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NFL free agency owned the news cycle in mid-March — much to college basketball’s chagrin — because teams chasing young stars and paying them gobs of money to get closer to a championship is a great story.
But that was so three weeks ago.
Free agency now has slowed to a crawl because many teams are mostly out of money and the players left unsigned are mostly injured or older.
So most teams have turned their attention to the draft, where the talent is young and cheap.
And, with few exceptions, it won’t be until after the draft that teams circle back to the very large group of big-name free agents to fill in gaps on their rosters.
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The most interesting of that free agent group this year are the 30-somethings.
There’s a veritable all-star team of free agents who are 30 or older remaining on the market. And while many still have good snaps and perhaps even a good season or two left, most teams are staying away for now because most of those vets aren’t interested in signing minimum salary contracts quite yet.
So who are we talking about?
Well, we present the OutKick 30-and-over NFL all-star team (age during the season):
S Tyrann Mathieu (30): He visited the New Orleans Saints this week and the only reason he’s not signed is, of course, money. He’s been responsible for 17 turnovers with Kansas City the past three seasons and he’s been durable. Guy is perhaps the best available free agent, regardless of age.
CB Stephon Gilmore (31): He’s still a good press-man cornerback in a league that pays hefty contracts to wide receivers, so it’s understandable he hasn’t signed a discount contract at this stage.
DT Ndamukong Suh (35): Forget his age because he has made every start of every game dating back to 2011 and that was him trucking Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on the pass to Cooper Kupp which set up the Rams winning field goal to knock the Buccaneers out of the playoffs, meaning he was playing great late in the game. The Bucs want him back, but the money is the issue.
C J.C. Tretter (31): All the analytics and metrics nerds love him, but the Cleveland Browns, which know him best, found a reason to release him this offseason. And although veteran centers, especially good pass blockers, are invaluable, Tretter remains available.
WR Cole Beasley (33): If your quarterback needs a security blanket who is always in the right spot and has good hands and does things right, this would be a good addition. The Bills apparently have grown out of Beasley but not because he can no longer produce on third down.
ILB Anthony Barr (30): He had the ability to rush the quarterback earlier in his career, but the Vikings didn’t maximize it for some reason. And now he’s mostly a run-down linebacker. A good run-down linebacker, but the need for that kind of player just isn’t extreme in the modern NFL.
LB Kyle Van Noy (31): He’s going to give you maybe 5 sacks, about 60-70 tackles, maybe 7 of those for loss and probably 3 or 4 forced fumbles or recoveries. That’s what he does. Every year. But despite delivering as expected, he’s been cut in Miami and New England the past two years. It might be time for him to realize the price of his typical season has to come down.
DT Akiem Hicks (32): Durability has been a question the past couple of years, as he’s missed 19 games the past two seasons. But when he’s healthy, he’s still an interior problem for any scheme blocking him one-on-one. The answer to the durability issues might be cutting his snaps as he cuts his salary demands.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul (33): He is still deciding whether to play or retire following shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. If he decides to play and is healthy, he’s still got enough gas in the tank to deliver more than the 2.5 sacks he had in 2021.
CB Joe Haden (34): Some time during the season, if a given team suffers multiple injuries at cornerback, here’s the answer, assuming he stays in shape.
DE Calais Campbell (36): His sack numbers have declined for three consecutive years and his contribution now might be felt more in the locker room as a leader than on the field as a playmaker. But if a young team needs direction, he might be the answer.
LT Duane Brown (37): He’s started every game the past two seasons and in three of the past four seasons, so his durability has inexplicably gotten better as he’s gotten older. And the amazing thing is he’s still playing at a relatively high level to where he could easily start for practically any team without it feeling like a huge drop off from a younger player.
LT Eric Fisher (31): The expectation here is he’s going to be better two years after an Achilles injury than he was last year following his recovery. The problem is no one has bought that narrative yet. The fact the draft offers multiple starting-caliber left tackles hasn’t helped his cause.
LB Dont’a Hightower (32): He opted out of the 2020 season and he just wasn’t the same player in 2021. He seemed a step slower and not nearly as explosive. Still very smart and knows how to play, but something’s missing.
OG Daryl Williams (30): If the Bills had money, they would probably bring him back at the veteran minimum, but they’re salary cap strapped and can probably find a comparable talent in the draft. Whatever teams fails to do just that will come calling.
WR Julio Jones (33): He’s no longer dynamic and his durability is questionable too. But he’s a worker in the extreme and his pride won’t allow him to go out with a whimper, which is what he delivered in 2021. So keep eyes on him.
OLB Justin Huston (33): Not as explosive as he was, but still a problem in the right scheme. He’s probably a part-time player going forward.
DE Jerry Hughes (34): End-of-game closer? Not anymore. But a fill-in for a team losing edge talent due to injury? Definitely.
WR A.J. Green (34): The Cardinals have said they’d like him back. And why not? He’s not a No. 1 receiver anymore, but he still commands respect both on the field and in the locker room.
QB Cam Newton (33): He’s not going to be anyone’s pick to start. But if a team needs an experienced emergency quarterback with a flair for eccentric hats, he’s the guy.
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (39): He wants to keep playing, but knows he might have to wait until after training camps open and some team loses a quarterback to injury before his phone rings. Fitz played only one game last season, and he suffered a hip injury in it.