The weekend slowed some of the top free-agent signings as teams re-evaluated where things stood in free agency and no doubt hoped the price of plucking players would drop.
But with free agency officially opening last Wednesday afternoon, we are only five days into the signing period and only eight unrestricted (and "un-franchise tagged") free agents remain in the Scout.com top 50 after Eric Weddle signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Monday.
Many of the top players were given franchise tags, effectively taking them off the market with two first-round draft choices involved in payment for any other team signing them. And a few of those that remain unsigned in the top 50 are restricted free agents with draft-pick compensation tied to them, like Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall and running back C.J. Anderson, and Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow.
The market is certainly thinning for quality starters; here are the top eight unrestricted left in our top 50 rankings.
10. Reggie Nelson, Safety, Cincinnati
While Reggie Nelson is 32 years old, he proved he can still be a top-end playmaker. He had a career-high eight interceptions in 2015 to supplement his 14 passes defensed and 77 tackles. He doesn’t always get the acclaim of some of the other bigger names, but his production is right there with them. Perhaps Weddle’s signing with the Ravens will spur those that lost out on him to revisit Nelson as an alternative.
29. Evan Mathis, G, Denver Broncos
After his release from the Philadelphia Eagles last year, Evan Mathis made the wise choice in free agency, signing a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos and going on to win the Super Bowl. Now he is reportedly considering retirement, which isn’t likely to help interest teams might have in him. Mathis has played in 15 or more games four of the past five seasons, but he also had ankle surgery in late February and will turn 35 during the season. He remained a very productive blocker last year, but if he doesn’t retire will his age and recent surgery force him to sign another one-year deal?
30. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets
After 11 seasons in the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick has settled into the role of middle-of-the-road starter, but he’s been a valuable asset in situations where he was the starter, including time with the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and last year with the New York Jets. He is far from elite but certainly capable on a team devoid of another surefire starter, and after some initial movement in free agency there are options out there if Fitzpatrick is willing to lower his reportedly lofty financial aspirations. He completed 59.6 percent of his passes last year, which was on point with his career percentage, for 3,905 yards, 31 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, but he took only 19 sacks while starting all 16 games. For a team looking for a short-term starter – he is already 33 years old – he could be bridge to a younger prospect.
33. Donald Penn, OT, Oakland
Donald Penn has followed the money. He went from starting no games in 2006 with the Minnesota Vikings and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to developing into a reliable blindside protector since 2007. He reportedly wasn’t willing to give the Oakland Raiders the familiarity discount before free agency and they went out and signed big-buck free agent Kelechi Osemele to a contract that could average more than $11.5 million per season. Penn should command attention on the open market, despite turning 33 in April, but to date there haven’t been reports of much interest.
34. Russell Okung, OT, Seattle
After seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Okung has been generating interest in the first week of free agency and is likely to make a decision in the coming days. There is no denying his talent, but his injury history has caused him to miss at least one game each season and as many as eight in 2013. That’s a risk. He also had minor shoulder surgery this offseason that isn’t expected to impact his availability by the time things get serious in the summer. He is a former first-round pick and he could get paid like it if he doesn’t agree to a contract with Seattle before free agency starts.
35. Nick Fairley, DT, Los Angeles
On a formidable Rams defense, Nick Fairley didn’t start a game, but he made a significant impact. In a part-time role, he had 29 tackles and rushed the passer well. The question remains largely what it always was with Fairley: How reliable can he be long-term and game-in, game-out? When he’s at his best he is one of the best, but there will be a risk for any team doling out huge dollars on a long-term deal, which is why the St. Louis Rams, now in Los Angeles, only gave him a one-year deal in 2015 and likely why he hasn’t been heavily pursued (at least publicly) in the early stages of free agency.
39. Terrance Knighton, DT, Washington
Although Terrance Knighton said he would like to re-sign with the Washington Redskins, they haven’t made a big push to have that happen. Knighton has been a full-time starter for six of his seven years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins, averaging more than 30 tackles and a couple sacks a season. He was solid, yet unspectacular, in just over 400 snaps last year. Perhaps a deep draft at defensive tackle is impacting the demand for guys like Knighton and Fairley.
43. Dwight Freeney, OLB, Arizona
At 36 years old, there is no doubt Dwight Freeney’s career is coming to a close, but for a team looking for a situational pass rusher he could be worth a one-year deal. He has said he wants to play one more season. He won’t be a full-time player, but he still has a knack for big plays in big spots, getting eight sacks and three forced fumbles with the Arizona Cardinals, despite playing in only 11 games and making no starts in 2015. “Situational” is the operative phrase.