The last NFL team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the New England Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. They had an emerging G.O.A.T. in Tom Brady at quarterback. Still, the Patriots teams of that era are a prime example of a contending team being lifted to greatness while signing players to bargain deals in phase two of free agency, which is where we’re at now.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel and safety Rodney Harrison were two such players on those Patriot teams. Two years ago, Odell Beckham Jr. was released mid-season by the Cleveland Browns and signed with the Los Angeles Rams for a minuscule $1.25 million. He was a major contributor during the team’s run through the playoffs and victory in Super Bowl LVI.
Beckham Jr. is among many quality free agents remaining still on the market, but he’s unlikely to take a bargain deal (he already tweeted $4 million won’t get it done). That’s likely the case with other players still looking for big paydays, such as Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcus Peters.
Here’s a list of seven players remaining on the market who could sign bargain deals (under $5 million for one year) by a contending team where they can carve out a role in helping their team to the playoffs and a Super Bowl.
>> READ: Best Available Free Agents
7 Bargain Free Agents
Rashaan Evans, Linebacker
Rashaan Evans was the Tennessee Titans’ first-round pick in 2018 and a three-year starter at linebacker, but he did not impress the Titans enough for them to exercise his fifth-year option. He earned $3 million per year on his rookie deal before joining the Atlanta Falcons on a one-year, $1.75 million contract and had a productive season with 159 tackles (seventh most in the league), six tackles-for-loss and two sacks. He did struggle at times in coverage but was the Falcons’ defensive signal caller.
Evans has said he wants to re-sign with Atlanta, but he likely is seeking a deal in the range of T.J. Edwards’ $6.5 million per year contract with the Chicago Bears. In his defense, Evans had the same number of tackles and sacks as Edwards last season.
Evans has likely noticed the Falcons just gave safety Jessie Bates a $16 million per year deal. Evans might return to Atlanta on a one-year deal in the $4-5 million range, but a contender looking for a linebacker to stop the run could bring him in.
Justin Houston, Edge
What a marvel the 34-year-old Justin Houston is, as he keeps producing year after year. He’s coming off a season in Baltimore with 9.5 sacks and 17 QB hits (plus a sack in the playoff loss to the Bengals). He now has 111.5 career sacks, including 22 with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014. Houston is a designated pass rusher, which is likely why his contract was just $3.5 million last season.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Chiefs love to sign veteran pass rushers, and the San Francisco 49ers have lost a couple of pass rushers in free agency, making all three a possible destination for Houston. The Minnesota Vikings are a possibility if Za’Darius Smith is traded or released. Another place Houston likely will end up is the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after he retires, but that could still be a ways off.
Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver
Like Houston, Marvin Jones is producing well into his 30s (now 33 years old). He brings size at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, and savvy experience. He had 46 receptions for 529 yards and three TDs last season after 73 catches, 832 yards and four TDs in 2021 (both years with Jacksonville Jaguars). Jones caught nine touchdown passes in three of the previous four seasons with the Lions.
Jones just finished a two-year deal for $6.25 million per year with the Jaguars. With Calvin Ridley joining Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, it appears Marvin Jones will be playing elsewhere in 2023. He can help many contending teams with his steady play and leadership. He may have to accept a lower salary with significant incentives for his next contract.
MARCH 29 UPDATE: Jones signed a one-year deal with the Lions.
Jerick McKinnon, Running Back
Jerick McKinnon had a career year as a receiving back for the Super Bowl-winning Chiefs. The seven-year pro recorded 56 catches for 512 yards, nine receiving touchdowns (a Chiefs’ record for an RB), and rushed for 291 yards and one TD. McKinnon was the team’s third-leading receiver in catches and fourth in receiving yards while being paid only $1.273 million.
He’s played for close to minimum salary the past several years after he fought through a knee injury that knocked him out of the 2018 and 2019 seasons in San Francisco (where he had signed a four-year, $30 million contract as a free agent in 2018).
The Chiefs should try to re-sign McKinnon at a slight increase, along with some good incentives if he can repeat his 2022 performance. Or else another contender should bring McKinnon aboard.
Dalton Risner, Offensive Guard
It’s surprising a solid four-year starting guard who was a second-round pick, such as Dalton Risner, is still on the market. He’s a disciplined player (only seven penalties in his career) who allowed only three sacks last season when Russell Wilson was sacked 55 times.
He and his agent are probably looking for a contract similar to the three-year, $30 million deal Nate Davis signed in Chicago, but it’s more likely he’ll sign a shorter deal for significantly less money.
Risner is a Colorado native who wanted to stay in Denver, but the Broncos stepped up to sign one of the top guards on the market in former Raven Ben Powers. They also have Quinn Meinerz, a third-rounder from 2021, who started 13 games last season at guard. Risner will likely be signing elsewhere, and he can help a contender in need of a quality interior offensive lineman.
Kyle Van Noy, Linebacker
Kyle Van Noy, 32, has bounced around the league the past four years from New England to Miami, back to New England and lastly to the Los Angeles Chargers. As an outside linebacker/edge rusher, he’s produced between 5.0 and 6.5 sacks each of those four seasons, including five sacks, nine QB hits and 46 tackles last season with the Chargers. He’s versatile enough to play some inside backer and plays well against the run and pass.
Van Noy is another savvy vet who made $2.25 million last year while playing 70 percent of the defense’s snaps. He was a two-time Super Bowl champ in New England, and he’s in a good spot with a contending Chargers team with many veteran stars. The Chargers should want him back at a slight raise in pay and a considerable incentive package starting based on if he has more than five sacks and plays more than 70 percent of the defense’s snaps.
Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback
Rock Ya-Sin is a physical corner who is good in press-man coverage, and at 27 years old, he’s at a great age to sign in free agency by a top team needing corner help. Ya-Sin was one of the few members of the Las Vegas Raiders’ secondary who played well last season (82.6 opposing passer rating when in coverage) before he landed on injured reserve after 11 games with a knee injury.
Ya-Sin was a second-round pick of the Colts in 2019, who has battled injuries throughout his career and has only two total interceptions. He has made 38 career starts, including nine last season, and was traded to the Raiders in 2022 for Yannick Ngakoue.
He’s probably seeking a deal in the $10-11 million per year range, like Byron Murphy‘s contract with the Vikings. However, Ya-Sin’s injury issues will likely force him to take a one-year deal to prove he can stay healthy for about $4-5 million plus active roster and playtime incentives to reward him for staying on the field.
He’s a quality corner when healthy and another player who can bring starting ability outside or in the slot to a contender.
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.