Ideal landing spots for intriguing NFL free agents
Former Eagle Vinny Curry, a free agent, excels as a situational pass rusher. Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Ideal landing spots for intriguing NFL free agents

Free agency has slowed to a trickle, but there are still intriguing options for teams. Yardbarker's Sam Robinson, Chris Mueller and Michael Nania each offer two available players -- one on offense, another on defense --  and best fits for each.

Left tackle Jason Peters | Best fit: Chargers 

ROBINSON: Armed with one of the NFL’s best skill-position groups and a stacked defense, the Chargers appear ready to contend. But their quarterback timeline perhaps does not line up with the rest of their roster's. To raise bridge quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s ceiling and accelerate first-round pick Justin Herbert’s development, the team must address left tackle.

Pressure bothered Herbert more than many of his draft-class peers last season. The Oregon product’s 16.3 Total QBR figure when pressured landed in another zip code from the numbers of Joe Burrow (82.6) and Tua Tagovailoa (44.1). Jalen Hurts and Jordan Love also fared better. 

The Chargers traded left tackle starter Russell Okung for Panthers Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner but have probably the NFL’s thinnest left tackle group. Despite being 38, Peters -- the former Eagle -- would change the complexion of the Bolts’ offense. The future Hall of Famer rated as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best pass-protecting tackle last season and sixth-best overall. Potential Okung in-house successor Trent Scott rated as PFF’s fourth-worst tackle.

While 2019 third-rounder Trey Pipkins showed promise on 251 snaps last season, Peters supplies better security. Even if this is a one-year arrangement, the Chargers would extract short- and long-term benefit from the 11-year Eagle’s presence. Peters would align with the Bolts’ troika of aging free agents (right tackle Bryan Bulaga, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Chris Harris) and increase the team’s chances to make the playoffs this season. 

The nine-time Pro Bowler would also give Herbert more time to throw, increasing the quality of his reps. That will help when Pipkins (or a to-be-acquired young tackle) takes over down the line. 

Everson Griffen Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

DE Everson Griffen | Best fit: Colts 

The Colts splurged for DeForest Buckner via trade and top-market extension, but GM Chris Ballard’s roster-reconstruction effort has seldom included splash moves. Jadeveon Clowney makes sense, but authorizing a $15 million-plus payment after handing Buckner a $21M-per-year deal does not seem like Ballard’s style.

If the Colts want a cheaper, healthier player who outflanks Clowney in pass-rushing ability, Griffen would help a team lacking defensive end stability. Buckner is a game-changer at defensive tackle, but at end, the Colts employ injury-prone Justin Houston as their anchor and 2018 second-round pick Kemoko Turay as an intriguing apprentice. Turay missed 12 games last season with a broken ankle. 

Before his 16-game 2019 season, Houston missed 21 games from 2015-18 –- mostly because of knee injuries. Having run into extensive knee trouble as well, Clowney would not instill much faith here. His 2018 mental health episode aside, Griffen has not missed more than one game in a season since his 2010 rookie year. Griffen, who is fourth on the Vikings’ career sack list with 74.5, is 32 but should have juice left. 

Griffen booked his fourth Pro Bowl berth last season and recorded eight sacks (five more than Clowney) and 24 QB hits (17 more than Clowney). While Clowney is better against the run, the former No. 1 overall pick is 0-for-6 in 10-sack seasons. Griffen has three of those and six eight-plus-sack campaigns despite only becoming a starter in 2014. 

RB Lamar Miller | Best fit: Falcons

MUELLER: This might seem like an odd pairing, particularly when taking into account Atlanta’s offseason signing of Todd Gurley, but Gurley is far from a sure thing. He had just 1,064 yards from scrimmage with the Rams in 2019, a career low, despite playing in 15 games. There are no guarantees that Gurley will hold up for a full season or that he is explosive and dynamic even if he does. No one else on the Falcons’ roster is cut out to carry the load. 

Miller, the former Dolphin and Texan, missed 2019 because of a preseason ACL tear, but he is productive when healthy. He has averaged 981 yards and 4.4 yards per carry his past five seasons, and is a home-run hitter, with three touchdown runs of at least 85 yards in his career. Miller isn’t a dynamic pass-catching threat, but he is reliable in that department, and would be good as a safety valve for Matt Ryan. 

More than anything, Miller would give the Falcons reliability; he would be the perfect insurance policy for Gurley and because of his injury, he would come cheaply. Miller also might be getting better with age -- before his injury, he was coming off his highest-graded Pro Football Focus season ever, a 75.9 overall mark in 2018. 

Great values can be had at running back; the Falcons didn’t take one in the draft, but signing Miller would be to their benefit. They can have him for a season, and if he is productive, they won’t have to worry about making a decision on him long term. If the Gurley of three years ago were on the roster, Miller would be unnecessary. He’s not, so Miller is the perfect fit.

Linebacker Clay Matthews  Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

 LB Clay Matthews | Best fit: Cardinals

The lack of a traditional NFL offseason may have something to do with Matthews remaining unsigned,, or perhaps he's merely waiting for the perfect situation to present itself. But one thing is certain: Matthews has much left to offer. 

Matthews notched eight sacks last season, which isn’t a number that jumps off the page, but his appeal lies in his efficiency. Matthews had 339 pass snaps in 2019, and rushed the passer on 279 of them (82.3 percent). Per Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity statistic, which takes into account sacks, hurries and quarterback hits relative to how many times a player rushes the passer, Matthews was 32nd among all NFL edge rushers last year, ahead of  Chandler Jones, Justin Houston and Khalil Mack. 

Matthews’ ideal role falls somewhere between every-down edge rusher and pure situational player. He doesn’t offer much outside of his pass- rushing skills, but he’s good enough in that role to justify more snaps, and a tolerance of his shortcomings elsewhere. Where would he fit perfectly? The answer doesn’t even require a trip out of the NFC West. 

The rising Cardinals should bring Matthews aboard. He’ll be affordable, likely commanding a salary around last year’s $3.5 million with the Rams, and he’ll slot in perfectly opposite Jones on the majority of downs. Matthews did the majority of his damage lined up on the left side, which is fine; Jones’ production was split almost equally between right and left. 

Also, Arizona doesn’t have much pass-rushing depth. 2017 first-round bust Haason Reddick is their best reserve pass rusher, and he has just 7.5 career sacks. First-round linebacker Isaiah Simmons is a jack-of-all-trades who should cover huge swaths of territory in the middle of the field, which would allow Matthews to focus on rushing the QB. 

Guard Larry Warford | Best fit: Dolphins 

NANIA: Cut by the Saints, Warford is in the back end of his prime but ready to provide an instant upgrade for a team that needs it on the interior. The soon-to-be 29-year-old is coming off a 2019 season in which he earned a 73.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, the seventh-best mark among right guards.

In his seven seasons in the league, he has produced, ranking at the 60th percentile or better among guards according to the overall PFF grade. The Kentucky product was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons with New Orleans.

No team entered the offseason with a worse offensive line situation than the Dolphins. After tearing down the unit going into 2019, Miami suffered through a season of horrid blocking in the passing and running games. The Dolphins ranked last by a wide margin in most statistics that aim to capture offensive line performance. 

Miami has upgraded its offensive front, signing free agents Ereck Flowers (LG) and Ted Karras (C) and drafting OT Austin Jackson and guard Robert Hunt. Flowers will likely step in at left guard, but the Dolphins could improve at right guard, where 2019 third-round pick Michael Deiter is slated to start. He had an extremely rough rookie season.  

It's especially important for Miami to protect rookie QB Tua Tagovaiola, who was injured frequently in college. Warford has started exclusively at right guard. It makes sense for Miami to slide him in opposite Flowers and form a solid guard duo for Tua to throw behind. 

Edge rusher Vinny Curry Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Edge rusher Vinny Curry | Best fit: Raiders 

Curry, whose contract with the Eagles expired, will turn 32 in June before heading into his ninth NFL season, but the veteran has shown no signs of slowing. With 41 pressures on 243 pass-rush snaps in 2019, he was the eighth-most efficient pass-rusher among edge rushers out of 96 qualifiers. Curry consistently achieved that level of efficiency for Philadelphia in a passing down-centric situational role, which should help his game age well as wear-and-tear is minimized.

Curry averaged just 16.1 pass-rush snaps per game for Philadelphia in 2019, with two-thirds of his total snaps coming on passing plays (262 of 393). Las Vegas has a pair of young defensive ends set to anchor the edge in Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby, but it still needs more pass-rushing help. The Raiders have ranked last in quarterback hits in back-to-back seasons since trading Khalil Mack to Chicago. 

In 2019, the Raiders' total of 64 quarterback hits was barely more than half of Pittsburgh's league-leading total of 118. In his typical situational role, Curry can provide some juice that will greatly aid Vegas' pass-rush woes while not stepping on the toes of the budding Ferrell/Crosby duo. 

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.

Michael Nania writes about the NFL, focusing mainly on statistical analysis. His work can also be found at Gang Green Nation and Elite Sports New York. On Twitter, Michael can be found @Michael_Nania.

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