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The first week of NFL free agency is when splashes are made.
Typically, teams sign good, not great, players to big deals. But to claim victory consistently during the regular season, they need to win on the second and third wave of free agency. Teams that can find solid contributors at this stage usually have sustained success.
With that in mind, here is a look at the best available players at each position in free agency.
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If a team is searching for a starting-level quarterback in free agency, the pickings are slim. However, the best and most proven signal-caller available is Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2005 by the then-St. Louis Rams, Fitzpatrick has played for seven teams in his 14-year career. Considering where he was drafted, he’s arguably the most productive seventh-round pick ever at the quarterback position.
Playing with the Buccaneers last season, Fitzpatrick was surprisingly competent. He made eight appearances (seven starts), throwing 17 touchdowns with a passer rating of 100.4. However, he was in and out of the lineup because of too many interceptions (12).
While he is always going to be somewhat turnover-prone, Fitzpatrick can be a high-level backup and is capable of winning games as a starter. Considering his career passer rating of 81.1, it’s fair to think he is one of the top 40 quarterbacks in the NFL.
Don’t expect him to be on the market for much longer as teams search for viable backup quarterbacks.
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Even in a league in which running backs are becoming more and more replaceable, we saw a market for veterans in the last week. Le’Veon Bell, Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman all received sizable deals. And teams are still searching for three-down backs who can be workhorses.
On the free-agent market, Marshawn Lynch is by far the best running back who has that skill set. While Lynch missed a good chunk of the 2018 season with a groin injury, he was effective when he was on the field for the Oakland Raiders.
Lynch averaged 4.2 yards per carry while scoring three touchdowns in six games. According to Pro Football Focus, the California native excelled at forcing defenders to miss tackles, leading the league with 0.27 missed tackles per rushing attempt. Even if he’s just a part-time player in 2019, he can bring value to an offense as an inside runner and a pass protector.
Lynch’s market may be small—he is turning 33 in April—but there is no doubt he can still contribute at a high level. Expect him to be picky about his next team, as he will likely want to stay on the West Coast.
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The 2019 free-agent class lacked a lot of elite talent at the wide receiver position, especially at outside receiver. However, it’s a deep group that still has a few potential starters left on the market.
The top receiver available is Chris Conley, whom the Chiefs selected in the third round of the 2015 draft. While Conley has been mostly a No. 3 receiver for Kansas City, he has shown flashes of stardom. In 2018, Conley played behind Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, catching 32 passes for 334 yards in 16 games.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Conley showed his elite athleticism, running a 4.35 40-yard dash at 213 pounds. He finished in the 99th percentile of athleticism, according to Three Sigma Athlete. The 6’3″ wideout doesn’t have a ton of production to his name (just 104 career catches), but he has proved to be a reliable target on third downs.
If a team is looking for an outside receiver with some youth (26) and speed, Conley is not a bad option at this stage of free agency.
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Jared Cook is one of the best players still on the market, which is odd considering how willing the league was to pay blocking-only tight ends this offseason.
In 2018, he set career highs in receptions (68), yards (896) and touchdowns (six) and made the Pro Bowl. Cook developed a solid connection with Carr, becoming his favorite receiver especially on third down.
While he still struggles as a blocker, Cook is one of the more dynamic receivers in the league at his position, especially after the catch. According to 360sportradar, 343 of his receiving yards occurred after the catch, the sixth-most in the NFL.
Expect pass-heavy teams to consider signing him shortly.
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Quality offensive linemen don’t often hit the free-agent market. However, there are a few currently available who could start for most teams in 2019, and one such player is Josh Sitton, formerly of the Miami Dolphins.
Sitton missed nearly all of the 2018 season, as he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1. Before that, he had been the model for consistency, starting 135 games in nine seasons. When Sitton is on the field, he’s still one of the best guards in the NFL, and throughout his 11-year career, he has been named to the Pro Bowl four times.
While some teams may be scared off by his age (32) and recent injury history, Sitton can still play at a high level. Expect him to sign a one-year, prove-it deal.
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Ndamukong Suh is perhaps the best player still on the market.
In 2018, Suh was a crucial part of the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl run, but the team no longer has the cap space to bring back the five-time All-Pro. Suh was a dominant run defender in Wade Phillips’ defense, playing all across the defensive line.
In 2018, Suh recorded 59 total tackles, 19 quarterback hits and 4.5 sacks. One of the best parts of his game is his durability, as he’s missed just two starts in his career thanks to a two-game suspension in 2011. While the effort may come and go sometimes, he is always available.
Like last offseason, Suh is likely searching for a one-year deal in the $15 million range. Despite being 32, expect a team that believes it is in a Super Bowl window to meet his demands. However, don’t be surprised if Suh takes his time finding his next team, much like he did last offseason.
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This offseason, we saw many average to slightly above-average pass-rushers get paid in free agency. Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Trey Flowers all received massive deals. But that doesn’t explain the lack of interest in one of the league’s best and most proven pass-rushers.
Justin Houston was released by the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this offseason and has yet to sign with a team despite his impressive resume. Houston is a four-time Pro Bowler who has 78.5 career sacks in just 96 starts.
While he has had injury troubles in the past, he has played 27 games over the last two seasons, recording 24 tackles for a loss and 18.5 sacks. Strictly on production, Houston was arguably the best pass-rusher on the market this offseason.
At just 30, there is no doubt he can still contribute at a high level, even if he is limited to a pass-rush role only. Houston could prove to be the biggest steal in free agency.
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If there was one position that was surprisingly in demand, it was linebacker.
Players like Kwon Alexander and C.J. Mosley signed record-setting deals on the first few days of the new league year. However, there are still a few quality linebackers available who could come right in and start for a handful of teams.
One such guy is Zach Brown, who the Washington Redskins recently released.
Brown played in all 16 games for the Redskins last season, starting 12. When he is on the field, he is one of the most productive linebackers in the league, recording 250 solo tackles in his last 45 games.
At 29, Brown can still be a productive weak-side linebacker who can run from sideline to sideline. Expect him to be signed quickly and produce once again next season.
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For whatever reason, the cornerback market hasn’t seen a ton of interest in the first wave of free agency. There are still multiple quality players available who could start for most teams. One such player is Morris Claiborne, who has played the last two seasons with the New York Jets.
Ability has never been a problem for Claiborne, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. However, he started 30 games for the Jets over the last two seasons.
At 29, Claiborne probably isn’t a long-term solution, but he could be a nice one-year rental who could provide high-end play for cheap. He is easily the best outside cornerback still on the market.
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Unlike last year, the safety market was booming early in free agency. Players such as Landon Collins, Earl Thomas and Adrian Amos all got massive deals. However, there are some quality starters still left.
One is Tre Boston, who took a one-year, prove-it deal last season. He started 13 games for the Arizona Cardinals last season, totaling 79 tackles and grabbing three interceptions.
At 26, Boston is just starting to get into the prime of his career. If teams are looking for a true free safety, he is the best option on the market. If nothing else, he provides solid depth for a fraction of the price that other safeties received early in the offseason.