Best fits for the top five remaining NFL free agents

Jay Ajayi

With the 2019 NFL Draft long done and the initial wave of free agency signings completed, it’s slim pickings for franchises seeking upgrades to their rosters. Despite the adversity, there is certainly some value to be found. Whether it’s a seasoned veteran to bulk up the defensive line, or a complimentary piece for the backfield.

Gerald McCoy

Best fit: New England Patriots

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers freed up a load of cap room by cutting this nine-year vet. Soon after Ndamukong Suh was signed as a direct replacement. McCoy will have no shortage of potential suitors that’s for sure. But success with the Bucs was minimal to say the least, he will be chasing championships. Where best to go hunting for glory? New England Patriots.

Of course, there will be some cap management required by the Pats. The main issue being if McCoy demands a big pay day. However, it is not unheard for players to leave money on the table when it comes to chasing a title.

This potential addition would free up the versatile Michael Bennett to be deployed anywhere across the defensive line. Currently, the re-signed Danny Shelton will patrol the interior line, with Lawrence Guy and Mike Pennell offering relief. Signing McCoy would be an immediate upgrade over the latter duo. Paving the way for the Patriots to seek an umpteenth AFC Championship title.

Eric Berry

Best fit: Dallas Cowboys

The supposed arranged marriage between Earl Thomas and the Cowboys never came to fruition. He instead made a deal with the Baltimore Ravens, leaving Dallas waiting at the alter. So with the ‘boys still in the market for a ball hawking safety, Eric Berry seems the ideal candidate.

It is quite staggering that someone of Berry’s talents still remains a free agent. What seems to be restricting his value is recent unfortunate injury trouble. Made clear by the fact he has just the four starts over the last two seasons. Unless a team gets sentimental, Berry may struggle to earn a big contract that he will no doubt be demanding.

Instead, Berry and his representatives may have to settle with a ‘prove it’ one year contract, with the hope it’s laden with incentives. Of the teams with a need at safety, the Cowboys seem the most likely to pay starter money. Competition would come in the form of Jeff Heath, who has proven to be solid if unspectacular, since signing with Dallas as an UDFA back in 2013.

Nick Perry

Best fit: Miami Dolphins

The defence of the Miami Dolphins struggled greatly in 2018. Generating just 31 sacks (league 4th worst), big improvement is needed to boost this area of trouble. Entering the 2019 season, this weakness of the Dolphins has been further compounded by the loss of pass rushers Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn.

This glaring need was immediately addressed via the Draft when Miami selected Christian Wilkins (13th overall). He will certainly provide pressure up the middle, but a more suited edge rusher is still required. This is where Nick Perry would fill a void. With the Dolphins intentionally keeping spending to a minimum for 2019 and Perry unlikely to be demanding a heavy contract, it is feasible to see a happy medium being found here.

What also plays into the hands of the Dolphins is a personnel hire they made this season. Patrick Graham moved across from the Green Bay Packers to become Miami’s Defensive coordinator. During his time with the Packers, Graham acted as Nick Perry’s position coach. Even more reason to not be surprised if Perry lands with the Dolphins during the off-season.

Michael Crabtree

Best fit: Washington Redskins

On the face of it, most teams appeared to have shored up their receiving corps. Meaning someone like Michael Crabtree, now on the wrong side of 30, may struggle in finding somewhere to call home. Such is the situation, Crabtree may have to wait until the season begins and settle with the fact he’ll most likely be signed as injury cover.  However, all hope shouldn’t be lost yet, a team may value his experience and see him as a mentor to some promising young receivers. In this case, look no further than the Washington Redskins.

The current crop of receivers in Washington is arguably the league’s weakest, with much hope pinned on the youngest members of the group. 2016 1st round selection Josh Doctson is proving to be a bust and Paul Richardson has not done enough to justify his big money free agency signing last year. So then the ‘skins turn to Mr Irrelevant of the 2018 draft, namely Trey Quinn and a third round selection from this year’s draft, Terry McLaurin. This duo would surely benefit from the tutelage of Michael Crabtree.

The Redskins also need to think about their new QB. Dwayne Haskins has a serious shot of being Washington’s week 1 starter. If this does indeed transpire, Crabtree could easily be seen as somewhat of a safety blanket for the rookie signal caller. Whilst the young bucks look to find their feet in the NFL, a seasoned pro is the answer to getting better immediately.

Jay Ajayi

Best fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fresh off an ACL tear, it’s unsurprising to see Jay Ajayi is still a free agent. Nonetheless there is still a plethora of potential suitors out there. His most recent employers, the Philadelphia Eagles, seem to have moved on from him with the drafting of Miles Sanders in the 2nd round. There was also talk of the Colts possibly making a move.

Instead, they plumped for Spencer Ware as their veteran addition to the backfield. Perhaps a return to the state of Florida where it all began for Ajayi is on the cards – albeit with a new team.

The running back situation in Tampa is somewhat of a mess. 2018 draft pick Ronald Jones has proven to be a waste of second rounder thus far. The other most notable RB on the roster is Peyton Barber. Who, despite showing flashes of talent, can’t be depended on as a three down back for the Bucs. No stranger to heavy rotation following his time with the Eagles, Ajayi would make up a similar looking committee between Jones, Barber and himself. A talented back for sure, but with prominent injury history at both college and NFL level, there is some strong workload management required.

As in commonplace with free agent signings during this time of year, a one-year contract is most likely. It would allow both parties to evaluate if there’s a match and potential for future successes. Also, with question marks surrounding Ronald Jones entering his sophomore year in the NFL, the Bucs may decide to cut him loose if they endure another disappointing season with him. In which case, someone like Jay Ajayi could fill this void for another year or two, before the Bucs turn to the draft to find a long term solution to their running back conundrum.

About Luke Conboy 6 Articles
Find me rambling about all things NFL. Houston Texans fan. Twitter @ConboyNFL

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