UPDATED Wednesday, August 6.
The following is a list of the best available veteran players at each position as of early August. Rotoworld’s free agent list and NFLPA records were used in compiling the list of candidates.
A club’s scheme, positional depth and salary cap situation are all factors that must be weighed when considering whether a team would consider any free agent listed below. Similarly, a player’s skill, age, cost, health, injury history are also data to be considered, as are off-field concerns.
The squad will be updated as warranted as the season approaches:
New additions to the team are italicized:
Quarterback: Kyle Orton, Brady Quinn, Josh Freeman, Rex Grossman.
If the 31-year-old Orton still wants to play, he’s the best backup passer available, perhaps the only legitimate plug-and-play short-term starter in free agency. Quinn worked out for the Patriots in late July. Freeman’s offseason stint with the Giants lasted about a month and a half; the question now is whether he can land another job before the start of the season. He’s only 26 years old, but that’s almost said now with a shrug. Grossman (34 in August) started 13 games in 2011 but hasn’t seen regular season action since.
Running back: Felix Jones, Ronnie Brown, Michael Bush, Le’Ron McClain.
Still only 27, Jones could be a viable third or fourth option in a backfield. Brown ranked 16th in blocking among all NFL backs in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. Bush (6-1, 245) is an inside runner who takes care of the ball (five career fumbles in 913 regular season touches), but he’s gained less than four yards per carry in each of the last three seasons. McClain can also play fullback, has less than 500 regular season career touches and doesn’t turn 30 until December.
Fullback: Vonta Leach, Le’Ron McClain.
Leach could be a fit for a team looking strictly for a blocking back. He turns 33 in November.
Wide receivers: Santonio Holmes, Earl Bennett, Austin Collie, Josh Cribbs.
Holmes has shown playmaking ability throughout his career, gaining 15.7 yards per catch in an eight-season run. However, he has played only 15 combined games in the last two campaigns. The 27-year-old Bennett has been released by Chicago and Cleveland this offseason. At his best, he’s been a solid possession receiver. The 28-year-old Collie has 179 career receptions. Cribbs brings value on special teams.
Tight end: Jermichael Finley, Ben Hartsock, Dustin Keller.
Finley’s NFL future is tied to whether he gains medical clearance after an October 2013 neck injury. Given his talent and relatively young age (27), he’s one of the best free agents available if healthy. Hartsock’s value stems from his blocking; he was the NFL’s best run-blocker at tight end in 2013, per PFF. Keller missed the 2013 regular season after suffering multiple knee injuries in a preseason game. When healthy, he’s a solid pass-catching option. He turns 30 in September.
Offensive tackle: Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Trueblood, Tony Pashos.
McKinnie (35 in September) is a short-term bridge option at left tackle. The 31-year-old Trueblood (10 starts for Atlanta in 2013) and the 33-year-old Pashos (12 starts for Oakland a season ago) are similar options at right tackle.
Offensive guard: Mike Brisiel, Leroy Harris, Harvey Dahl.
The 31-year-old Brisiel started 15 games in each of the last two seasons for Oakland. Harris, 30, can also play center. The 33-year-old Dahl has ample starting experience but had offseason hip and ankle surgery, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Center: Kyle Cook, Leroy Harris.
Cook (6-3, 310) started 66 games for the Bengals from 2009 through 2013. He was limited to four games in 2012 after ankle surgery.
Defensive end: Jason Hunter, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, Brett Keisel.
Hunter and Te’o-Nesheim could appeal to 4-3 clubs, while the 35-year-old Keisel is the best of the 3-4 ends on the market.
Defensive tackle: Isaac Sopoaga, Aubrayo Franklin, Vaughn Martin.
Sopoaga and Franklin are fits at nose guard in 3-4 schemes. The 28-year-old Martin has 27 career starts and can also play end in a “30” front.
Inside linebacker: Desmond Bishop, Kion Wilson, Jonathan Vilma.
Bishop recorded more than 100 tackles playing inside in the Packers’ 3-4 scheme in 2010 and 2011. The 27-year-old Wilson started a pair of games at inside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 front a season ago. Vilma, 32, has reportedly drawn looks from Atlanta and Miami this offseason but has yet to sign.
Outside linebacker: Larry English, Brandon Jenkins, Kevin Burnett, Stephen Nicholas, Edgar Jones.
The Chargers’ first-round pick in 2009, the 28-year-old English has recorded 11 total sacks in five seasons. He visited the Cowboys in July, but his health is a near-term concern, as he’s coming off knee surgery, according to the team’s website. When healthy, English could appeal to clubs looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 end. So could the 24-year-old Jenkins, a fifth-round pick of Washington in 2013. Nicholas (ex-Atlanta) and Burnett (ex-Oakland) are fits in 4-3 schemes. Both are 31 years old. Burnett comes off wrist surgery. Jones brings special teams value.
Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson, Corey Webster, D.J. Moore.
Samuel, 33, has 51 career picks, but he’s entering his 12th NFL season. The 32-year-old Robinson would add experience and physicality to a secondary. Webster (20 career interceptions) is a 10th-year pro. Moore, 27, could help in “sub” packages.
Safety: Michael Huff, Ed Reed, Reed Doughty.
The safety market was thinned late in July with the departures of Steve Gregory (Kansas City) and Jim Leonhard (Cleveland). The 31-year-old Huff had stints with Denver and Baltimore a season ago. He was benched after his first (and only) start with the Ravens, a game in which Peyton Manning threw seven TDs. Reed, 35, is a future Hall of Famer nearing the end of his career. Doughty, 31, has made 54 career starts.
Returner: Josh Cribbs.
A long-time special teams ace who can return kickoffs and punts and cover kicks, Cribbs can also be utilized at receiver and in “Wildcat” packages.
Kicker: Rob Bironas.
Has connected on 85.7 percent of his field goals (239-of-279) in his NFL career. May not have the same punch on kickoffs he had earlier in his career — forced just 32 touchbacks out of 80 attempts last season.
Punter: Mat McBriar.
Posted a 41.3-yard gross average (35.0-yard net) a season ago in nine games with Pittsburgh.