Every week — and this week especially — the fantasy football sites go through a rundown of what to do if your team lost a key player to injury. It’s a list of who might be available on the league’s waiver wire with players who can fill the void. Sometimes, you find some league-winning gems in there. Sometimes, as the season goes along, the lists start to look a little thin.
In the real-word NFL, those lists are already thin, and Week 2’s rash of high-profile injuries only underlined that fact. Fans wondering whether there are free agents still available who can help their teams replace injured stars such as Nick Bosa, Saquon Barkley or Christian McCaffrey are probably going to end up disappointed.
Is it possible the Giants catch lightning in a bottle with 28-year-old Devonta Freeman, whom they signed this week after losing Barkley for the season? Absolutely it is. But there’s a reason Freeman was still unsigned into the third week of September, and it’s not because he was swatting away high-end offers left and right all spring and summer.
No, if you’re looking for free agents at this point in the season, you’re rifling through the bargain bin and hoping to find something that works out a lot better for you than anyone else thought it would work out for them. It happens, and it’s possible that someone on this list could help save your team’s season. Which is why we’re doing it.
Now that we’ve taken care of that, here’s your position-by-position list of top free agents still available at the dawn of Week 3. Proceed with caution:
Biggest name still available: Earl Thomas
Safety is actually the one position with some real depth on this list. You have the decorated veteran Thomas at the top, but teams needing defensive help on the back end also can take a look at the likes of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Damarious Randall, Eric Reid and Tony Jefferson. All four in that group are under 29 years old. It just doesn’t seem to be a position in which many teams feel they have a glaring enough need that they have to go out and sign someone.
Thomas, 31, is the most interesting case. The Ravens cut him in late August after he punched a teammate during practice, and there was some thought that he’d be snatched up quickly, potentially by the Cowboys. But he was not, and the season opened without any significant interest in him. That interest has picked up at least a little bit lately, from what I’ve been told, and it’s possible he ends up on a team (though not the Cowboys) at some point next week. Stay tuned.
Biggest name still available: Prince Amukamara
The former first-round Giants pick, who has played for the Jaguars and Bears and spent much of this offseason with the Raiders, is an example of a guy who probably needs the situation to be right in order to return a team’s interest. He is 31, has played nine years in the NFL and has made about $46 million. He could help a team, especially at a position in which there’s no such thing as too much depth, but he might not be overly eager to sign to a practice squad, as fellow veterans Brandon Carr (Dallas) and Trumaine Johnson (Carolina) have. Remember, practice squads expanded to 16 this year, and veterans who in past years would not have been eligible for practice squads now are. Some vets might be waiting to see if better offers arise.
Biggest name still available: Damon Harrison
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Harrison is visiting the Seahawks next week and has drawn interest from several teams. He is a very specific kind of player — a run-stuffing defensive tackle — for whom teams don’t generally like to extend their budgets. And Harrison has made his share of money in his career, as well, so he might not be looking to just take any paycheck that is offered. But if he wants to play, he is likely to find a home somewhere, as few have been better against the run since he has been in the league.
Schefter also reported that Jabaal Sheard is planning to visit the Lions and could reunite with former New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. There are also a couple of edge-rusher types stick kicking around, including Clay Matthews and Kerry Wynn. But the big guys on defense are hard to replace this time of year.
Biggest name still available: Mychal Kendricks
We had Todd Davis listed here, but then he signed with the Vikings on Thursday. Wesley Woodyard and Nigel Bradham are a couple of other names of off-ball linebackers available should teams have a sudden need due to injury.
Biggest name still available: Larry Warford
Now Schefter reported back in August that Warford was opting out of the 2020 season. But since Warford wasn’t on a roster at the time, his opt-out decision was not formal and is reversible. If the three-time Pro Bowl guard decides to change his mind, he could sign with a team, and there would likely be interest.
Tackle Jared Veldheer recently had a tryout with the Cowboys but shortly thereafter decided to retire. (Another decision that’s easily reversed under the right circumstances.) The Cowboys looked at guard Ronald Leary, as well, but nothing came together there. Josh Kline, Justin Britt and Marshall Newhouse are kind of the cream of the rest of the available crop here. Offensive line help is tough to find at any time of the year.
Biggest name still available: Antonio Brown
This isn’t the easiest situation. Brown is suspended until at least Week 9, and the NFL is still looking into other off-field allegations against him and reserves the right to extend the suspension if it finds out anything new. A team could sign Brown now and wait until Week 9 to put him on the field, but the fact that no team has made a move in that direction tells you what you need to know.
Biggest name still available: Lamar Miller
With Freeman signing with the Giants, Miller moved into this spot. Teams have looked at him — and he was with the Patriots for a time this offseason — but he is coming off a year lost to a torn ACL and might not be all the way back to what he was.
After Miller … not much. Spencer Ware might be able to latch on and help someone’s committee. And there’s always Marshawn Lynch, but his returns always seem to be fairly specific. There’s no longer a team in Oakland, for example, and Seattle only went down that road last season after all of their backs got hurt.
Biggest name still available: Uhh … Paxton Lynch?
It’s rough out there. Lynch is a former first-round pick who’s still only 26, so who knows? He has as good a shot to get a look as Cody Kessler or Drew Stanton, who are two other readily available arms for a team’s quarterback room.
And let’s be honest, the biggest name still available is Colin Kaepernick, but he hasn’t played since 2016. And we all know by now there’s a lot more at work behind that situation than just, “Hey, we need a QB, let’s bring this guy in.” Or else a team would have by now.
Three mote notes from around the league this week:
The latest on the 49ers’ turf concerns at MetLife Stadium
The San Francisco 49ers complained to the league about the turf at MetLife Stadium last week after they lost several significant players to injury in their game against the Jets. The 49ers are playing the Giants at the same stadium on Sunday, and so they’re concerned. But an inspection on Wednesday by the NFL and the NFL Players Association of the MetLife Stadium field revealed no concerns. So the Niners will return to the same field on which their quarterback, two of their running backs and a pair of their star defensive linemen got injured last week.
Some background on this: MetLife Stadium installed a new FieldTurf field this year. It’s the third time the field has been replaced since the stadium opened in 2010, after replacements in 2013 and 2016. This year’s surface is identical to the turf used there since 2016, just newer. The joint investigation by the league and the players’ union, according to multiple sources, also took a look at what kinds of cleats 49ers players were using during the game, and there’s a chance the team could switch to a shorter cleat on Sunday.
What happened to the 49ers last week was wild, obviously, but nobody has been able to prove the field was the reason for all of those injuries. Giants coach Joe Judge said earlier this week that his team spent all of training camp practicing on that field and had no problems, and the Steelers raised no concerns about it after their Week 1 game there.
49ers linebacker Fred Warner said he thought the field felt “spongier” in warm-ups, and offensive tackle Trent Williams said he felt like the field “just wasn’t broken in yet.” The Niners return to New Jersey after spending a week at The Greenbrier in West Virginia hoping it was all coincidence, but you have to wonder how it will affect their decisions about how much to play guys such as George Kittle who have nagging injuries.
Justin Herbert’s second audition
The Chargers haven’t put quarterback Tyrod Taylor on injured reserve and are still hoping they won’t gave to. Taylor missed Sunday’s contest after he suffered a punctured lung as a result of a pregame pain-relieving injection by the team physician. Rookie Justin Herbert, who found out right before kickoff that he was starting, played well. Herbert was the No. 6 overall pick in April’s draft, and if he plays well again this week, you have to think the chances of Taylor ever getting the job back get slimmer.
It would be a terrible break for Taylor, who got hurt as the starter two years ago in Cleveland and lost his job to No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. The Chargers, though, are waiting to see how Herbert handles himself in Game 2 before making a decision about who starts the rest of the season.
Field Yates and Matthew Berry agree that Justin Herbert played so well in the place of the injured Tyrod Taylor, that they’d be stunned if Herbert doesn’t start the rest of the season.
As for when Taylor might be able to start again? I spoke with a couple of sources close to this situation who told me that the injection Taylor got for the pain in his rib cage isn’t uncommon and that a punctured lung is a risk because of how close the needle has to get to the lung. Apparently, the puncture heals on its own within a week or two, though doctors often recommend a longer period of inactivity just to be safe. So it’s possible, especially if Herbert struggles, that Taylor could get another chance as the Chargers’ starter before the end of the year.
Man in the middle for Chiefs?
The Super Bowl champion Chiefs head into Monday night’s mega-high-profile matchup against the Ravens with some issues in the secondary, but they’re getting reinforcements up front on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle Mike Pennel is eligible to return from his two-game suspension in Week 3, and that could matter against a team that likes to run the ball more than any other in the league.
Pennel didn’t sign with the Chiefs until mid-October last season and didn’t play for them until Week 8. From Weeks 1 to 7, the Chiefs allowed an average of 148.9 rushing yards per game. From Weeks 8 to 17, that average dropped to 112.1 rushing yards per game. Not that one guy necessarily makes all the difference, but if Kansas City’s defense looks better this week, he could be part of the reason why.