March 11 is the target date for the free agency proceedings to get under way, so we are getting closer by the day. In the beginning there is always a slew of big names taken off the board quickly with some mammoth contracts, but once the dust settles after a week of intense activity, patient NFL teams start to reap the rewards of some nice value deals. Below are ten guys that may not get the huge contract on day one, but they are good players that can immediately give a nice boost to whoever signs them.
Jason Worilds, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: After 8 sacks last year as a rotation player he's one of the highest rising guys on the free agency market. The Steelers want to keep him but he's made it clear the only way he's return is in a full time starter role. This guy may command good money but I still view him as "under the radar" because he wasn't a starter last year until LaMarr Woodley got hurt. In fact, after three relatively quiet seasons the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones last year and started him to open the season over Worilds. He's young and on the rise, so perhaps someone will give him stupid money based on the timing of his availability, or perhaps he could be had at a bargain if teams agree he's yet to fully prove himself.
Josh McCown, QB, Chicago Bears: Most view him as the top free agent quarterback on the market, which says something about how bad the market current is. I don't see teams jumping all over his availability despite the incredible run he had replacing Jay Cutler this season. He's 35 and no team will be handing him the keys to the franchise on a long term deal, but based on what he showed last season I think he's a better option to start than many. If a team drafts a quarterback in the 1st round, having McCown for a year or two may not be a bad thing to keep your team competitive while a youngster learns the ropes.
Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Carolina Panthers: Despite being a starter on that vaunted Panthers' defense he still seems to be under the radar. He's slight of size and he's not the fastest guy, but he's physical and he knows how to play the game. Munnerlyn is one of those guys where he may not look like much at a combine, but he just has that high football IQ, and when the lights come on he's a guy you want on your side.
Jonathan Goodwin, C, San Francisco 49ers (pictured): His age will scare some teams but at 35 he's still playing extremely good football and he's remained very healthy. He's been a starting center for a team in the NFC Championship Game four out of the last five seasons. He has not missed a single start in that span. That pretty much says it all. And he's been every bit as good as the guys that play next to him. He may have just a year or two left in him at this level, but if your team is competing for a title and has a need at center he's the kind of player with the character and experience to really solidify an offensive line.
Riley Cooper, WR, Philadelphia Eagles: Depsite the controversy that surrounded him early in the season, Cooper went on to put together a very solid 835 yard, 8 touchdown season. Some teams may shy away from him due to perceived character flaws but Cooper bounced back nicely from that incident to have a very productive year.
Zach Strief, T, New Orleans Saints: He may be 30 and he may be a right tackle, but Pro Football Focus graded him as the best offensive player for the Saints in 2013. That's right, better than Jimmy Graham and Drew Brees. Now of course no team would want Strief over those two players, but he's more than held his own and proven he's a borderline Pro Bowl quality talent at right tackle when healthy.
Anthony Spencer, LB, Dallas Cowboys: How many times have you heard this story? Elite player, top of his game, franchised tagged, plays on a one year deal, BOOM. Knee injury. IR. The Cowboys likely won't franchise him again and now he would enter free agency as a 30 year old coming off a major knee surgery. Less appealing than a 29 year old coming off an 11 sack season, right? That will affect his market without question, but if he can come back even close to where he was just 12 months ago he would be a steal for someone.
Shelley Smith, G, St. Louis Rams: He's only started 8 games in three seasons with the Rams but looked really solid when he played this season. At 27 he's ready to step into someone's lineup and be a starter. He won't break anyone's bank but would make a needy interior line better.
Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears: He's 33 and probably over the hill, but based on the cost I would seriously consider this guy. With 36 career interceptions the ball just always seems to find him and if he can put together a good offseason conditioning wise he may be able to resurrect his career one last time for a team desperate for back end play making ability. And really, what defense doesn't need more turnovers? Peanut just makes those happen.
Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders: He's largely been a bust in Oakland, save a beast of a season in 2010. He's constantly injured and while he's just 27 many have written him off as done. But how much of his lack of success is due to being in the black hole that is Oakland? Given his 3.3 yards per carry average the last two years and his constant physical issues, he'll be had for cheap. Put him in the right place with reduced role in a platoon system and he may still be able to tap into the freakish potential that had some thinking he'd be a Hall of Famer someday. He's overdue for a change of scenery and it could do him a world of good.