The final wave of the NFL free agent market is beginning to heat up. As teams begin to finalize their rosters for the regular season, veteran options are starting to find new landing spots. Dalvin Cook (Jets) and Ezekiel Elliott (Patriots) signed this week, while the Ravens added cornerback Ronald Darby and edge rusher Jadaveon Clowney over the past two days.
Where are the best destinations for the top available free agents? Let’s find homes for the 10 best unsigned NFL players, beginning with a running back garnering significant interest in recent weeks.
Best Landing Spots for Remaining NFL Free Agents
Kareem Hunt | Indianapolis Colts
With Cook and Elliott off the board, Kareem Hunt might be the most alluring free agent running back on the market. He’s taken meetings with the Saints, Colts, and Vikings over the past several weeks but hasn’t yet agreed to a deal.
Indianapolis and New Orleans are reportedly willing to offer Hunt a similar payday. But the Colts are open to giving the veteran more guaranteed money, while the Saints want to backload his deal with incentives.
Indy could undoubtedly use another RB as Jonathan Taylor’s ongoing injury/contractual battle continues with the Colts. Appearing on The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said Taylor’s situation in Indianapolis “has regressed” because “both sides have done damage” and didn’t indicate that a resolution was in sight.
“Jonathan Taylor and the Colts need to let this situation calm down..
Both sides need to give a little bit here and they need to get back to a better place than they’ve been” ~ @AdamSchefter #PMSLive pic.twitter.com/mdcRJJUYrm
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) August 17, 2023
While the Colts recently signed Kenyan Drake to compete with Deon Jackson and rookie Evan Hull, Indy is also currently without Zack Moss, who broke his arm at the end of July.
Hunt would lend veteran experience to Indianapolis’ roster and serve as a checkdown option for first-round rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Leonard Fournette | Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb remains arguably the best pure runner in the NFL and should take on a sizeable pass-catching role in 2023, but Cleveland needs more support behind him.
Jerome Ford, the Browns’ fifth-round pick in last year’s draft, has been scheduled to serve as Chubb’s backup, but the club is concerned he might not be ready for Week 1 after suffering a hamstring injury earlier this month.
“I think it’s unfair to say yet,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I’m hopeful, but I can’t go past that. He’s truly week-to-week. He’s got treatment right now.”
While Cleveland might be able to get by with John Kelly and Demetric Felton behind Chubb until Ford returns, they could also afford to sign another RB. Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com reported as early as June that the Browns would like to bring in an additional back after losing Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson in free agency.
Let’s give them Leonard Fournette, who could quickly step in as a receiving threat on Cleveland’s depth chart. Over the past four seasons, Fournette ranks fourth among running backs in receptions, trailing only Austin Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey.
Fournette struggled to gain traction with the Buccaneers last season, but at least part of his limited production can be attributed to Tampa Bay’s woeful offensive line performance. The Browns, second in PFN’s offensive line rankings, would represent a significant upgrade.
Carson Wentz | Cincinnati Bengals
Now that Teddy Bridgewater has signed with the Lions, Carson Wentz is the best quarterback option without a contract. The only problem? Most teams have already solidified their backup QB position.
Plus, Wentz has essentially run himself out of town in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Washington over the past three seasons. Wentz wants to keep playing in 2023, but will any team want to add his potentially divisive personality to its locker room, especially if he’s coming in as a clear No. 2?
“It’s great to draft a quarterback, but you better make sure you draft the right one.”#PFN365’s @wingoz on Carson Wentz’ viral uniform photo and why drafting QBs in the first round is harder than it seems. ⬇️ #NFL pic.twitter.com/ZJESuW5VHH
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) August 8, 2023
The Chargers originally stood out as a potential destination for Wentz, as Los Angeles is set to roll with former sixth-round pick Easton Stick behind Justin Herbert. But Stick shined in the Chargers’ first preseason game, completing several tight-window throws. The Athletic’s Daniel Popper called it the best performance of Stick’s career.
Instead, let’s send Wentz to Cincinnati, where the Bengals got uninspiring play from backup contenders Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning in their first preseason contest.
Joe Burrow is expected to be ready for Week 1 after straining his calf, but Cincinnati still might need to upgrade behind him. Wentz is far more talented than either Siemian or Browning, but will his personality mesh with the Bengals’ roster?
Jarvis Landry | Denver Broncos
Tim Patrick might have the worst injury luck of any NFL player over the past two years. After missing all of 2022 with a torn ACL, Patrick was shining during Denver’s offseason work before rupturing his Achilles during training camp.
With Patrick out for the year, the Broncos are down to Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, and second-round rookie Marvin Mims as their top three wide receivers.
Sean Payton favorite Marquez Callaway is also in the building, but adding another pass catcher wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Enter Jarvis Landry. Although he’s primarily limited to the slot, Landry should already be familiar with Payton’s offense after playing for the Saints last season (Payton was no longer in New Orleans, but the Saints ran the same offensive scheme without him).
Dalton Risner | Washington Commanders
New Commanders starting QB Sam Howell is — for the most part — entering a solid environment as he takes over under center. Washington has viable weapons in the passing game, a brilliant offensive mind in Eric Bieniemy, and one of the NFL’s most underrated defenses.
But the club’s offensive line remains a potential weakness, especially at guard, where Saahdiq Charles is scheduled to start after playing under 300 snaps per season over the past two years.
It makes zero sense to me that Dalton Risner isn’t on an NFL roster right now. He’s a starting guard.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) August 15, 2023
Dalton Risner is the best free agent OL left on the market, and it’s nearly inconceivable that he hasn’t been signed after starting 62 games for the Broncos.
Risner, the 10th-best guard in ESPN’s run-block win rate, wouldn’t necessarily have to start for Washington immediately, but he’d give them valuable depth in front of Howell.
Matt Ioannidis | New Orleans Saints
The Saints’ defensive tackle rotation is incredibly important in Dennis Allen’s scheme. Yet, New Orleans lost both David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle in free agency, both of whom played more than 500 snaps in 2022.
While the Saints added first-round pick Bryan Bresee and veterans Nathan Shepherd and Khalen Saunders, they have room for one more body.
Matt Ioannidis is familiar with the NFC South after spending last year with the Panthers. The 29-year-old has managed at least 30 pressures in every season in which he’s received at least 250 pass-rushing snaps. Ioannidis isn’t a superstar, but he’ll fill a role for the Saints.
Kyle Van Noy | New York Giants
The Giants led the NFL with a 39.7% blitz rate in 2022 and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale doesn’t figure to change his stripes next season. But New York needs more options behind Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari if it wants to keep bringing that much pressure.
Big Blue met with Anthony Barr this week, but Kyle Van Noy might be a better option. Not only can KVN rush the passer, but he can play inside linebacker — a position where the Giants may need help if Darrian Beavers or Micah McFadden doesn’t ascend alongside Bobby Okereke.
In five of his last six seasons, Van Noy has managed at least 100 snaps each as a pass rusher, run defender, and blitzer.
Melvin Ingram | Jacksonville Jaguars
Melvin Ingram is entering his age-34 campaign, but he was still productive for the Steelers, Chiefs, and Dolphins over the past two years. Ingram, pursued by the Browns earlier this offseason, posted the highest pass-rush grade (78.6) in 2022 among still-available edge defenders, per PFF.
Melvin Ingram embarrasses someone every other snap pic.twitter.com/82VpbzzIL5
— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) September 26, 2022
While the Jaguars already reunited with Dawuane Smoot this offseason, he’s still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, and it’s unclear if he’ll be ready for Week 1. Ingram would give Jacksonville another option behind Josh Allen and Travon Walker, ensuring they don’t rely heavily on K’Lavon Chaisson or fifth-round rookie Yasir Abdullah.
Casey Hayward | San Francisco 49ers
Casey Hayward has always been a better zone-coverage corner than man defender. The difference was most stark in 2021, when Hayward ranked third in PFF’s zone-coverage grades (84.3) but just 59th in man coverage (57.2).
That’s why Hayward makes plenty of sense for the 49ers, who played zone at the fourth-highest rate in the NFL (77.2%) last season, per TruMedia.
Steve Wilks is San Francisco’s new defensive coordinator, but he’s expected to retain many of DeMeco Ryan’s schematic principles (and Wilks’ Panthers ranked ninth in zone usage rate in 2022).
Deommodore Lenoir is a capable starter opposite Charvarius Ward, but the 49ers are thin at corner behind their top two options, especially with rookie Darrell Luter Jr. on the PUP list. Hayward wouldn’t have to start in San Francisco, but he’d be an outstanding insurance policy.
Cameron Dantzler | Detroit Lions
Speaking of NFL teams that need cornerback help, we present the Lions. Detroit revamped their secondary over the offseason, adding Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley on the outside while bringing in C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Brian Branch as slot options.
But the Lions still need more help. Moseley, recovering from a torn ACL, is on the PUP list. Head coach Dan Campell said this week that “it’s going to be a while” before the ex-49er can return. Jerry Jacobs is a viable replacement, but Detroit needs more bodies in the defensive backfield.
Cameron Dantzler has already spent time with three teams this offseason, serving brief stints with the Commanders and Bills after being released by the Vikings in March.
Dantzler has flashed in the past and still has youth (24 years old) on his side. He won’t be a miracle worker for the Lions, but he could play if needed.