Every year, teams spend big bucks on marquee free agents in hopes of making the leap into becoming a Super Bowl contender. And more often than not, those same teams that made a big splash in free agency are left on the couch with the rest of us when the big game is played in February.
Adding players chasing big bucks has proven to be a recipe for disaster, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying. The true contenders are the ones who find hidden gold in free agency, diamonds in the rough who turn into impact players at a bargain. These five players are the unsung heroes of the 2014 draft class, great players who can be had for cheap and will still produce at a high level for their respective teams.
1. Karlos Dansby, ILB, Arizona Cardinals
Having long been one of the most underrated players in football, veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby was finally recognized for his stellar play, receiving second team All-Pro honors this season despite missing the Pro Bowl. Dansby finished off a season worthy of the Defensive Player of the Year award with 122 tackles eight assists, 6.5 sacks, and four interceptions.
Dansby will be turning 33 next season, which will prevent him from getting a mega-deal even though he has quite a bit left in the tank. The veteran brings a tough inside presence against the run, excellent coverage on slot receivers, running backs, and tight ends, and displays some great moves when rushing the passer.
Dansby was arguably the best free agent pick up of 2013, and may once again earn that title in 2014 if a team is looking for that missing piece in the middle of their defense.
2. Alterraun Verner, CB, Tennessee Titans Alterraun Verner burst onto the scene in 2013 with five interceptions and a ridiculous 23 deflections, earning a second team All-Pro berth. Many will write him off as a one hit wonder, but Verner has been a force for awhile now, being one of the top 25 rated corners every year he’s been in the league via Pro Football Focus, and cracking the top 15 in two of those seasons.
Verner is one of the top players available this offseason, but his tendency to fly under the radar around the league may mean he’s on the outside looking in when teams sign those coveted free agents to big bucks. Verner is a great asset to teams who need help in their secondary, and will make a team very happy with his great play and price tag.
3. Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots
A year ago, Julian Edelman was a utility player that was seemingly unwanted by every team in the league except the New England Patriots. He signed a one-year deal with the Pats, and proceeded to catch 105 passes for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns.
Edelman may still be written off as a system player, but anybody who watched him play this season can see he would have a good level of success with any team. He has sure hands and is a solid route runner, and is dangerous when lined up in the slot.
There is a gap in talent between Edelman and big-name free agent wide receiver Eric Decker, but the gap is not as big as people think. Edelman will be an asset to whoever picks him up, as he showed with the Patriots this season.
4. Josh McCown, QB, Chicago Bears
2013 was a great year for Josh McCown. Incumbent starter Jay Cutler went down with an injury in October, and McCown took advantage of the opportunity, responding with a stat line of 1,823 yards, 16 touchdowns and only one interception wotj a 66.5% pass completion percentage in six games of significant time played.
While Marc Trestman’s quarterback friendly offense has to receive some credit for McCown’s success, he clearly outplayed Jay Cutler and has matured into a starting caliber quarterback at the ripe age of 34 years old. While he can’t be counted on as a franchise quarterback due to his age, he is a great back up or even a stop-gap starter for teams in desperate need of talent at the quarterback position.
5. Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
While not an elite tight end, Greg Olsen has been Cam Newton’s security blanket the past three seasons and deserves a lot more hype than he has been getting as he enters free agency. The seven year veteran has routinely put up solid numbers throughout his career though he has yet to have a true breakout season.
Olsen is a good tight end that will be an absolute steal for a team looking for consistency at the tight end position.