NFL Free Agents Who Can Help Struggling Units After Week 1

Now that Week 1 is over, teams have had a chance to see their rosters on the field in a meaningful game. And with injuries piling up across the league, now is an excellent time to add a veteran or two to a struggling or banged-up unit. We already saw multiple established veterans sign deals this week, including offensive tackle Jason Peters (Seattle Seahawks) and safety Duron Harmon (Baltimore Ravens). 

One of the benefits of waiting until after Week 1 to sign a free agent is that their salary isn’t guaranteed for the entire season. Instead, teams can pay veteran free agents weekly — which is a massive advantage when it comes to salary cap management. 

Which free agents are still available that could help struggling units right away? Here are the top seven free-agent fits heading into Week 2 of the NFL season.

Top 7 Free-Agent Fits

1. RB Leonard Fournette — Baltimore Ravens

The one team that has to make a move this week in free agency is the Ravens. With J.K. Dobbins going down with a season-ending Achilles injury, the running backs left for the Ravens are Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell (with Melvin Gordon soon to come off the practice squad). The Ravens will ride Edwards for the foreseeable future, but they need to add another running back who can help in the passing game and short yardage.

The best running back on the market is Leonard Fournette, who started nine games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. While his best days are clearly behind him, he is still a valuable receiver (142 catches in his previous 30 regular season games) and an effective short-yardage back. Fournette needs to be a part of a committee at this stage of his career, but he makes a lot of sense for the Ravens after Dobbins’ injury. 

The Ravens seem adamant that they won’t add another veteran running back. But it might only take a game or two for the front office to realize that they need to make a move to replace Dobbins, as Hill and Edwards have both struggled to stay healthy during their respective NFL careers.

Kyle Van Noy

2. Edge Kyle Van Noy — Los Angeles Chargers

One of the most disappointing Week 1 performances was from Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. Going up against a Miami Dolphins offensive line without Terron Armstead, Bosa and Mack failed to record a single quarterback hit, let alone a sack. They were non-factors, as the Dolphins totaled 536 yards and scored 36 points. 

The Chargers need more depth on the edge and would be wise to bring back veteran Kyle Van Noy. While Van Noy isn’t a player who will record a ton of sacks (he had five in 2022), he is still a quality player who could help Bosa and Mack. Plus, both have struggled to stay healthy over the last few years, and Van Noy would be a solid addition to the Chargers after a disastrous Week 1 performance on defense.

3. Edge Melvin Ingram III — Las Vegas Raiders

The Las Vegas Raiders were without Chandler Jones in Week 1 as he continues to be away from the team after several social media posts criticizing the front office and coaching staff. Maxx Crosby had another fantastic performance, but the Raiders could use another veteran pass rusher until they figure out what to do with Jones.

Melvin Ingram had six sacks for the Dolphins last season and turned 34 in April. While he isn’t a full-time starter at this stage of his career, Ingram would be an upgrade over Malcolm Koonce in 2023. Ingram is still a quality run defender and someone who can create a pass rush at multiple spots. 

Kareem Hunt

4. RB Kareem Hunt — Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts don’t have a quality running back on their roster. And it might have cost them a win in Week 1.

Deon Jackson rushed for 14 yards on 13 carries and lost two fumbles. Plus, he recorded only 14 yards in the passing game on six targets. Twenty-eight yards on 19 opportunities is awful, and the two turnovers were costly. The Colts can’t afford to continue putting subpar backs on the field while waiting for Jonathan Taylor to return. The hope is that Zack Moss will be ready for Week 2, but he certainly hasn’t proven to be anything more than a replaceable player whenever he is on the field.

Fournette is the best back available, but Kareem Hunt might make more sense for Indianapolis. It’s well-established that Hunt’s best days are behind him. He averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2022 with the New Orleans Saints despite playing behind one of the NFL’s best run-blocking offensive lines. But he is still a competent NFL running back, and that’s exactly what the Colts need for the next few weeks until Taylor returns to the field. 

5. OG Dalton Risner — Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers have a massive need at offensive guard after losing both starting guards before Week 2. Carolina just placed Brady Christensen on the injured reserve list after he suffered a bicep injury that will cost him at least four games. With a rookie quarterback behind center, the Panthers have to shore up their interior offensive line to protect Bryce Young

The best guard on the market is Dalton Risner, who started 15 games for the Denver Broncos last season. Risner is primarily a left guard but did play tackle during his collegiate career at Kansas State. He struggled mightily as a run blocker last season, but he is still above average as a pass-blocker. Adding a player such as Risner would raise the floor of the Panthers’ offensive line unit by quite a bit. This fit makes too much sense for both sides. 

6. QB Carson Wentz — New York Jets

The free-agent options at quarterback for the New York Jets aren’t great. There are no quality quarterbacks on the open market, and even the most established players are well into their late 30s (Colt McCoy, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan). But the Jets have to grab another quarterback at some point this week to protect themselves in case Zach Wilson can’t stay healthy.

And the best option available is Carson Wentz. 

Wentz did not play well last year — he started seven games and had a passer rating of 80.2. However, he is just one year removed from a 2021 season where he threw 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions for the Colts. At the very least, he is a quality backup quarterback with a lot of starting experience in the NFL. He certainly isn’t the savior for the Jets, but he could give them C-plus quarterback play if needed. And with how good the rest of the roster is, average quarterback play might just be enough to get the Jets to the playoffs this year.

7. CB Casey Hayward Jr. — Denver Broncos 

The Broncos have all the pieces to be an elite defense this season. We already saw that in Week 1, when the unit held the Raiders to 17 points and 261 yards. However, the Broncos have a major weak spot opposite Patrick Surtain II. Damarri Mathis was torched in Week 1 as Raiders WR Jakobi Meyers caught nine passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns. Mathis was the primary defender on all of Meyers’ targets and was flagged multiple times in coverage.

The Broncos need to add another reliable cornerback to their defense so that teams can’t completely avoid Surtain. And the top free-agent cornerback on the market is Casey Hayward Jr. — a 33-year-old veteran with plenty of experience in the AFC West (primarily with the Chargers).

Hayward has been incredibly durable throughout his NFL career but did suffer a season-ending injury with the Atlanta Falcons last year. But he is healthy now and would be a massive upgrade over Mathis as the Broncos’ No. 2 cornerback. Hayward also has experience playing in the slot and on the outside — which makes this fit even better.

Marcus Mosher is an NFL writer with a decade of experience in podcasting and writing for various NFL websites, including Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and The Athletic. He is currently a managing editor at USA Today Sports Media Group and the host of the Locked On Cowboys Podcast. Marcus has been working full-time covering the NFL since 2015 and works as a betting expert for You can follow him at @Marcus_Mosher.

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