NFL free agency is about to begin. When the first few major waves settle, several potential diamonds in the rough are likely to remain. There are always several dozen free agents with clear talent or a history of success who linger on the market for a while. Usually, that’s due to a recent history of injury, an unexpected down season or, quite simply, age. Those free agents tend to land one-year, prove-it deals. Sometimes the deals work out, sometimes they don’t.
Here’s a look at five impending free agents who could be looking at some of those one-year, prove-it deals.
5. Paul Richardson, wide receiver
A second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFL Draft, Paul Richardson has been given multiple opportunities to shine in the NFL and has failed to do so. His best season came in 2017 when he had 703 yards for the Seahawks, which landed him a nice four-year deal in Washington, but that entire experiment was short-lived. After two seasons in which he was unable to remain healthy, the team released Richardson outright. The 27-year-old will now head into free agency ahead of a draft oozing with wide receiver talent, which will subsequently drive his value down. It’s been a case of hard luck for Richardson, but his 4.40 40-yard speed will continue to intrigue people across the league, and it’s why some team in need (Chicago Bears?) will give him a shot.
4. Tyler Eifert, tight end
Tyler Eifert is a name that’s popped up quite a bit around these parts recently, having been listed as a free agent teams should avoid. The reasons for that are clear: Eifert has played a full 16-game season just once (2019) in his career and appeared in just 14 games from 2016-2018. That’s a whole lot of risk for any team looking to add a tight end, which is why Eifert is likely to be avoided over the first few waves of free agency, ultimately being forced into a one-year, prove-it deal down the line. The fact that he played a full slate of games last season is enough to keep him on the NFL radar, but there are so many red flags, it’s hard to imagine a team signing him to a multi-year deal.
3. Vic Beasley, EDGE
A former 2015 first-round pick, Vic Beasley recorded 15.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2016 and appeared set to become the NFL’s next great pass rusher. Since then, he’s recorded just 18 total sacks and struggled to regain any form of consistency. The one positive Beasley will carry into free agency is that he’s missed only two games in his career, but that won’t be enough for a team to invest a multi-year contract. His lacking production, spotty performance and 58.9 Pro Football Focus grade is going to give most teams pause, but not enough to overlook him entirely. A pass rush-hungry team will likely view Beasley in much the same way the New York Giants did with Markus Golden in 2019, which may be just what the doctor ordered. A change in scenery, a new scheme and a fresh start could revitalize Beasley’s career.
2. Trae Waynes, cornerback
There is going to be a run at the top of the cornerback market, but despite a solid resume, Trae Waynes is not going to get a slice of that pie. Inconsistencies have defined the 27-year-old since being selected No. 11 overall in 2015, but the good news is that there have been flashes. For instance, despite recording just 56 tackles and one interception in 2019, Waynes allowed just 71 yards on 134-man coverage snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. However, he did struggle on the outside and ultimately surrendered 61 receptions on 84 targets in his direction. Those two numbers define Waynes’ inconsistency, and it’s why teams are likely to avoid inking him to a multi-year deal. But for cornerback-needy teams that also rely heavily on a man scheme defensively, Waynes will be an intriguing option during the second or third wave of free agency.
1. Tony Jefferson, safety
After several strong seasons for both the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, Tony Jefferson saw his 2019 season cut short because of a knee injury that limited him to just five games. It also led to his outright release by the Ravens in mid-February. However, he’s a veteran presence with a solid resume, so at 28 years old, Jefferson’s NFL career isn’t over just yet. But it has hit a bit of a speed bump, so he’ll need to find the right situation to course-correct. There isn’t much of a market for an aging safety who has become more one-dimensional in recent years. Jefferson may linger on the market for a while, but eventually, some team is going to bring him in and give him a shot, if for no other reason than the leadership he can bring to the locker room.
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