Top Ten with a Twist: Best free agents left on the street

Who’s to say Brett Favre wouldn’t want to wave hello again? (USATSI)
Who’s to say Brett Favre wouldn’t want to wave hello again? (USATSI)

If you’re an NFL general manager -- and I’m assuming that you probably are -- it’s advantageous to keep a list of all the best free agents in your back pocket. After all, you never know when your place-kicker will injure his groin or when your defensive tackle will tear his ACL. Or when you’ve traded the running back you drafted in the first round just one year ago and you’ve left yourself with a backup who’s never actually made an NFL carry.

That’s when, in Cleveland’s case, knowing that a running back like Willis McGahee is available can be invaluable. That’s obvious, I know, but bear with me here for a second, because the point is that there are unemployed players out there who could step into a uniform and help a team in need immediately.  

I talked to one last week (he’s No. 8 on the list), and as he waits for the phone to ring, he’s keeping himself in shape, punting daily at the sports complex that’s five minutes from his house and hoping for another chance at the NFL. He’s obviously not alone.

So, here are the top-10 free agents that are currently available (I’m not including former players like Antoine Winfield or Brandon Moore, guys who apparently are retired). They’re waiting for you, Mr. GM, to pick up the phone and give them a jingle.

10. Jared Gaither, tackle: You have to figure the biggest reason Gaither currently is unemployed is because the Chargers deemed last season that he was lazy and unmotivated to return to the field from back spasms. Even the team’s medical staff questioned his injuries and his pain tolerance levels after he signed a four-year, $24.5 million before the season. At 6-foot-9 and 340 pounds, Gaither has the size and talent to play somewhere in this league. But if he doesn’t have the desire, teams won’t have any interest in signing him. And that could be what’s happening here.

9. Juqua Parker, defensive end: Though he’s coming off a nice season last year with the Browns, where he tallied six sacks, Parker hasn’t found a job. Probably because he’s 35 years old and he’s basically limited to playing in a 4-3 scheme. That seems to have really limited his job prospects.

8. Chris Kluwe, punter: After spending eight years with the Vikings, Kluwe found himself battling with Marquette King for the Raiders job this preseason. He ultimately lost to the younger player with the bigger leg, who happens to lead the league with a 50.7 yards per punt average. But Kluwe still is convinced that he’s one of the best 32 punters in the league. If he doesn’t get a job and is done with the NFL, though, Kluwe will be OK. After all, he’s an author now.

7. Vince Young, quarterback: Somehow, Young still has a pulse when it comes to his NFL prospects. Oh, maybe this would have been a joke if we had done this list last year, but Young seemed to have a decent-enough preseason with the Packers. Sure, it didn’t land him a job, but he played better in Green Bay than he had in Buffalo or Philadelphia. That’s not great consolation, but it also might lead a desperate-enough team to give him a chance this year. Or let him continue his career into next preseason.

6. Jake Ballard, tight end: In 2011, Ballard was a major contributor on a Super Bowl winner, starting 13 of 14 games for the Giants and making 38 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns. Then, he tore his ACL in the Giants championship win against the Patriots, and he was waived four months later. He apparently still hasn’t recovered fully from microfracture surgery on his knee, because even without Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez available to New England in the preseason, the Patriots still cut him. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a future, though. Particularly if Steve Urkel ever buys a team.

5. Michael Turner, running back: Originally, I had John Conner here, but on Wednesday, he signed a two-year contract with the Giants. So, let’s turn our attention to Turner, who spent the past five seasons racking up massive rushing yards for the Falcons. Though he gained more than 1,300 yards in three of those five seasons (and 1,699 in 2008), he was also used a ton, leading the league in carries in 2008 and 2010. Last season, his yards per carry average plummeted to 3.6, and at 31 years old -- ancient by running back standards -- you can see why teams would be wary of him.

4. Brandon Lloyd/Deion Branch, receivers: Are these two still capable of playing football? Well, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady apparently thinks so (Brady later denied actually talking to them). Even if the Patriots offense, which has struggled without Wes Welker and Danny Amendola and with a pair of rookie receivers who hadn’t played well in the first two weeks, offered Lloyd a contract, it’s no sure bet he’d take it. What with the zombie movie and all. Still, he caught 74 passes from Brady last year, so you’d have to think if he wanted a job with somebody, he could have one. Branch (16 catches last year), though, might be a different story.

3. Richard Seymour, defensive end: If we’re going by Pro Football Focus rankings, Seymour was ranked as the 14th-best defensive tackle in 2012, but he also will turn 34 years old next month and has had a problem in recent years getting hit with 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties (and ejections). He’s likely still an effective player, even if it’s only on a part-time basis. But we assume he wants to get paid well, and that price tag doesn’t seem to be worth it to the league’s squads at this point.

2. Kerry Rhodes, safety: Why doesn’t Kerry Rhodes have a job right now, especially when he was ranked last year as the NFL’s No. 4 safety by Pro Football Focus? Well, that depends on whether you believe in conspiracy theories. Or perhaps it’s because Rhodes is 31 years old and probably wants to make more than the veteran’s minimum salary. Rhodes has gotten workouts with a few teams reportedly, but he’s still not signed. At some point, I imagine he’ll find himself employed. Unless the conspiracy theories are true.

1. Brett Favre, quarterback: Apparently, he still could play. And I had him about seventh on this list (as a joke, mind you) before I looked it over and discovered that I had nobody I wanted to put at No. 1. And since we don’t have Tim Tebow to kick around anymore, I really think the world is ready to chase the Favre unretirement story just a little bit more.  

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