A year ago few people thought much of Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount latching on with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Little did we all know that these two veterans would end up being key contributors en route to Philly winning it’s first ever Super Bowl.
The year prior, Long signed with the Pats and won his first Lombardi Trophy as well.
It’s not every year that the eventual Super Bowl champions make a big move to propel them to a title, but some key trades and/or signings often can help.
The first couple of waves of the 2018 NFL free agency period are over, but with training camps a little over a month away, there remain some big names that still bring value to the table.
Here’s a look at a few NFL free agents that could still help a team get a ring this year:
1. DeMarco Murray – Running Back
Murray is 30 and has battled some injuries over the years, but he still remains capable of carrying a full load as a feature back.
A powering and explosive back with underrated catching ability out of the backfield, Murray could help a title contender that suffers an injury to a key rusher.
Two teams that stand out are the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts.
Pittsburgh could be an interesting landing spot for two reasons. For one, Le’Veon Bell is still a holdout threat, while their number two back right now is James Conner.
The Steelers could afford some extra depth, while Indy doesn’t have a go-to back right now.
After letting Frank Gore walk in free agency, the Colts might want to consider adding Murray to give them a reliable, veteran presence in the backfield.
It is unlikely Murray would give the Colts (+5000 Super Bowl 53 odds at BetOnline), but if Bell sits out or got hurt, he could fill in nicely and help the Steelers (+1200) remain a title threat.
2. Adrian Peterson – Running Back
You could argue Peterson for the Colts, too. He’s proven already that he may have too big of an ego to fit in anywhere as a strict backup, while his less than developed skill-set almost certainly demands he land an early down role.
I’m not sure how realistic that is for the 33-year old, but it’s worth noting that Peterson did put up some pretty big outings while with the Arizona Cardinals last year.
Peterson is on the wrong side of 30, but he’s always kept himself in amazing shape and he’s a fierce competitor. If the right team needs running back help, there is an argument there that he can still help someone win games.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+6600) and Denver Broncos (+3300) are two teams with unresolved issues in their offensive backfields, but I doubt the man known as “All Day” would lift either team to a championship.
Instead, Peterson would need to latch on with someone like the Green Bay Packers (+1400) or Houston Texans (+2000).
For what it’s worth, Houston running back Lamar Miller did say he’d be a great fit.
3. Jamaal Charles – Running Back
Personally, if I’m choosing a free agent veteran running back, Charles is my pick. Not only has the guy carried an offense in the past, but he’s also proven that he’s able to accept a lesser role.
Charles did that last year in Denver when he ran the ball just 69 times. While Charles didn’t blow the door off the hinges, he was effective both as a runner and a receiver and hypothetically could help a contender out.
His ability to run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield makes him a versatile threat, while he’s always been known for his blazing speed.
Injuries have bogged Charles down a bit, but he still showed some life last year. It’s been enough to get the Saints (+1600) to give him a look.
4. Dez Bryant – Wide Receiver
There are a few free agent wide receivers that can help teams fight for a Super Bowl, but Bryant takes the cake.
It’s tough to deny he’s slipped a bit over the years, but Bryant is still a big-bodied wide receiver that can effectively run slants and attack jump balls.
His ego has probably gotten in his way to this point and he may no longer be a true #1 receiver, but Bryant has the size and overall athleticism to still be a force in the right role.
Bryant’s infatuation with playing inside the NFC East to get revenge on the Dallas Cowboys keeps the Eagles (+800), Redskins (+7500) and Giants (+2800) in play.
Should he realize he’s got a better opportunity elsewhere, teams like the Packers (+1400), Panthers (+3300) and Patriots (+625) could make some sense.
5. Will Beatty – Offensive Tackle
One big thing most teams need is a functioning offensive line and aside from the very best o-lines, every team tends to have a glaring hole at some point each season.
The two tackle spots lead the way, as they’re already the two toughest spots on the line to get an effective, reliable player. They also seem to be the two spots with the most injuries and bust related draft picks.
That should combine to get Beatty work before long. He has plenty of experience and while he’s older than young pups like Luke Joeckel and Greg Robinson, he’s a much steadier presence.
6. Junior Galette – Outside Linebacker
The often injured Galette has floated the idea of retirement this offseason, which is a natural reaction to two consecutive Achilles tendon tears and a down 2017 campaign.
Galette should give himself a break, as he’s still just 30 years old and deserves a mulligan for last season. The good news is he’s been very productive off the edge in the past and he suited up for 16 games a year ago.
Now over a year removed from two devastating injuries, Galette may not be the same guy but should still be able to offer some help in the pass rush department.
No longer an elite presence, Galette may simply need to accept lesser money to latch on with a title threat. I believe if he’s open to that he could still make a positive impact for the right team.
7. Connor Barwin – Outside Linebacker
The same goes for Barwin, who can play with his hand in the dirt or kick outside at linebacker.
He’s aging and has never been ideal in open space or in coverage, but he can still get after the quarterback with the best of them.
Barwin racked up five sacks with the Rams last year and was an effective presence for one of the better defenses in the league. He needs to find the right role in the right system, but he can still provide a spark in someone’s pass rush.
The Buccaneers (+6600) and Giants (+2800) both need help in rushing the passer, while Barwin could boost the title hopes of the Patriots or Packers.
A reunion with the Eagles shouldn’t be ruled out if he’s willing to take a considerable discount, either.
8. Johnathan Hankins – Defensive Tackle
The nose tackle market is always pretty weak, considering not every team operates a strict 3-4 defensive scheme or even needs a new interior defender.
That being said, Hankins has been a monster up the middle ever since entering the league back in 2013, as he has some solid pass-rushing chops and can also play the run well.
He’s probably pricing himself out of a job right now, but for teams searching for an effective interior presence on their defensive line, they could do a heck of a lot worse than Hankins.
9. Nick Fairley – Defensive Tackle
Fairley might be just as expensive if he has his say, but most teams are staying away from the 30-year old due to a heart condition.
The talent and production has still been there, however, as Fairley was effective in his last stop with the Saints in 2016. New Orleans let him go due to his heart issue and he ended up sitting out all of last year.
Despite the scare, Fairley is taking aim at a healthy return in 2018:
While it almost certainly won’t be with the Saints, I was told that Nick Fairley wants to continue playing football.
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) March 1, 2018
Anyone looking for a pass rush boost up front should give Fairley a look, assuming his heart checks out. If it does, he could give a title contender a shot in the arm up front.
10. Navorro Bowman – Inside Linebacker
Bowman is another big name that remains on the market, largely due to slow regression and a big price tag.
Oakland liked what he put on the field and they have been quite public about their desire to bring him back.
Money has been the main roadblock, as Bowman is pricing himself out of California right now as well as a pro football gig in general.
Green Bay is one title threat that could swing big and upgrade their linebacker corps, but whoever lands Bowman is getting a difference-maker.
11. Bashaud Breeland – Cornerback
Breeland is a very interesting case, as he developed into a solid starting corner with the Redskins and likely priced himself out of town.
He actually had a three-year pact with Carolina, but a random off-field foot injury voided that contract.
Breeland is now trying to get healthy so he can chase a new deal and considering his talent (and the fact that he’s just 26), somebody could be getting a huge steal.
The Packers have been linked to Breeland and considering Carolina already expressed interest, it wouldn’t be that shocking to eventually see a bit of a bidding war take place.
12. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – Cornerback
Teams can target a high dollar guy like Breeland, or just roll the dice on an established veteran like DRC.
Still a very solid cornerback, Rodgers-Cromartie is simply playing the waiting game as teams try to hash out their secondaries.
In fact, DRC admitted publicly that teams literally told him to stay home and wait for a deal to come his way later this summer.
That, or maybe he already knows he’s going to be back with the Giants. Either way, he’s still a very good corner and could help any defensive back-needy teams improve their pass defense.
13. Eric Reid – Safety
The safety pool is actually pretty loaded and that helps round out the top NFL free agents left on the open market.
It starts with Reid, who is a very balanced safety and at just 26 offers his next team years of good football.
There’s a pretty valid argument that he’s been blackballed by the NFL to this point, though, so it’s tough to see him getting a job anytime soon.
Reid’s time in the NFL might be over (at least for now), but that doesn’t take away his talent or the fact he absolutely could help someone. NFL teams should really open their eyes on this one.
14. Kenny Vaccaro – Safety
Reid is not the only quality safety waiting for a new contract, though. Vaccaro is a very useful safety that has always hit well and can help sniff out the run.
Vaccaro has also been solid in coverage in the intermediate range and specifically against tight ends, but his awareness and angles in space have always left something to be desired.
That could play into why he’s still available, but he’s a pretty dynamic safety that brings a lot to the table at just 27 years of age. He shouldn’t be a free agent and anyone adding him would be getting a viable impact defender.
15. Tyvon Branch – Safety
I’ll close this list out with Branch, who in a lot of ways is the best safety on the open market right now.
He’s older than Reid and Vaccaro, but he’s extremely balanced due to sharp awareness and reaction against the run and nice range against the pass.
If I’m picking one of these guys, it might be Branch.
He should come a bit cheaper after getting hurt last year, while age also factors into any negotiations. He’s been an impact player for much of his career, though, and could greatly assist any ambitious defense in 2018.
All of the players listed here can still fill vital roles on contending teams. It may come down to price or role for some of them, while schematic fit can also be a roadblock.
While there is a good reason for some of these players remaining free agents, don’t be shocked if most of them land key roles in 2018.
Which one(s) end up making such a big impact that their team gets to Super Bowl 53, however, remains to be determined.