Even in April, there are still several front line NFL starters free for the taking. Some of them are getting along in years, while others have simply been overlooked. Let's take a look at 10 players your team could or should be interested in.
1. Chris Johnson, RB
While it is safe to say Johnson will never regain the form that led him to acquire the nickname CJ2K, he still has the game breaking ability to help out almost any backfield. His position on this list may be just as much his own doing, as he believes he's still in line for a huge payday and is refusing to work out, under the misguided assumption his track record is enough. A RB needy team is bound to take the gamble once his price comes down. Even in a diminished state, he started all 16 games and provided 1,077 yards and 6 TDs, losing many goal line carries to Shonn Greene. His hidden value is in the passing game, where he added 345 yards and 4 TDs. He ranked in the top 20 in the NFL in yards from scrimmage and likely won't stay out of work long. The Jets, who are sorely lacking offensive playmakers to take the pressure off Geno Smith, would be wise to offer an incentive laden contract to Johnson.
2. Travelle Wharton, OG
Wharton's is one of the more perplexing cases. In a league where QB health is premium, its is baffling that a proven veteran such as Wharton is still on the unemployment line. He provided value for Carolina last year, making 12 starts alongside Jordan Gross and offering consistent protection to Cam Newton. Rumor has it that Wharton does not want to play on a one year minimum deal and is contemplating retirement. Miami is certainly in need of all the competent offensive lineman they can muster and should be giving Wharton's agent a call. He could also wait until training camp, for the inevitable rash of injuries.
3. Santonio Holmes, WR
Holmes may have complained his way out of the Jets' organization, but with his career hanging in the balance, he has every incentive to be on best behavior with a new team. The Panthers, who are currently boasting Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery as front line receiving talent, should offer Holmes a one year "prove it" deal. Following last year's unexpected playoff run, Cam Newton has to be furious with the way the Panthers have handled the WR corps. Offering a non guaranteed contract to Holmes might be a small salve for that wound.
4. Josh Freeman, QB
Freeman bottomed out last season in a major way. However, many Buccaneers seemed to suffer under Greg Schiano's dictatorship. The Vikings did him no favors by throwing into the lineup off the street, either. At 26, he's far from washed up and threw for 27 TDs in 2012. The Giants and Bears have shown interest, while the Texans, Jaguars and Browns should. Houston and Cleveland at least have Case Keenum and Brian Hoyer in house, who have shown promise. Jacksonville has the perennially mediocre Chad Henne, with only Ricky Stanzi as an insurance policy. Any of the teams listed would do well to snag Freeman.
5. Vonta Leach, FB
Thus begins the section of our list where we shine a light on one of the most underrated positions, the fullback. Leach is not a free agent due to concerns about his play, but because the Ravens gave him a contract that ended up too rich for their own blood. He inked a 3 year, $11 million pact with Baltimore in 2011 and could not come to an agreement on a reduced rate, leading to his release in late February. Leach is a proven lead blocker and a 3 time All-Pro. The Rams, who don't possess the receiving talent to play many 3 or 4 WR formations and have a budding star in young RB Zac Stacy, should absolutely kick the tires on Vonta Leach. Leach would provide an instant bodyguard for Stacy and allow them to take pressure off Sam Bradford.
6. Le'Ron McClain, FB
A 2 time All-Pro, McClain was an outstanding lead blocker for Ryan Matthews last season and is another victim of the NFL's new offensive philosophies. The Raiders, who should probably keep Matt Schaub out of as many long yardage third down situations as possible, would be wise to tab McClain. With Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, Oakland will boast a quality 1-2 punch at RB and could use a player like McClain to make life easier for them.
7. Miles Austin, WR
Austin is a player who has curiously remained on the market far longer than expected. While 2013 was a down year for the former Cowboy, he's had 4 years of quality production prior. It seems odd that one of the many receiver needy teams out there (Carolina, St. Louis, Oakland, Carolina again) hasn't made more of a pursuit for Austin. Rumors have begun to circulate that the Patriots are interested, and a one year deal with a chance to hit the market again may be what the doctor ordered. Tom Brady has been known to make even average WRs look good.
8. Davin Joseph, OG
After a poor season in 2013, he became a victim of the salary cap. Having signed a 7 year, $53 million deal in 2011 made him expendable, especially for the incoming Lovie Smith administration. The Rams have already brought in Joseph for a visit and it would make a great deal of sense to have him aboard. It's exceedingly possible that his struggles last year were due to a slow return from a knee injury. Joseph seems to be a quality buy-low candidate for the Rams, starved for offensive linemen after losing Chris Williams and Shelley Smith.
9. Asante Samuel, CB
His days of being a Pro Bowl ball hawk are long behind him, but even during a down season, Samuel still came up with 5 interceptions. More impressively, he only drew one penalty flag all season. Any team signing him to be a front line starter will come up disappointed, but you could do far worse for a #3 CB. Today's NFL requires teams to have more than 2 players capable of coverage. Samuel could fit the bill for the 49ers, or the Jets, who are in need of corners after the departure of Antonio Cromartie.
10. Jonathan Vilma, LB
I was initially going to place ex-Saint Will Smith in this spot, but all signs point to a deal getting done with New England at some point. Jermichael Finley has the talent, but spinal injuries are nothing to fool around with, and many teams are steering clear. Vilma has lost a step, but there's always a place in the NFL for a wily veteran LB who can make defensive calls and teach youngsters the ropes. A team like the Giants, who are linebacker deficient could use him, and offer a bigger role. My dark horse choice? The Bengals. Vontaze Burfict is one of the best young 'backers in the league, but has an uncanny knack for untimely penalties and losing control of his emotions. Perhaps Vilma could serve as a stabilizing influence, and be able to play a few downs in a pinch.
Honorable mention: Sidney Rice, Danario Alexander, Kevin Williams, Eric Winston, Dustin Keller