We are deep into the second wave of NFL free agency after a rapid start with players being signed across the league, but there are still plenty of quality players still available, including Akiem Hicks — No. 1 among our top players available.
As teams start to put pen to paper on these free agent contracts, there are still plenty of talented players out there for contending teams to snatch. Unfortunately for the quarterback-needy teams, none of them are quarterbacks.
Here are the top-10 free agents remaining, based on Pete Prisco’s top-100 list.
Hicks isn’t that far removed from his Pro Bowl season (2018), as the 32-year-old defensive tackle had 3.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits in nine games for the Chicago Bears last season. Hicks’ versatility will have some value for teams, as he can play the edge or line up inside.
Only having 15 pressures in nine games, Hicks had 50 pressures the season prior. The days of Hicks, 32, earning a massive contract appear to be behind him, but he can be a nice pass rusher in a rotation and is still a good run stopper (had 17 run stops in 2021).
Clowney had a bounce-back season with the Cleveland Browns after finishing the 2020 campaign without a single sack. The former No. 1 overall pick upped his sack total to nine in 2021, finishing with 37 tackles, 19 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles as a reliable option opposite Myles Garrett.
Finishing with 50 pressures and 32 quarterback hurries, Clowney showed flashes of the player who made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2016 through 2018. Clowney had his most pressures and quarterback hits in a season since 2018, so he still possesses the ability to get to the quarterback.
Best suited as a No. 2 defensive end, Clowney should thrive as the second pass rusher in a defense.
Left tackles are hard to find in this league, and Brown’s age is concerning at 36. He’s still at the top of his game after making the Pro Bowl last year, when he started all 17 games. The eight sacks Brown allowed are as many as in his last four years combined, and his five penalties were the most he’s committed in four years.
Brown should have a strong market based on the value of offensive tackles. He still has a few good years of football left.
With Tom Brady returning from his 40-day retirement, it’s entirely possible that Gronk will also return to the Buccaneers. He’s showed no signs of slowing down. An injury-riddled season caused Gronkowski to miss five games, but he still finished with 55 catches for 802 yards and six touchdowns. He also had nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in two postseason games.
Gronkowski is fifth in NFL history for receiving yards by a tight end (9,286) and third in receiving touchdowns by a tight end (92). His 98 catches for 1,389 yards in the playoffs are the third-most by any player in postseason history, and his 15 receiving touchdowns are the second-most in playoff history.
He finally looked to be back to his pre-injury self last year down the stretch, but then suffered another major knee injury in the Super Bowl. That’s why he’s down this low.
Beckham turned his 2021 season around since signing with the Rams after an ugly breakup from the Browns, recording 27 catches for 305 yards and five touchdowns in eight games. He had 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns in four postseason games, having two catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl LVI before going down with a knee injury.
The three-time Pro Bowler helped solidify the Chiefs’ defense last season after being traded from Pittsburgh. Though he is no longer a headliner, Ingram is still a very capable pass rusher who is also stout against the run. He would be an ideal fit on a team that could use some depth at pass rusher. Ingram, as he showed in Kansas City, is also still capable of being an every-down player if called upon to do so.
After tearing an Achilles tendon late in 2020 with the Chiefs, he settled in and did a nice job for the Colts last season. He isn’t a guy who will be All-Pro, but he is a capable starter.
Tartt started 14 games for the 49ers last season, finishing with 66 tackles and a pass defensed. While Tartt didn’t record an interception last year, he allowed just one touchdown in coverage as opposing quarterbacks completed just 54.8% of their passes and had a 71.0 passer rating when he was the primary defender.
Tartt is a solid starter for a team that needs secondary help.
The 33-year-old Hughes recorded two sacks, seven quarterbacks hits, three passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and 18 tackles for the Bills in a starting role last season. He also had 45 pressures and 10 run stops for Buffalo.
Hughes still has excellent value in a rotation and can start when needed. He’s still a productive player in his mid-30s.
Hightower returned to the Patriots defense last season after opting out of the 2020 campaign. Over that stretch, he didn’t look like the same player that helped New England to multiple Super Bowls. Instead, Hightower was noticeably a step slower than he’d been in the past. He finished the season with 64 tackles and 1.5 sacks. The 32-year-old is reportedly still mulling the next steps of his career, which would indicate that retirement may be on the table if the right situation doesn’t present itself.