With rookie minicamps completed and OTAs under way, many teams have somewhat of an idea for who they will be taking into training camp and ultimately the preseason. However, there is always the chance to improve. Free agents such as Odell Beckham Jr, Julio Jones, and others still remain without a home, and teams could look to these players to fill out their roster while also providing more competition on their respective teams. This wouldn’t be the first time teams have dipped into the free agency pool in the month of June, nor will it be the last.
Despite the advantages of bringing on a talented player so late in the process, there are still some negatives that come along with it.
“You have missed all the timing and learning the plays and getting a feel for the plays. The other thing is that all the other players that have gone through the camp, they’re up to speed, their conditioning is much better. When a player hasn’t been in that phase, and he comes in and tries to keep up with the other players, generally they hurt themselves,” says former Cleveland Browns Head Coach Chris Palmer.
There is a need to temper expectations, but there have still been plenty of players who have been able to make a large impact despite signing so late in the offseason.
Here are the top free agent signings since 2000 in the month of June:
Deion Sanders, CB, Washington Commanders (2000)
Prior to retiring for the first time in his hall of fame career, Deion Sanders decided to make a pitstop with Cowboys divisional rival the Washington Commanders. While his lone year with Washington marked only the fourth time in his career where Sanders did not make either the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, he still had a respectable year as he started in 15 games and had 4 INTS, 9 PBUS, and 41 total tackles. That season, Washington only gave up 163.8 passing yards per game, which ranked second in the league.
George Koonce, LB, Seattle Seahawks (2000)
The 2000 NFL Offseason also saw another defensive player make his way to a new team late in the process in the form of LB George Koonce. After 8 stellar seasons in Green Bay, Koonce decided to sign with the Seattle Seahawks in his final season. That year, Koonce started in all 16 games, finishing with 97 total tackles, 5.0 TFLS, 1.5 sacks, 5 PBUS, and 1 INT. While Koonce did not finish with any major accolades this year, he still played an integral part in Seattle’s defense.
Jerry Rice, WR, Las Vegas Raiders (2001)
Even though Jerry Rice was in the twilight of his career in 2001, the then Oakland Raiders decided to take a gamble on arguably the best wide receiver of all-time, hoping to squeeze out whatever he had left in the gas tank. This risk paid off as in two out of the four seasons Rice spent in Oakland, he had at least 1,139 receiving yards and at least 7 receiving touchdowns. Furthermore, Rice was a part of Oakland’s top-ranked passing offense in 2002 where he was able to make his 13th Pro Bowl appearance and 10th All-Pro team of his illustrious career.
Keenan McCardell, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002)
After a strong tenure in Jacksonville, veteran Keenan McCardell found himself unsigned heading into June of the 2002 NFL Offseason until he signed with the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers. McCardell had a solid campaign in 2002 where he was able to record 61 catches for 670 yards and 6 TDs en route to helping the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl that season; however, the 2003 season saw McCardell put up even stronger numbers as he finished the year with 84 catches for 1,174 yards and 8 TDs while also making his second and final Pro Bowl appearance of his career.
Rob Bironas, K, Tennessee Titans (2005)
It’s rare to see a kicker mentioned in a list like this, but the late Rob Bironas finds himself here after he was able to find a home in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans in 2005. Bironas spent 9 years with the Titans where he made one Pro Bowl and one All-Pro team along with having a field goal percentage of 85.6% and having a long of 60 yards. Moreover, Bironas had an NFL record 8 field goals in one game during the 2007 season as well as the record for most points scored in a game that weren’t touchdowns (26). These records still stand today, and Bironas is still considered one of the better kickers the Titans have had in their history.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver Broncos (2009)
Despite a down season in his lone year with the Chicago Bears, the Broncos took a gamble on veteran wideout Brandon Lloyd late in the 2009 offseason. While Lloyd only played in two games during the 2009 season, he bounced back in 2010 as he recorded career-highs in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,448), yards per catch (18.8), and receiving touchdowns (11) among other categories. He was also named a Second-Team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler that season as well as leading the league in receiving yards for the 2010 season. Lloyd would only play in four more games for the Broncos after 2010, but his impact was still felt during his tenure with the team.
Daryl Smith, LB, Baltimore Ravens (2013)
Following the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore lost linebackers Ray Lewis (retirement) and Dannell Ellerbe (free agency). The Ravens needed a reliable replacement for at least one of these players, so they brought in Daryl Smith who was a strong contributor for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 9 seasons with the franchise. In three seasons with Baltimore, Smith compiled 371 total tackles, 9.0 sacks, 18.0 TFLS, 5 INTS, and 7 forced fumbles. He was also the co-leader in forced fumbles during the 2014 season with 5.
Brandon Flowers, CB, Los Angeles Chargers (2014)
Coming off of his lone Pro Bowl appearance, Brandon Flowers waited until June 24th of 2014 to sign a deal with Kansas City Chiefs divisional San Diego Chargers. In his first year with the Chargers, Flowers had a strong season where he recorded 52 total tackles, 3 INTS, and 10 PBUS in 14 games. Despite injuries limiting his impact the next two seasons, Flowers was still able to be a strong player for the 2014 Chargers.
Elvis Dumervil, DE, San Francisco 49ers (2017)
By the time Elvis Dumervil arrived in San Francisco in 2017, he was coming off of his worst statistical season and was already 33 years old. While Dumervil did not start a single game for the Niners that season, he was still effective in a rotational role as he finished the season with 13 total tackles, 8.0 TFLS, 6.5 sacks, and 18 QB Hits. For a player who did not have much left in the tank at this point, this was a nice way to finish what was otherwise a strong career for the veteran defensive end.
Gerald McCoy, DT, Carolina Panthers (2019)
Originally, McCoy was not set to become a free agent in the 2019 offseason until the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to release the veteran DT in late May of that year. McCoy found a home by June 3rd of 2019 with divisional rival the Carolina Panthers where he had a solid year under then head coach Ron Rivera. McCoy started in all 16 games of that season and finished with 37 total tackles, 7.0 TFLS, 5.0 sacks, 2 PBUS, and 13 QB Hits. This campaign also included an outing where McCoy sacked former teammate Jameis Winston 2.5 times.
De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Green Bay Packers (2021)
Although it’s too early to tell what the rest of De’Vondre Campbell’s career will turn into with the Packers, he was truly a difference maker for Green Bay in his first season with the franchise. Campbell was named a First-Team All-Pro as one of the key cogs in a unit that finished tenth in both passing yards allowed per game and rushing yards allowed per game after struggling immensely on that side of the ball the past few seasons. Campbell recorded a career-high 146 total tackles while also compiling 2 INTS, 6.0 TFLS, 5 PBUS, 2 forced fumbles, and 2.0 sacks. This incredible campaign helped Campbell to earn a 5-year, $50M extension with the Packers this offseason.