The big initial wave of free-agent signings has come and gone. The second wave is underway, with the next tier of players beginning to disappear from the market (the most recent example: quarterback Matt Schaub, after one failed season in Oakland, signed with the Ravens Tuesday to back up Joe Flacco).
There are still recognizable names out there — but they come with strings attached, most of them aging or fragile strings, or both. Such is the case with the most accomplished name of the top 10 free agents still available.
1. WR Wes Welker
Just two seasons ago, his first teaming up with Peyton Manning in Denver, Welker seemed a lock for 1,000 career catches (a club still with just 10 members), phenomenal for an undrafted player. But he’s slowed precipitously since then, especially last season, and a month from his 34th birthday and victim of several concussions the last two seasons, he may have scared off teams for good.
2. WR Michael Crabtree
He’s just 27 and has suitors, but teams haven’t been in a rush to grab him so far. The 49ers seem to have found his replacement there in ex-Raven Torrey Smith, but speculation continues to mount that they might wait out the market and bring Crabtree back at their price. Assuming he wants to return, that is. If he could prove he can stay fully healthy for an entire season, he’d be signed in a heartbeat.
3. WR Greg Jennings
Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for Greg Jennings, but it’s hard to argue that getting cut in the middle of a $45 million contract is a good thing.
The Minnesota Vikings traded for Mike Wallace, who is due nearly $10 million this year alone. That made Jennings too expensive to keep—at least at his $8.9 million price—so he was jettisoned soon after the trade.
The silver lining is he might get back to prominence if he picks a team with the right quarterback, though Teddy Bridgewater would have been that man for him going forward. Jennings originally chose quarterback purgatory—over heaven in Green Bay—which was a contributing factor to his demise in Minnesota.
After all, it’s tough to produce when you have a sad quarterback carousel throwing you the ball.
The Vikings let him go after two underwhelming seasons, meaning they don’t want him as part of the Teddy Bridgewater revival. There was briefly talk of a reunion with the Packers, with whom he won a Super Bowl, but that died down quickly. He turns 32 in the season’s first month. He’s still younger than some of the wideouts available, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
4. LB Lance Briggs
The longtime Bear reportedly visited the 49ers this week. He’s been beaten up the last two seasons, playing only 17 games, a big reason their defense hit the skids — and the 49ers’ unit was wiped out this month. It’s hard to tell what he has left at age 34 since he’s played so little lately, but it’s hard to imagine he can’t help anyone.
5. RB Pierre Thomas
Squeezed out by a numbers game in New Orleans, when Mark Ingram re-signed and C.J. Spiller arrived from Buffalo. Not just popular with the Saints but incredibly versatile and effective, and while he’s 30, he’s a year younger than ex-teammate Darren Sproles, with a lot fewer touches and wear on his body. He’ll be a steal for someone.