Seattle Seahawks fans who expressed concern at the little activity seen from the team in the opening hours and days of free agency, take note here because as more than one person has pointed out in the last couple of days, the league is now entering the sweet spot in free agency.
Louis Riddick got things started with this tweet
Best part of #NFL free agency? Right now. Best teams make best moves. Truly believe that.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) March 19, 2018
And then Andrew Brandt, who previously served as the Vice President of Player Finance and General Counsel for the Green Bay Packers, responded with this
In Green Bay used to say "Let's wait until the 'stupid money' phase is over.." https://t.co/MtUg0ok6eV— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) March 19, 2018
Obviously that does not mean that every signing that takes place right now will be a good signing, but it does mean is that the huge money has already been spent. The players who are still out there and available might not want to hear it, but many of their options may have already started to dry up. Barely a week ago there was well over a billion dollars in salary cap space available for the upcoming 2018 season, but hundreds of millions of that money has now been spent.
The NFLPA public salary cap report has the 32 teams across the league with $694M in cap space, but just under a third of that space teams will be setting aside to pay for the practice squad, injured reserve and their draft picks. In addition, while $694M is nothing to laugh at, between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns there is over $350M in cap space, which means the other 25 clubs have less than those seven franchises combined. In particular, the Niners, Browns and Colts make up roughly a third of the effective cap space across the league once the practice squad, IR and draft.
That said, there are still dozens of quality free agents left available to help teams improve themselves. The All Pros and Pro Bowlers in their physical primes have been picked over, but there are a whole lot of role players teams can still add to fill holes in the roster.
For example, at wide receiver there are multiple players who have flashed potential that are coming off injury and remain unsigned, including Jordan Matthews, Terrelle Pryor and Markus Wheaton. In addition, cap casualties Jeremy Maclin and Allen Hurns remain available to any team still looking for help at the receiver position. All of those players have put up significant production at some point in their career, and with every passing day, each of them may become more and more likely to be available on one year contracts at a bargain rate for teams.
Just to list a handful of the free agents that are still unsigned and available, here are some who could be contributors as role players for any of a number of teams, but which I have chosen specifically because they might fill a specific hole for the Seahawks.
Need a pass rushing defensive tackle to help disrupt the pocket up the middle? McDonald is one of the best who is still available. McDonald played for the 2013 Seahawks who, you may recall, had a pretty solid defense, and has been with the Bucs for the last four seasons. He’s 31 years old, so not someone who would be a building block for the future, but he’s fairly effective as a disruptive force from the defensive interior.
Over the past two seasons McDonald has recorded 8.5 sacks, which is tied for 16th in the NFL among all defensive tackles despite serving largely in a specialized role as a pass rushing specialist. McDonald has played less than 45% of Tampa’s defensive snaps over the last two years, so his production is coming when opponents know that he is going to be coming in to go after the passer. In addition, Pro Football Focus has McDonald ranked in the top 25 in their proprietary Pass Rushing Productivity in each of the last two years.
Hankins is a run stopping guru at defensive tackle who does not offer much in terms of a pass rushing threat, but he is very good at what he does.
johnathan hankins game against the seahawks is teaching tape on 1 gap and 2 gap responsibilities vs the run.— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) March 18, 2018
i know, it's the seahawks. but good football is good football.
As bad as the Colts were overall last season, they finished in the top ten in DVOA against the run. The big thing with Hankins would be the fact that the Colts moved on from him despite his talent and despite being flush with cap space. It could be that he simply is not a fit for the scheme the new coaching staff intends to use, but the simple fact of the matter is that he is looking for his third team in three seasons.
Ealy had fourteen sacks in the first three years of his career with the Carolina Panthers after being a second round draft pick, but never truly developed as many hoped he would. After the 2016 season Ealy was traded to the New England Patriots, but he apparently did not fit in there, and he was waived in late August. After being awarded on waivers to the Jets, Ealy spent the 2017 season in New York, but recorded just a single sack. So, while Hankins is looking for his third team in the last three seasons, Ealy is looking for his fourth different employer since last March.
That said, the reason players are available right now is because they are not the cream of the crop. Nearly every player that is available is available specifically because of some kind of concern, whether that’s age, injury, character or something else. That is why the teams that are able to best pick through the leftovers available at this point are the teams that can best fill the holes on their roster with the best available players.
Frustratingly, I had a couple other players picked out to include in this article, and then they had to go and get jobs recently, so there is no more wishing for someone like Pierre Desir, who had spent part of 2016 on the Seahawks practice squad and was with the team through training camp last season.
Colts re-signing free-agent corner Pierre Desir according to source https://t.co/GA3dGXhbXl— Tackled Football (@tackled_de) March 21, 2018
In any case, the point is that there are still numerous free agents that can contribute in a meaningful way for plenty of teams across the league, and at this point in time those free agents will be signing contracts at salaries that are much more team friendly compared to the mega deals of the first wave of free agency. It’s a matter of digging through all the noise to find who can make the biggest impact on the field while putting the smallest dent in the salary cap.