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Best team fits for top unsigned NFL veterans, trade candidates: We picked ideal landing spots



We are through the main transaction portion of the 2024 NFL offseason, as teams have reloaded with free agent signings, trade acquisitions and draft picks. OTA workouts are rolling, and mandatory minicamps are closer than you think. But a handful of unsigned free agents are still looking for a roster, and there’s always the possibility of a trade or two before training camps start up in July.

With that in mind, let’s find ideal landing spots for 14 veteran free agents — plus one big-name receiver who requested a trade — to fill remaining team needs or add depth. When I evaluate player-to-team matches, I’m looking at how each guy fits in a scheme, how each might be able to help immediately and whether the team has the cap space to add players. This late in the process, most of these players will end up signing one-year, low-risk deals that include incentives to make some more cash.

Let’s get to it, starting with a ball-hawking defensive back.

Best team fit: Houston Texans

Derek Stingley Jr., Houston’s No. 1 corner, is on the verge of becoming a real star. And the Texans did add to the defensive back room this offseason, with former first-round corners Jeff Okudah and CJ Henderson coming aboard on one-year deals and Kamari Lassiter being one of the team’s second-round picks. Lassiter is expected to play in the slot, so it would make sense for the Texans to take a look at bringing in Howard to compete for the job opposite of Stingley.

Howard has solid perimeter coverage traits and a ball-hawking mentality that has led to 29 career interceptions. At worst, Houston would be adding more secondary depth as it gears up for what could be a great season and deep run into the playoffs.

Best team fit: Denver Broncos

With the expectation Denver coach Sean Payton will hand over the offensive keys to rookie quarterback Bo Nix, adding a proven veteran in Williams to the interior line should be on the table. Yes, Williams tore his left ACL last season, but before the injury, he had registered a pass block win rate of 93.9% (would have ranked just outside the top 10 centers had he qualified).

Williams counters his lack of power and ability to anchor with the movement skills to play as a positional blocker. He’s also very good in space, creating positive angles to cut off defenders. If Williams is cleared to go this summer, then I like this potential move, especially after Lloyd Cushenberry — the Broncos’ 2023 starter at center — signed with the Titans in free agency.

Best team fit: Tennessee Titans

The top safety still available would be an easy fit under new Titans defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson. Simmons is a high-level communicator in the secondary with deep range and great ball skills. He has at least three interceptions in six straight seasons and is a productive starter who is strong in run support.

In Tennessee, Simmons would start opposite Amani Hooker, giving Wilson two interchangeable safeties with scheme versatility, bolstering a rapidly improving secondary that added cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Chidobe Awuzie this offseason.

Best team fit: Carolina Panthers

Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero has three corners to start in his nickel sets with Jaycee Horn and Dane Jackson on the boundary and Troy Hill in the slot. But there’s a lack of proven depth here, and the availability concerns with Horn are real. He played in six games last season and 22 over his first three pro seasons.

With Gilmore, the Panthers would be adding an established veteran who can play outside or at the nickel spot. And even though he will turn 34 years old this season, Gilmore still has the physical coverage traits and savvy technique to find the ball. Last season in Dallas, Gilmore had two interceptions and 10 pass breakups.

Best team fit: Atlanta Falcons

Last season in Houston, Nelson tied a career high with four interceptions and also had seven pass breakups. At his best when he can key inside to read the quarterback, he’s a fit for coach Raheem Morris’ scheme, which tends to be more zone-heavy. In 2023 with the Rams, Morris’ unit played zone coverage on 60.1% of opponent dropbacks, majoring in split-safety zone and Cover 3. This is a good spot for Nelson, and it’d give the Falcons more veteran competition in camp.

Best team fit: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

My sense is Tannehill will wait for an opportunity to open up during camp, but if we are looking at potential team/scheme fits, then the Bucs work. Kyle Trask and John Wolford are the options on the depth chart behind starter Baker Mayfield as of now, and a healthy Tannehill would benefit from the expected heavy doses of play-action in the pass game under new coordinator Liam Coen. In 10 games played with the Titans last season, Tannehill completed 64.8% of his passes for 1,616 yards, 4 touchdown throws and 7 interceptions. Put Tampa Bay down as a team to watch with Tannehill this summer.

Best team fit: Minnesota Vikings

A return to Minnesota makes the most sense here for Risner, who logged a pass block win rate of 95.5% last season (fifth among guards) while allowing just two sacks. He can drop anchor in pass protection to close down interior rush lanes, and he displayed a rugged play style as a run-blocker in Kevin O’Connell’s offense. Minnesota currently has Blake Brandel and Ed Ingram slated to start.

Best team fit: Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings drafted cornerback Khyree Jackson out of Oregon in the fourth round of April’s draft. He’s long at 6-foot-4 and has the physical traits to challenge wide receivers. But there’s still a need to add cornerback depth for an aggressive defense under coordinator Brian Flores that will heat up the pocket. Last season, Minnesota led the NFL with a blitz rate of 49.4%. That’s a combination of zone and man pressure, which fits the aggressive coverage traits and eyes of Adoree’ Jackson.

Even with a lack of ball production (four career interceptions), Jackson can provide competition in the Minnesota secondary this summer, and the scheme can put him in a position to make plays.

Best team fit: Philadelphia Eagles

A return to Atlanta is a possibility for Campbell if he decides to play another season at age 38. He tied for the team lead in sacks last season with 6.5. But I’m instead looking at the Eagles. Campbell would fit in Vic Fangio’s 30 front as a rotational end, building more depth. At 6-foot-8 and 282 pounds, he can hold the point against the run game when matched up with offensive tackles, and he was a productive player last season for the Falcons, registering 28 pressures. I see Campbell as a total pro who could help multiple NFL squads.

Best team fit: Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals drafted Marvin Harrison Jr., who should emerge quickly as a volume target for quarterback Kyler Murray. Second-year wideout Michael Wilson is also slated to play on the boundary. But signing Renfrow would create immediate competition at the slot receiver spot with Greg Dortch, improving this offense. At 28 years old, Renfrow has 269 career receptions, including 25 last season. He shows the route-running traits to uncover in tight quarters. The Vikings are also a team to watch here as a strong fit.

Best team fit: Las Vegas Raiders

Maxx Crosby is a blue-chip player, and I see Malcolm Koonce as an ascending talent. That gives the Raiders two productive edge defenders to pair with newly signed defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. That said, there’s still room for a rotational pass-rusher, which opens the door for Ogbah. He logged five sacks in Miami last season, and he has totaled 42 over his eight seasons in the league. You can never have too many pass-rushers when you play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes.

Best team fit: Dallas Cowboys

When healthy, Thomas can still uncover and work multiple levels of the field. However, the injury concerns are legit, as the 31-year-old wide receiver has played in just 20 games over the past four seasons. And while Thomas could wait until after camps start to find the best landing spot, let’s focus on Dallas as a possibility; he could make an impact there on a one-year deal.

In Mike McCarthy’s offense, Thomas could compete with Jalen Tolbert for the No. 3 role alongside CeeDee Lamb and Brandin Cooks. He could align as a boundary X and show his ability to work the seams out of the slot. He caught 39 passes in 2023 for 448 yards and a score.

Best team fit: New England Patriots

The Patriots re-signed right tackle Mike Onwenu to a multiyear extension, drafted Penn State tackle Caedan Wallace (who will move to the left side in the pros) in the third round and signed former Steeler Chukwuma Okorafor to a one-year deal. But Smith would provide good competition for the left tackle spot and, at worst, depth. He started for the Chiefs in the Super Bowl last season, and he posted a pass block win rate of 90.8% while allowing six sacks over 438 pass-block reps. New England needs reliable blockers for rookie quarterback Drake Maye, and Smith no doubt would help.

Best team fit: Cleveland Browns

The Browns have edge depth, led by 2023 Defensive Player of the Year Myles Garrett, but this move would be more about adding a designated pass-rusher in Ngakoue. Last season in Chicago, Ngakoue had four sacks and 20 pressures, and he has totaled 69 career sacks over his nine pro seasons. Signing Ngakoue to a one-year deal would give defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz another rusher to scheme for in true passing situations.

Bonus: One trade candidate to watch

Best team fit: Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers drafted rookie receiver Ladd McConkey, who has the route traits to live in the middle of the field, and added veteran DJ Chark Jr. And if Higgins — who requested a trade this offseason — does get moved before the start of the 2024 season, he would immediately upgrade the Chargers’ offense as a three-level target for quarterback Justin Herbert.

With a pass game that will be heavily schemed and include play-action elements under new coach Jim Harbaugh, the Chargers could create both isolation matchups and open voids for Higgins to produce. He has 24 career TDs over four seasons, and he totaled 656 yards last year after breaking 1,000 in back-to-back seasons. (For what it’s worth, Higgins is anticipating staying in Cincinnati.)

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