2019 NFL Free Agency: 10 second-wave free agents who could be under-the-radar bargains
Five defenders and five offensive players who could be available for low-money deals
Every year, NFL free agency gets off to a hot start. The first week of the signing period is often when the largest, most groundbreaking deals are handed out, and this year was no different. We saw Nick Foles get $88 million over four years from the Jaguars, Landon Collins get $84 million over six years from the Redskins, and more.
Now, though, is when the real fun begins. The second wave of free agency is often when smart teams can swoop in and acquire impact veterans on far lower prices than players signed for during the first week. You can get strong buys on one-year, prove-it deals, or even on good values for multiple years.
In 2019, there are plenty of these types of players available. Let's walk through just a few of the candidates.
Derrick Morgan, OLB
Morgan saw his role change and his snap rate cut last season in Tennessee, but while working primarily as a pass rusher in 2016 and 2017, he recorded 16.5 sacks and 36 quarterback hits across 29 games. (He averaged 6.7 sacks a year from 2012 through 2017.) That's solid No. 2-pass-rusher production on the edge, and Morgan fared pretty well against the run, too. With the Titans having signed Cameron Wake to fill the edge role in their defense, Morgan is likely heading somewhere else. A team like the Cowboys that is now perilously low on edge talent -- and came out of their meeting with Robert Quinn without finalizing a trade -- should get interested in Morgan quickly.
Timmy Jernigan, DT
Jernigan was limited to only three games during his second season in Philadelphia, but he's a very good interior defender hitting the market at a prime age: He doesn't turn 27 years old until a few weeks into next season. Of course, the reason he's hitting the market is that he's now had surgery on his back twice in his young career. But that's also a reason he might be available at a discounted price, as he could be willing to sign a prove-it deal to show that he's healthy and get himself paid again next offseason. He's only one year removed from playing a sizable role on the Eagles' Super Bowl team, and before that, being an integral part of some excellent Ravens defenses.
Allen Bailey, DE
Kansas City's defensive spending thus far this offseason makes it seem like retaining Bailey is not a priority for them. With the emergence of Chris Jones on the interior and the signing of Alex Okafor on the edge, perhaps they're willing to just let Bailey walk. That's somewhat odd, considering he is coming off arguably the best season of his career and doesn't turn 30 until later this month. Bailey is known primarily for his abilities against the run, but he posted career best figures in both sacks (six) and quarterback hits (10) last season, and he's a flexible piece on the interior defensive line who is capable of logging a heavy snap load.
Darius Philon, DT
Philon just turned 25 and is coming off the best season of his four-year career, finally elevating into the starting lineup on a consistent basis and playing extremely well for a very good Chargers defense. And yet, they prioritized re-signing Brandon Mebane over him, despite the fact that Mebane is nearly a decade his senior. Philon has 8.5 sacks, 18 QB hits, and 14 tackles for loss over the past two seasons despite playing only 52 percent of defensive snaps during that time. If you're looking for a player who can potentially do more in a larger role, you can do a lot worse than taking a look at Philon.
Tre Boston, S
Eric Berry is the biggest name left on the safety market, but Boston is going overlooked. He's played well whenever he's been on the field throughout his career, and in a league that is getting more and more pass-heavy every season, you can always use a safety who is at his best in coverage. Boston is coming off a strong season for the Cardinals during which he showcased his versatility and picked up 79 tackles, nine passes defensed, and three interceptions. He turns 27 this summer, so he's in the prime of his career. Teams that are waiting out the rest of the safety market would be wise to look his way.
Ryan Schraeder, OT
Schraeder is coming off a down season in Atlanta and was recently released, but, A) that means he doesn't count against the compensatory pick formula, which opens up his market; and B) he was a very, very good player for the previous four years, and in a league where offensive line play is more important than ever, he's one of the best available tackles on the market right now. This will be his age-31 season but he should have at least a few more years left in the tank, and betting that he can recapture his 2013-2017 form is probably more likely to garner a good return than taking a shot on someone who has never been a starter-caliber player.
A relatively unknown guard, Witzmann went from allowing 27 hurries across 14 games in 2017 to allowing just 10 in 10 games last year. That's a pretty solid improvement for a mid-career veteran. Spotrac pegged him as being worth around $4.5 million per year over three years, and that's a very affordable contract for a potential starter or solid backup at either guard spot.
The Titans signed Rodger Saffold to fill Spain's role on their offensive line, which means he should now be available to somebody else. Spain has not been quite as good the past two years as he was in 2016, but he has shown the ability to reach a higher level of play than almost any offensive line free agent left out there. If you need help along the offensive interior, again, he's one of your best bets for quality production.
Dez Bryant, WR
Dez has surely lost a step or three, and he is coming off a major injury that kept him off the field for all of last season even while he sat out waiting for a team to sign him after his release from the Cowboys. But he doesn't need to be in top physical condition to make plays in the red zone, where everybody can always use one of the best jump-ball and back-shoulder receivers the league has seen in recent memory. There's a reason the Saints picked him up midway through last season even though their offense didn't look like it needed much help: You can never have too many red zone weapons. Bryant, even when not at his best, is one of the best red zone guys there is. He looks to be working his way back into playing shape after the Achilles injury, and if he's ready around the time camp starts, he could be a nice dart-throw on a one-year deal.
Jay Ajayi, RB
Ajayi, like Bryant, is coming off a major injury. He's also two years removed from an absolute monster of a season with the Dolphins, and one removed from playing a major role for the Eagles in their Super Bowl run. He's hitting free agency ahead of his age-26 season and should have a few more productive years left. We've seen running backs come back from torn ACLs before, and given that he suffered his in early October, he could possibly be ready to go for the start of the regular season. Given how readily available running back production is these days, Ajayi might be open to a one-year deal to re-establish his value in the eyes of the league.
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