We’re now in the post-draft phase of free agency when NFL teams seek to fortify potential weak spots on their rosters that have not been adequately filled thus far in 2023. Many players can be signed and contribute in a big way, as was the case with cornerback James Bradberry last year when the Philadelphia Eagles signed him in mid-May.
Bradberry joined the Eagles on a one-year deal for $7.5 million after the New York Giants released him and produced a second-team All-Pro season. He helped solidify the Eagles secondary on a Super Bowl team with the league’s second-ranked defense.
My top eight remaining free agents rank ahead of some high-profile players — such as three-time Pro Bowl back Ezekiel Elliott — who, for one reason or another (money, injuries, age, declining production), doesn’t quite qualify. It’s interesting that in a quarterback-driven league where pass rushers are generally the second-most-sought position, there are so many quality edge rushers/defensive ends still available. It’s also a sign of the times in a league that loves offense that there are very few top offensive players unsigned (and only one included below). So the best offensive players don’t usually last long if they ever hit the free agent market.
Here’s my list of the top remaining free agents and the teams who look to be the best fits:
Best Fits for Eight Remaining Free Agents
Marcus Peters, Cornerback
Peters was a first-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015 and a three-time Pro Bowler. He has 32 career interceptions but had only one pick last season (along with 47 tackles) as a starting corner in Baltimore. He missed the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.
Peters, 30, made $10 million last season in the final year of his three-year, $14 million per year deal with the Baltimore Ravens. With his lower level of production (also only six pass break-ups) and injury history, perhaps he can be signed for around the $7 million per year Patrick Peterson received from Pittsburgh this year in free agency.
Best New Team: Las Vegas Raiders
Peters is not likely to return to Baltimore after it recently signed vet corner Rock Ya-Sin. Peters visited the Las Vegas Raiders this week, and it makes sense for him to sign there to replace ex-Raider Ya-Sin. Las Vegas ranked 29th in pass defense last season, and it needs help at corner as it prepares to face Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson in the AFC West. The Raiders have only $4.5 million in salary cap room, so they will have to free up some space to sign Peters.
Dalton Risner, Guard
Risner just completed his rookie contract after starting throughout his first four seasons for the Denver Broncos. The Broncos preferred signing Ben Powers in free agency, so Risner will move on. He was a second-round pick in 2019 and, at 27, is of a prime age to be signed.
Risner allowed three sacks last season and was only penalized once. He’s a durable player with only four missed games over four years.
Best New Team: Los Angeles Rams
Coach Sean McVay could use a quality veteran guard to help protect Matthew Stafford, who was under siege and injured last season. Stafford and his fellow Rams quarterbacks were sacked 59 times, third most in the league. The Los Angeles Rams drafted Logan Bruss in the 2022 third round, but he missed his rookie season because of a torn ACL. Steve Avila is a rookie second-round pick who may need development time. Risner can be a bridge player on a bargain one-year, prove-it deal for the Rams, who have just $4.6 million of cap room. He could try to set himself up for a long-term deal next March with the Rams or elsewhere.
Leonard Floyd, Edge/Outside Linebacker
Floyd was a Rams’ cap casualty this offseason as he was due to enter the final season of his four-year, $64 million deal. Floyd, 30, had a solid season with nine sacks and 22 QB hits. His 59 tackles attest he’s also an excellent run defender. He was the Chicago Bears’ first-round pick in 2016. His asking price in a league that highly values pass rushers and edge players has probably kept him from being signed earlier.
Best New Team: Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell was with the Rams as offensive coordinator during Floyd’s time there, so they know each other well. Floyd also is familiar with the NFC North from the first four years of his career in Chicago. The Vikings’ defense ranked 31st overall and against the pass. They just traded Za’Darius Smith, who was less productive in the second half of last season. The Minnesota pass rush and run defense up front would look much more formidable if Floyd (with 47.5 career sacks) joined Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport, D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones as edge rushers/outside linebackers, especially considering the injury histories of Hunter and Davenport.
The Vikings have $11.1 million in cap room, so they may need to trade or release running back Dalvin Cook (as has been rumored) to have the cap space to sign Floyd.
Frank Clark, Defensive End
Clark is a quality defense end/edge player who the Kansas City Chiefs released after the sides reportedly could not reach an agreement on a reworked contract. Clark was due to enter the final year of his $15 million per year deal. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler who had five sacks, 13 QB hits and 39 tackles last season. He added 2.5 sacks over three games during the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run. He was suspended for two games last season after pleading no contest to weapons charges. A former second pick by Seattle, Clark turns 30 next month.
Best New Team: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks already brought back linebacker Bobby Wagner, and Clark is a great fit to return to a team on the rise. Seattle has added Dre’Mont Jones and Jarran Reed on the defensive line in free agency and drafted Derick Hall as a second-round edge player. But Clark could play a role as the designated pass rusher from the edge.
The Seahawks have $10.6 million of room, so they may have to structure a deal with voidable years to get a cap number that works. Such a deal could include big incentives if Clark exceeds five sacks in the regular season, then the incentives earned would come out of next year’s cap if it pushes the team over the cap this season. Clark could be the player who nudges the Seahawks past the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
Justin Houston, Edge/Outside Linebacker
Houston is a four-time Pro Bowler who contributed 9.5 sacks, 17 QB hits, seven tackles for loss and 21 tackles for the Baltimore Ravens’ top-10 defense in 2022 during his 12th NFL season. He played 44 percent of Baltimore’s defensive snaps as a rotational player and designated pass rusher. He’s 34 but stays in excellent shape and never seems to age.
Best New Team: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears ranked last in the league with only 20 sacks last season. They signed defensive end DeMarcus Walker in free agency but he has never had more than seven sacks in a season (last year in Tennessee). Chicago still needs pass-rushing help after not selecting a pure edge rusher in the early rounds. The Bears have plenty of cap room ($32.4 million) to add Houston, who made $3.5 million last season (plus $1 million in sack incentives).
The clincher could be Houston’s connections with Bears coach Matt Eberflus and GM Ryan Poles. Eberflus was the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis when Houston had 19 sacks over the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Houston was a star pass rusher in Kansas City from 2011-2018 when Poles worked in scouting and player personnel for the Chiefs. Houston was the Chiefs’ third-round pick in 2011.
Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End
Clowney is a controversial player in that his on-field performance didn’t always match his talent level as a former first-overall pick by the Houston Texans in 2014. He had three Pro Bowl seasons with the Texans but has not made a Pro Bowl since 2018 and bounced around to Seattle, Tennessee and Cleveland during the past four years. Clowney is a good run defender and gets his share of pressures but never has reached 10 sacks. He had nine sacks, 19 QB hits and 37 tackles in 14 games in 2021 for the Browns. He battled injuries the past several years and had a dismal 2022 season with the Browns (two sacks and 28 tackles in 12 games) that ended with Clowney on the inactive list after he made critical comments about the team.
Best New Team: Baltimore Ravens
There are good vibes in Baltimore after Lamar Jackson re-signed and with Odell Beckham Jr.’s arrival via free agency along with Roquan Smith, who was acquired in a trade from Chicago last season. The Baltimore Ravens didn’t pick an edge rusher high in the draft and they have not re-signed Justin Houston and his 9.5 sacks from last season. The door could be open for Clowney to join a playoff-caliber team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Clowney has played in a 3-4 defense in the past (as the Ravens employ), although he was in a 4-3 in Cleveland. If he is healthy and highly motivated (especially to beat the Browns in the AFC North), he can still be very productive at 30. Baltimore has $12.4 million in cap space to fit Clowney in with a creative contract. It would signal that they have added another potential playmaker to pressure the AFC’s many elite quarterbacks, including Joe Burrow and perhaps Deshaun Watson in their division.
Yannick Ngakoue, Defensive End
Ngakoue also has been with a lot of teams (five so far) and has a reputation as a strong pass rusher who is shaky in run defense. A former third-round pick of Jacksonville, the 28-year-old has 65 career sacks, including 9.5 in Indianapolis last season, but he added only 18 solo tackles. He had 10 sacks in 2021 for the Raiders, who signed him to a $13 million-per-year deal that year only to trade him to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason. Ngakoue brings value to a team looking for a designated pass rusher to juice up pressure on the quarterback.
Best New Team: Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons are making noise in an aggressive offseason. They addressed the offense with a key re-signing of tackle Kaleb McGary and drafted an elite running back in Bijan Robinson (No. 8 overall). They hit free agency hard to aid the defense. Safety Jessie Bates was a splash signing, and Atlanta added defensive end Calais Campbell and linebackers Kaden Elliss and Bud Dupree to improve the league’s second-worst sacking team (only 21 last season).
Ngakoue would be an excellent fit in a rotational role as a designated pass rusher. The Falcons have $10.4 million of cap room and should be able to do a creative deal with Ngakoue to boost their chances in a winnable NFC South.
>>READ: Ranking the Top Players Still Available
John Johnson, Safety
As with many of the players listed above, this is a case of a quality player still available because he may be pricing himself too high after being a cap casualty in Cleveland. Johnson, 27, was drafted in the third round by the Rams in 2017 and has been a productive safety throughout his career. He has 12 career interceptions. He had 101 tackles but also missed 17 tackles and had only one interception and four passes defended last season, so the Browns felt he was overpaid going into the final year of his three-year, $33.75 million deal.
Best New Team: Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans had the league’s worst pass defense in 2022 at 275 yards allowed per game and ranked 20th in takeaways, so they could use a safety with good cover skills, as Johnson displayed at the Rams and in 2021 with the Browns. Titans starting safety Amani Hooker had only one interception and three passes defended last season. Tennessee did not draft a safety or make an impact free agent signing at the position, so Johnson would be a good fit if he drops his salary demands for a team that has $11.3 million of cap room. The Titans need more help to turn things around after their seven-game losing streak at the end of last season, and Johnson would aid the cause.
Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.