Welcome to the dead period of the 2021 NFL offseason.
Even though massive trades have gone down and the majority of big-name free agents have signed, there's still plenty of ways for franchises to improve their ever-evolving rosters.
There are veteran free agents who can step in today and upgrade a starting job in an impactful way. Some held out for money, while others have off-field issues like injuries or personality quirks.
We've identified five NFL free agents who can still contribute in 2021 for a Super Bowl contender. These players have the upside and immediate talent level to serve as a key acquisition. We'll delve into each and project their best fits.
Honorable mentions: Malik Hooker, Russell Okung, Richard Sherman, Justin Houston, Le'Veon Bell
5. K.J. Wright, Linebacker
One of the best outside linebackers of the last decade is still on the market. Former Seattle Seahawks stalwart K.J. Wright has been durable and consistently solid throughout his career. He's missed more than three games only once since 2011.
Wright turned 32 this offseason and showed some slowing down in 2020. But the veteran is as smart as they come and is still plenty athletic enough to get into space and make a play. There's a lot of reasons why he logged over 100 tackles in five of six seasons between 2014 and 2019.
A ton of teams could use a linebacker who can play in space, including his previous team. Wright could slot inside to play for Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. Or he could stay outside with Baltimore, the Giants, and Minnesota.
He's a plug-and-play veteran who won't disappoint. There's little downside to adding him as a starter or rotational piece in base fronts.
4. Melvin Ingram, Edge
There will always be value for an edge rusher in the NFL. At 32, Melvin Ingram is still on the market.
The obvious rub with Ingram isn't production or even his durability from 2015 through 2019. Ingram produced 43 of his 49 career sacks in those seasons and was as reliable as any secondary pass rusher in the league. He was guaranteed seven or more sacks for a long time.
Things have changed after he tore his ACL after seven relatively unproductive games in 2020. His sudden drop in sack rate and overall effectiveness was shockingly different. His signature quickness off the edge was usurped a bit and he became more of a power rusher.
Nevertheless, I think he's worth a rotational role for a contender needing a boost. Malik Hooker might be a better gamble, sure, but Ingram can function in a smaller role and provide an impact play. The Dolphins, Chiefs, Falcons, Panthers and 49ers are all potential landing spots.
3. Brian Poole, Cornerback
Trying to figure out why some of the secondary pieces are still on the market is a truly baffling game. Hooker, Brian Poole, Steven Nelson, Sherman, and Tre Boston are legitimate starting talents, yet they're currently jobless.
Poole is a guy teams have misevaluated to this point. The 28-year-old slot specialist was excellent in 2020 as he wrapped up his second season with the Jets. He's compiled no less than 44 tackles in any season, and is a threat to create both interceptions and sacks.
He's a unique playmaker but he's had some durability issues. He played in nine games last year as a knee injury hampered him, and season-ending shoulder injury require surgery. Maybe he's still recovering, but teams would be wise to snatch him up if given the chance.
A similar playmaker, Mike Hilton is smaller and has fewer interceptions, but netted $24 million from the Bengals in free agency. He's worth it, but give me Poole on an incentive-laden deal over a four-year deal to Hilton.
2. Steven Nelson, Cornerback
There's no question why the Steelers decided to part ways with cornerback Steven Nelson: the veteran was owed too much money for a team in salary-cap hell. Nelson was cut, which was a tough blow to a defense that significantly improved after his addition.
Nelson was an erratic but playmaking cornerback for the Chiefs before signing with the Steelers in 2019. His discipline and footwork improved leaps and bounds in his first year with Pittsburgh and he proved to be a great value for his new franchise. But cap reasons and a lack of turnovers made it hard to fit his salary again.
Nelson should start elsewhere in 2020 but he's made it clear on Twitter the money matters. The Bills, Bears, Jets, Eagles and Niners could bolster their defenses with Nelson in the fold. Hopefully, he gets the chance to cash in one more time as he turns 29 next year.
1. Morgan Moses, Offensive Tackle
Rumored to be in negotiations with the Jets over the last week or so, Morgan Moses is a darn good starter. Sure, he draws holding penalties too often because his feet are slow for his massive frame. But he's one of the finest right tackles in the league even with his flaws.
Moses was a shocking cap casualty for Washington. The team decided to roll with second-round pick Samuel Cosmi and veteran Cornelius Lucas over Moses. I'd be shocked if that works out in the short term.
Moses can play either tackle or guard and start for half the teams in the league. His hands are powerful and effective in resetting defenders' attempts to get past him. The Jets, Bengals, Steelers, Broncos, Bears, and Seahawks could easily justify signing him.
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