Free agency isn’t just about the big splash signing that sets your team up for the future. Sometimes it can be about the player that comes in and patches a hole on the roster in the short-term. The league is full of quality players nearing the end of their careers that are still very capable of playing the game at a high level, but because of their advancing years, no team wants to commit too much money to them and be stuck still paying when the inevitable decline happens.
These players typically exist on rolling one- or two-year contracts for reasonable money, but can make some of the biggest, immediate impacts because of their proven quality. Here is a look at some of the best “band-aid” free agents that could be excellent acquisitions on one-year deals, with the caveat that, even at 35 years old, I think Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth has more left in the tank than a one-year deal—otherwise he would be the prize of this list.
1. DeMarcus Ware, Edge, Denver Broncos
In his prime, DeMarcus Ware was arguably the best pass-rusher in the NFL. He can still bring heat in the twilight of his career, at least, as long as he is healthy, which has become more and more of a caveat as the years have gone on. In 2016, Ware only played 315 snaps for Denver, but he generated 26 total QB pressures to go with the 43 he recorded in 2015. Ware should be used as a situational rusher at this point in his career, and could give some team a significant boost to its pass rush.
2. Dwight Freeney, Edge, Atlanta Falcons
Dwight Freeney is further along the retirement path than DeMarcus Ware, at least in terms of having long since transitioned to being a situational pass-rusher, but his spin move still has juice, and likely will as long as he can still move around. Freeney only played 265 snaps for the Cardinals in 2015, but was arguably their best pass-rusher, notching eight sacks and 36 total QB pressures. This past season for the Falcons, he saw 416 snaps of action and notched 46 total QB pressures in the regular season, adding 17 more in Atlanta's three playoff games. Freeney can still bring the heat and is used to being a situational pass-rushing gun for hire.
3. Terence Newman, CB, Minnesota Vikings
The things Terence Newman is doing at his age are scarcely believable. At 38 years old last season, he posted some of the best coverage numbers we have seen in the past decade of grading. He wasn’t beaten for a pass longer than 24 yards all season, gave up just 8.4 yards per reception, 31 total yards after the catch all year, and a league-leading 0.57 yards per snap spent in coverage. Newman may not want to play outside of Mike Zimmer’s Vikings defense, but if a team could convince him to sign a short-term deal, he is still balling and could easily form part of a cornerback stable.
Top 50 free agents currently set to hit the open market: https://t.co/FsquTC0UF9
— PFF (@PFF) March 1, 2017
4. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets
Nick Mangold’s decline is definitely underway, but he is coming down from a point of being the unquestioned best center in the league, so even now, he should still be able to start and perform well for a team for at least a season as a stopgap at center. Mangold isn’t the run blocker he once was, but he hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 33 games, and has surrendered just one in the past four seasons. A strong, experienced center can anchor and transform an offensive line, so Mangold could provide some short-term stability to a unit in need of an interior presence.
5. John Sullivan, C, Washington Redskins
John Sullivan has only played 98 snaps in the last two seasons, and will be 32 when the season begins, but only one of those seasons was lost due to injury, the other was a result of simply not finding a new starting spot after that injury and spending 2016 on the bench in Washington. Sullivan, though, was playing at a high level before knee surgery sidelined him, and has now had extensive time to heal and recover. If given a shot, Sullivan could likely do a very solid job for a team at center for a season.
6. Leon Hall, CB, New York Giants
In today’s NFL, you need to be at least three deep at cornerback, and probably four to buy you some kind of contingency. Leon Hall may not be capable of starting anymore, but he remains a good sub-package player that has never had a poor coverage grade in his career over a season. A solid tackler, Hall is good at making stops short of the sticks and helping his team get off the field on defense.
7. Alan Branch, DI, New England Patriots
Alan Branch had arguably the best season of his career in 2016 on his way to a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Including those playoff games, he also played the most snaps of his career, with 760 total by the time the confetti rained down. Branch was a two-gap monster in the run game, posting 39 total defensive stops and shoring up the Patriots' run defense significantly. He didn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, but his value as a situational run stuffer was obvious in 2016.
8. Julius Peppers, Edge, Green Bay Packers
Julius Peppers is another of the aging group of edge rushers that has transitioned to a situational role, and it has allowed him to get back some of his efficiency by ensuring he is as close to fresh as possible every snap he plays. Last season for the Packers, Peppers notched 45 total pressures including the playoffs, and was a major part of the Packers success against the Giants in the wild card round of the playoffs, with a sack, hit, two hurries and two passes batted down at the line. Peppers can still be a very productive player in that situational role.
10 sleeper free agents who could bring surprise upsidehttps://t.co/zs09NmczQf
— PFF (@PFF) March 6, 2017
9. Russel, Okung, LT, Denver Broncos
Russell Okung is no longer a good player, but in a league where several teams have disasters starting at left tackle, he can still upgrade several situations in the short-term while those teams search for a legitimate solution in the draft. The security of only being below-average as a pass blocker and solid enough in the run game would be a significant headache alleviated for several teams. Last season, Okung surrendered four sacks with the Broncos, less than half the figure of the most among tackles, shared by six players.
10. Anthony Fasano, TE, Tennessee Titans
In a league that has transitioned to slot receivers and 11-personnel (one back, one TE, and three receivers), the role of blocking TEs has become steadily less important, but several teams still rely on them as important role players, and there are few better in that regard than Anthony Fasano, whose 88.1 run-blocking grade was by far the best in the league last year. Fasano can execute blocks that receiving TEs simply can’t, and if your offense has a place for that specialist role, you would be well served to add Fasano to the roster.