The hype around free agency is always about the marquee names, but the best value is always in the second wave of free agency, or the cheaper contracts given to free agents who aren’t as desirable as the top names for one reason or other. Often, the signings that move the needle the most are turning one team’s trash into another’s treasure. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at 10 of the most promising reclamation projects in this free agency period.
Obviously, not all of these players will pan out in a new environment or with a fresh start. But if I was shopping at the lower end of the marketplace, these are the players I would be willing to take a shot on proving they can play better in 2020 and beyond than they've shown recently.
[Editor's note: Available to all of PFF's EDGE and ELITE subscribers, PFF's Free Agent Rankings Page consists of three-year grades, PFF WAR and in-depth analysis for all of the top NFL free agents. Contract information from our friends at Over The Cap is also available.]
Marcus Mariota – QB
His days as a starter may be over, at least for now, but Marcus Mariota is not a player without talent. Sometimes quarterbacks lose their way and regress rather than develop, but given time to sit back and work on their craft from the bench without worrying about week-to-week play, they can rediscover their ability. Mariota saw this happen in real time a season ago as Ryan Tannehill went from reclamation project to the guy taking his job, and he should take heart from that example and look to emulate it somewhere himself. Mariota had back-to-back seasons with a PFF grade of 76 before this year and was a highly regarded prospect coming out. His 2019 play was ugly, and his trip to the bench was inevitable, but if a team is out there with a less than ideal quarterback situation, Mariota would be a useful insurance policy.
Breshad Perriman – WR
A former first-round pick, it’s hard to imagine a career starting much worse than Breshad Perriman’s did, outside of catastrophic injury. Perriman will now be looking for his fourth NFL team, but last year for the first time there were signs that he could yet be an impressive weapon in the passing game. When injuries forced Perriman into a starting role for the Bucs late in the year, he responded with three straight 100-yard receiving games, didn’t drop a pass (a blight on his career before) and scored four touchdowns on 26 targets. Perriman made multiple spectacular catches during that run and showed that he still has the imposing size and speed combination that made him a first-round pick in the draft. Perriman is far from a sure thing, as the sample size was low, but the signs were extremely encouraging. In an average free agent group of receivers, he presents an interesting alternative.
Trae Waynes – CB
If there’s a theme emerging here, it’s former first-round draft picks that haven’t quite panned out. That can take many forms, however, and Trae Waynes has actually been a solid player for the Minnesota Vikings for the majority of his career. It’s just that you want more than solid when you draft somebody No. 11 overall. Waynes has blazing speed but struggles at times to change directions, and his coverage numbers haven’t been great — for his career he has allowed 62.6% of passes thrown his way to be caught, for a passer rating of 91.3. But, if protected in the right scheme, he can make plays. He has 26 pass breakups in five seasons to go along with his interceptions, and only once has he allowed more than 12 yards per catch in a year. Waynes could provide a solid No. 2 corner to a needy team and, in the right scheme fit, exceed what he did in Minnesota.
Kendall Fuller – CB/S
We are just two full seasons removed from Kendall Fuller earning an overall PFF grade of 90.6 and staking a claim to the title of the best slot corner in the NFL. Since then, he hasn’t backed that season up and this year was moved to safety by the Chiefs. But he enters free agency at just 25 years old, and I would be all for chasing that All-Pro-caliber season again if the price is right. That year, Fuller allowed a passer rating of just 56.7 when targeted and only 56.3 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught, an extremely low figure for a defender covering the slot where there are a lot of easy receptions given up by design on defense. Fuller had just one good game after being moved to safety (admittedly, it was the Super Bowl), so his best chances likely lie in a return to slot corner with a new team.
Bradley Roby – CB
Coverage is one of the least stable things in football. While good players in other areas can maintain a consistent level season after season, cornerbacks often fluctuate, making the play of the very best in the game all that more remarkable. Bradley Roby took a one-year deal a season ago in an attempt to play well in 2019 and hit the market again with a much stronger list of suitors, but he played barely better (overall PFF grade of 63.9 to 59.9) than the season before. Critically, though, he has two seasons of much better play on his resume, and that’s what any new team will be hoping to find once again. In 2017, Roby had just one interception but tallied 15 pass breakups and allowed just 52.6% of passes thrown his way to be caught, the best mark of his career. Two years before that, he again had just the lone pick but nine pass breakups. Roby is a player capable of high-end coverage, and his stock likely won’t be any higher than a season ago. Knowing how volatile coverage is, smart teams should be looking to pick him up and see if they hit on the bounceback year.
Nelson Agholor – WR
It’s fair to say that his NFL career has not progressed exactly as Nelson Agholor would have hoped, and some of the passes he has dropped have made his position in Philadelphia pretty untenable. But there is enough tape of the good and bad now for a prospective new team to at least have a blueprint for how to deploy Agholor and play to his strengths. In 2017, he was moved to the slot, where he no longer had to negotiate aggressive physical press on the outside and where he could exploit his quickness. Including the playoffs, he had career highs in PFF grade (74.9), yards (935 receiving) and touchdowns (8) and his quarterbacks had a passer rating of 114.5 when throwing his way. He caught the highest rate of targets in his career as well (71.3%) and looked like a player that could be a very useful member of a receiving corps that just needs an inside threat. Agholor has a clear ceiling as a player, but in a specific role he could be extremely effective.
Ronald Darby – CB
The next player in the cornerback salvage pile, Ronald Darby at one point was grading better than Stephon Gilmore in Buffalo before their careers went in vastly different directions. Darby is now two years removed from his best season, and this past year was little better than disastrous. He earned an overall PFF grade of just 45.9, by far the worst of his career, and was beaten for a passer rating of 117.9 when the ball came his way. Darby is clearly a better player than that when healthy, and he is still just 26. In each season of his career, he has at least six pass breakups, and he had 15 as a rookie. At his best, Darby has the kind of potential that makes him a top cornerback in this league, and coming off by far the worst year of his career, his value will never be lower for a team to pick him up at a cheap price and try and get the best out of him once more.
Tyler Eifert – TE
Sometimes injuries can devastate a player and he will never be the same again. Sometimes, it just takes a little time before that player gets back to his best and he fully shines the year after getting through a full season healthy. Tyler Eifert has dealt with a long list of injuries, but his potential was clear from the first truly healthy year he had — 2015 — when he earned an overall PFF grade of 86.1, a receiving grade of 90.1 and led the league at the position in touchdowns. That year, he caught 78.8% of the passes thrown his way, and Andy Dalton had a passer rating of 145.1 when targeting him. Maybe that player just doesn’t exist anymore, or maybe 2020 is to Tyler Eifert what 2019 was to Richard Sherman — the year he is far enough removed from injury that the real player comes back once again.
Mike Daniels – DI
Poor seasons when players are longer in the tooth lead everybody to immediately write that guy off as over the hill and too big a risk to have any kind of bounceback season. Ultimately, great players have poor seasons all the time, at any stage of their career, particularly when injuries have been a factor, and some excellent years have come just after a player has been given up on by one team. Mike Daniels was one of the best interior defenders in the NFL for the better part of a decade in Green Bay, but a poor final season there and then another one in Detroit — both of which were injury affected — has caused many to forget about how good he can be. He had four-straight 40-plus pressure seasons, with two more north of 30 before barely playing in 2019. Daniels is just 30 years old and has too much quality tape in his past to write off after a rough sequence of injuries. Some team will add him to their rotation along the defensive line and likely be a lot better because of it.
Ty Montgomery – RB/WR
Much debate has been had over the value of running backs, even those who are factors in the pass game, but one way I think running backs can still exploit defenses is when they can conceivably be a rushing or receiving factor on any given play. Ty Montgomery has the skill set to be either, and while I think he is better as a rusher, he is more than good enough at receiver to make an impact if teams treat him as a running back from a personnel standpoint. Montgomery can be a matchup problem every single snap of the game. After flashing the ability to dominate when first moved into the backfield, he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to show it. In 2016, Montgomery averaged 4.9 yards per carry after contact, breaking 18 tackles on 77 carries while still catching 44 passes. Running backs may be largely interchangeable in today’s NFL, but this kind of matchup nightmare is still a rare beast. At just 27 years old, it’s not too late for a team to try and take advantage of that skill set.