Let’s conduct an exercise to see just how much talent is left available in free agency by building the best offense we can from players available.
The settled dust of the NFL offseason might indicate that the talent pool of available talent has largely drained. Au contraire. Despite the fact that every team will report to training camp later this month, plenty of meaningful free agents remain on the open market—good players wishing and hoping for a team to call home.
At this point in the calendar, it seemed like a fun time to try an exercise to display the talents that are left. Here’s an attempt to build the best starting offense exclusively with free agents who are available today for any team to sign.
If your favorite team is still dealing with positional needs, perhaps they’ll go shopping at the same places.
QUARTERBACK – Colin Kaepernick
Let’s be honest. We’ve got a fresh Nike controversy already in the rearview mirror, so it feels like the right time to bring Kaep back into the league. We’ll pretend legal differences are settled and that our fan base is fairly progressive for this experimental franchise.
Despite not playing since 2016, the reality is that Kaep is still better than many backups in a league where quarterback is king and injuries can alter entire seasons. It’s silly that a man with 72 passing touchdowns against only 30 interceptions (plus another 13 rushing scores) and a 4-2 playoff record is annually passed over (or collusioned out) for the likes of Josh Johnson.
Until you can give me an on-field excuse for not employing him (and maybe we’re reaching that point given the amount of time passed since he’s played), I just don’t get it.
Other consideration: Sam Bradford
RUNNING BACK – Jay Ajayi
It’s a bit surprising that a back still as talented and spry as Ajayi hasn’t found substantive work in the National Football League. Yes, running backs are the most easily replaced position in the league, but Ajay is still only 26 years old with a proven record of production in the NFL.
The immediate questions concern his health and ability to return from a torn ACL, but he’s had since last October to get ready for the season. Perhaps he’s not quite ready as illustrated by his visit to the Indianapolis Colts that came and went without an offered deal.
Ajayi has averaged 4.5 yards/carry in his carer, but that total improved during his recent two-year stint in Philly where he averaged 5.1 yards/carry with the Eagles. If he can get back into game shape with a time while at training camp, he’s going to be a nice late addition who can move the chains. If Ajayi cannot turn the corner, then we know who we’d look at next.
Other consideration: Marshawn Lynch
WIDE RECEIVERS – Michael Crabtree, Jermaine Kearse, Bruce Ellington
If we’re starting from scratch, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there are two wideouts on the open market used to being high-volume producers at the pro level.
While their best days are behind them both, Jermaine Kearse and Michael Crabtree have both been targeted 100-plus times in years past (especially Crabtree), and their strong veteran experience would go a long way toward being able to come into most situations with a chance to make an immediate splash.
For a team who needs an innings-eater, so to speak, at wideout, Crabtree is the ideal free agent remaining, a steady veteran who can still come up big if an injury has wiped out a primary target. Kearse, meanwhile, has great hands and is a steady performer likely looking to prove his time with the Jets was an anomaly in hopes of one more free agent payday, as he’s still only 29.
As for Ellington, he remains a younger option (27) who could still show a higher ceiling given his speed (4.45 second time in the 40). Pro Football Focus graded him above average overall across two limited stints in Detroit and Houston. He’s never put it all together on the field, but if a team is searching, the tools are definitely there.
Other consideration: Dez Bryant (if healthy)
TIGHT END – Ryan Griffin
This could be a much more loaded category if a team had the recruiting ability to bring names like Rob Gronkowski or even Antonio Gates to the table. Gates seems a likely play, but only for the Chargers, which means we’re left with the ghost of Jermaine Gresham or a couple troubled characters.
The best of the bunch is Ryan Griffin, a man who could face a potential suspension after being arrested for vandalism during NFL Draft weekend (he was drunk and punched out a hotel window in Nashville). The former Texans tight end is now looking for work, but he shouldn’t have to wait too long post-suspension (if there is one) given the dearth of talent around him.
Griffin stands out by being fair at everything. While he doesn’t excel as a receiver or a blocker, he also won’t embarrass a team in either category. He caught 24 passes for 305 receiving yards last year, and he’s also a capable blocker. A team could do worse than bringing in Griffin to hold down the position until long-term arrangements can be made.
Other consideration: Lance Kendricks (even with likely suspension)
TACKLES – Ryan Schraeder, Jermey Parnell
If Donald Penn can prove last year was a fluke (which is unlikely given that he’s now 36), then there’s no contest here. However, the fact that every NFL team has allowed Penn to sit there in free agency means that the belief is that he’s likely finished. That’s a shame because he was much, much better than most people might realize.
If Penn is out, then teams will want to turn to former Atlanta Falcons tackle Ryan Schraeder if run blocking is their need or former Jaguars tackle Jermey Parnell if someone more well-rounded is needed. Schraeder was benched last year in Atlanta, but that could prove an incentive for a player who was much better over the previous few years with the Falcons.
Both players are well into their thirties, so there’s little expectation here beyond the next season.
Other consideration: Donald Penn, Joe Barksdale
GUARDS – Chance Warmack, Jeff Allen
Chance Warmack might never live up to the hype that came his way as a former top 10 draft pick, but still only 27, he could yet prove capable as a league average lineman. He’s been a recognizable sub for the Eagles for the last two years, so it’s hard to tell whether there’s any starter’s reps in him yet. That said, the right coach might be able to work a bit of magic here.
The other entrant here is Jeff Allen, a nice versatile lineman who graded well in spot duty as a pass blocker for the Kansas City Chiefs, per PFF. Allen can play almost every single position along the line, including all three interior spots. That’s a major plus in the NFL, one that has us wondering why Allen has yet to be signed.
Other consideration: Brandon Fusco
CENTER – John Sullivan
If the idea of signing former Rams center John Sullivan doesn’t sound all that exciting, we don’t blame you. Any free agent option here at this point is likely to grade out as the league’s worst starting center.
Sullivan played himself out a role with the Rams last year, allowing 37 total pressures up the middle. That total is untenable for any team, but it was also pretty out of character for Sullivan, who has always been a steady if unspectacular performer. If I’m desperately in search of help at center, I start by looking at a guy who fell off in a big way in 2018 and ask what he’s got left.
Other consideration: Gino Gradkowski