
This may be the case today, but all it could take is one major injury to a team’s starting or backup quarterback for Kaepernick to finally find a new home.
TE Gary Barnidge
It’s quite surprising that training camp has begun and Barnidge is still on the market. The tight end has found great success on the field over the last two seasons, despite the fact that he had eight different quarterbacks throwing to him in Cleveland. Barnidge amassed 134 receptions for 1,655 yards and 11 touchdowns during the last two years, and earned his first and only trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015. While he does turn 32 in September, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound tight end has proven throughout his career that he can take care of his body. Disregarding 2011 when he sat out the entire season due to a broken ankle suffered during a preseason practice, Barnidge has missed only four games in eight years.
Barnidge certainly can still provide a boost to a team in the passing game, and is a much better blocker than people realize. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked him first among all NFL tight ends in pass-blocking efficiency in 2016. Barnidge deserves to be on a NFL roster, and come Week One, there is a good chance he will be.
CB Darrelle Revis
At this time last year, if you had said Revis would be a free agent with training camp underway, everyone would have thought you were crazy. But after a very unimpressive 2016 campaign that featured the corner dealing with weight problems along with an apparent lack of competitive interest, the future Hall of Famer remains unsigned. At the age of 32, it is fair to question whether or not Revis has anything left in the tank. But keep in mind that it was only two seasons ago that Revis had five interceptions, 39 tackles, and nine passes defended on his way to his seventh Pro Bowl appearance, and was ranked 24th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016. It was obvious he regressed the following season, but the reason behind his struggles is still unclear.
It is hard to believe that Revis is completely finished. Revis could succeed as a team’s second or third corner, and could find himself a new team closer to the start of the regular season.
C Nick Mangold
Of everyone on this list, Mangold has one of the best chances of joining a team before the start of the season. The 33-year-old center, who has spent his entire career with the Jets, is a seven-time Pro Bowler, most recently in 2015. Mangold has appeared in at least 15 games in nine of his 11 NFL seasons, and has missed more than two games only once. The veteran center has been very patient with his rehabilitation from a foot injury that caused him to miss a career-high eight games last season, likely preferring the idea of preserving himself by not going through the usual grind of a NFL training camp.
The ideal scenario for Mangold would be a team providing him the chance to be a starting center. While this is unlikely at the moment, teams could get desperate once players start missing time. Mangold’s market will likely begin to develop after the first wave of training camp injuries occur.
RB DeAngelo Williams
There is no denying that Williams is past his prime. At 34-years old, he is basically a dinosaur among running backs. But that did not stop the veteran from being an incredibly serviceable back for the Steelers for the past two seasons. Over that stretch, Williams ran for 1,250 yards on 298 carries, averaging 4.19 yards per carry, and an impressive 15 touchdowns. The running back also proved to be valuable in the passing game, racking up career-highs in receptions (40) and receiving yards (367) in 2015, and adding another 18 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. He may not be the same player he once was, but Williams is still talented and in good shape.
Williams has been one of the NFL’s best backup running backs since he joined Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. Given his experience and his ability to play all three downs, Williams will eventually get a contract offer.
WR Anquan Boldin
You cannot talk about durability in the NFL without mentioning Anquan Boldin. In the 14 years since he entered the league, Boldin has never played in less than 10 games in a season. Even more impressive is the fact that since 2008, he has not missed more than two games in a season. Boldin played well in his one year in Detroit, catching 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns (his highest touchdown total since 2008). The 36-year-old served as a go-to receiver for Matthew Stafford, who targeted the veteran 95 times. Another important aspect of the receiver’s game is his ball security, as Boldin has fumbled the ball only once in the last six seasons.
Boldin is year in and year out one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL. Considering he has made visits with teams in recent weeks, Boldin will likely sign with a team sooner rather than later.
DE Jared Odrick
Odrick is one of the best veteran defensive linemen left on the market. At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds, he has the size, agility, and speed to line up both outside as a run-stuffing defensive end, as well as inside as a pass-rushing tackle. Odrick has managed to pick up at least 4.5 sacks in four of the last six seasons, and has forced a fumble in five of the last six. While he missed 10 games in 2016 due to elbow and shoulder injuries, Odrick has remained healthy for most of his career. Prior to last year, the defensive lineman did not miss a game for five consecutive seasons, an impressive feat in today’s NFL. And at 29-years-old, Odrick would be a much younger option for teams than some of the other pass-rushers still available, such as Dwight Freeney.
While his performance on the field last season was sub-par at best, Odrick is only one year removed from a 5.5 sack season with the Jaguars. With his size and potential, Odrick could thrive in a reserve pass-rushing role.