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Dwight Freeney, Drew Stanton top list of underrated free agents
Here's a Schein Nine list of free agents who are flying under the radar right now, but could make a big difference for your team in 2013.
(Click here for an unofficial list of each team's potential free agents.)
1) Dwight Freeney, DE: Freeney is underrated at this stage following a relatively quiet season. The seven-time Pro Bowler is about to turn 33, and thus is thought to be on the back nine of his career. While he might never again reach the 16-sack level of 2004, Freeney can still bring it. He played hurt and out of position for the Indianapolis Colts last year, shifting from defensive end to outside linebacker in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 defense. I think Freeney can still rush the passer. He still has the speed, savvy and desire.
Talking to Freeney this year on the SiriusXM Blitz, he still bleeds Colts blue, but knows there's a realistic chance his days could be numbered with the philosophical switch.
A strict 4-3 team with a high upside will pick him up, and he will continue to force fumbles and sack the quarterback. I bet the Connecticut native and Syracuse alum wouldn't mind playing for the New England Patriots or New York Giants.
2) Drew Stanton, QB: I like this cat. Stanton has talent. He was buried behind Matthew Stafford with the Detroit Lions. Sure, when he got in the lineup in 2009 and 2010, he didn't play well at all. But I would argue that he was a victim of circumstance, quarterbacking a pathetic, inept team.
The New York Jets signed Stanton to push Mark Sanchez before the Tim Tebow nonsense. When Tebow arrived, Stanton requested a release or trade, and the Jets dealt him to the Indianapolis Colts.
Stanton could compete for a starting job right now on at least seven NFL teams. He'd be a strong fit with the Arizona Cardinals; he could play for Bruce Arians, his coach in Indy last year, and compete with Kevin Kolb.
3) Dashon Goldson, FS: Goldson was the San Francisco 49ers' "franchise player" last year, so chances are he won't be slapped with the tag again, as that would force the Niners to shell out a gigantic one-year raise. Goldson wants a long-term commitment from San Francisco, and he has earned it.
While other general managers might be skeptical if the savvy Niners don't give him Eric Weddle money, some team should scoop him up and provide the five-year, $40 million deal that Weddle received. Goldson is a physical playmaker and a leader. I voted for him first-team All-Pro. But, perhaps because he is lost in the galaxy of defensive stars on the Niners' unit, he gets overlooked. I know some NFL folks don't love his "boom or bust" mentality, but often times Goldson comes up with the big play.
4) Jerome Felton, FB: Felton paved the way for Adrian Peterson's legendary season. He has become one of the best fullbacks in the NFL. Felton is also a workaholic and a great team guy with a bubbly personality. I know fullback is a dying position, but he'll be a find for a team with a dominant ground attack -- if the Minnesota Vikings let him go.
5) Michael Johnson, DE: Quietly, Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks last year on the Cincinnati Bengals' vastly underrated defensive line. While the skeptic will call this a career year and rightly credit Cincy defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for maximizing Johnson's talent, I think the former third-round pick finally reached his potential and is ready to be a consistent pass rusher.
6) Dannell Ellerbe, LB: The Baltimore Ravens know how good he is and how good he can be. During the regular season, I thought he played better than Ray Lewis, making him more than ready to replace Lewis full-time as a player on game day. But Baltimore certainly has bigger free-agent fish to fry in Joe Flacco and (potentially) Ed Reed.
If Ellerbe hits the open market, scoop up the inside 'backer -- fast. He's only scratched the surface.
7) Dustin Keller, TE: Keller had the triple whammy in his contract year: He got stuck playing for Tony Sparano, with Mark Sanchez and was injured. Not the best formula for making new money.
The high ankle sprain should be healed for this season. The Jets drafted Keller to be their Dallas Clark. It never really worked out that way. If I was Keller, I'd sign a one-year deal in a pass-happy offense that needs an explosive tight end. Don't confuse Keller with the buffoonish Jets. He is a good guy with a good attitude and will be champing at the bit to have a big season.
8) Mike DeVito, DL: This guy's a true winner. DeVito is a versatile defensive lineman who can play both end and tackle, with the ability to excel in the 4-3 or 3-4. The New York Jets lineman is an ultimate team player and the epitome of class; an incredible teammate, practice player, locker room presence and solid ball player with no ego. DeVito's value goes way beyond his numbers. Watch a winning team with a strong coach bring him in.
9) Rey Maualuga, LB: I think he's done in Cincy. Vontaze Burfict outplayed him. While Maualuga can frustrate in pass coverage, he did tally a career high in tackles (122) and seems to have turned himself around off the field. I view Maualuga as a classic change-of-scenery player who needs to leave the Bengals.