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5 NFL free agents who could still land with the right team

It’s not too late for teams to parse through the free agency market for a boost.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Colin Kaepernick has been a free agent for three months. NFL teams have provided plenty of reasons why the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback hasn’t been scooped up yet, but it’s really not that hard to figure out.

With quarterbacks like Blaine Gabbert, Mark Sanchez, and EJ Manuel getting work, it’s clear that Kaepernick’s human rights protests during the playing of the national anthem in the 2016 season are the reason why teams are steering clear.

But Kaepernick isn’t alone. There are other well-known veterans still trying to find a job, and the reason they’re not on a team is pretty apparent: age.

“I know I’m getting up in my years, which is fine, but I still have plenty of years to play,” former Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge told SiriusXM Blitz on Monday. “As long as I get the opportunity, I think teams will have no problem with that. They’ll see that I’m still ready, because the first seven years of my career, I never got an opportunity to start, so I didn’t have the wear and tear on my legs. I didn’t have any of that kind of stuff.”

Other players weren’t as lucky when it came to avoiding wear and tear. Robert Griffin III is just 27, but the quarterback has racked up injuries in his brief NFL career. There’s reason to doubt if he can even come close to finishing a full 16-game season.

For a few of the veterans who have reached June without a team, there’s some good news. The market isn’t completely closed and there are still a couple of logical landing spots for each of them.

Colin Kaepernick

New York Giants co-owner John Mara told MMQB that he heard from many fans who threatened to boycott games if Giants players protested the way Kaepernick did.

No matter where Kaepernick ends up, there will be an inevitable backlash from a portion of that team’s fans who strongly opposed the quarterback’s decision to kneel. While Kaepernick has said he won’t continue to kneel during the national anthem in 2017, he’s still without a team and that’s likely the reason why.

On the field, he’s a dual threat who finished 2016 with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions — more than respectable numbers for a passer on a team with a shaky offensive line and the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL.

The Seattle Seahawks have emerged as a possible landing spot for Kaepernick, who visited them last week. However, the likelihood of him joining the team continues to drop with every day he remains unsigned since the visit. SiriusXM Radio’s Pat Kirwan, who is close to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, said this week that he doesn’t think a deal will get done:

Still, it’s the team that seems like the most likely to sign Kaepernick before the summer ends.

Team prediction: Seahawks

Gary Barnidge

From the Pro Bowl in 2015 to the scrap heap after the 2017 NFL draft, it was a quick 180 for Barnidge in Cleveland. After 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns during his breakout season, Barnidge followed it with 612 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.

He was still a strong contributor to the team, but the Browns are looking to get younger and did so at the tight end position by drafting David Njoku in the first round. That meant Barnidge was dropped before the end of draft weekend.

Barnidge’s hunt for a new team was delayed because he opted to enjoy some of his offseason and attend the Kentucky Derby. Before that, he visited the Buffalo Bills, and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Denver Broncos are other teams that have shown interest.

All three make sense, but the Broncos are the team with the least proven commodity at tight end. There are currently eight tight ends on Denver’s roster — including fifth-round pick Jake Butt — but the likely starter is Virgil Green, a seventh-year veteran who set a career high with 237 yards in 2016.

Barnidge can provide much more than that.

Team prediction: Broncos

Ryan Clady

When Ryan Clady’s option wasn’t picked up by the New York Jets, he looked like a plug-in starter at offensive tackle who wouldn’t stay on the market long. He had a visit with the Seahawks — a team in need of offensive line help — but didn’t get scooped up.

Maybe that deal will finally come for the four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle after OTAs show teams what they’re working with. For now, it’s a little puzzling why he’s still available.

Clady doesn’t come without concerns. He’s on the wrong side of 30, has missed 37 games in the last four years, and had a significant drop-off in the quality of his play in 2016.

But there’s always a need for offensive linemen in the NFL, and Clady looks like one who can still contribute. He also would likely come cheap on a short-term deal.

Seattle didn’t sign Clady in March, but it could still use depth and help along the offensive line even after adding Luke Joeckel and Ethan Pocic. Clady could provide that.

Team prediction: Seahawks

Robert Griffin III

Just five seasons ago, Robert Griffin III was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. In 2012, he put up 3,200 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and 815 rushing yards, with another seven touchdowns on the ground. But that season ended with an ACL tear that was a sign of things to come.

Griffin has yet to play a 16-game season in his career, and his chance at redemption with the Cleveland Browns was ruined with a shoulder injury in Week 1.

But at this point in his career, a team doesn’t need 16 games out of Griffin. He’s on the hunt for backup duty, and Griffin’s a high-quality option for teams that have offenses tailored to his skills.

The Seahawks are among those teams, but the Carolina Panthers are another enticing option.

When Cam Newton was sidelined with a concussion for a game-and-a-half last year, Derek Anderson took over. The backup threw two touchdowns and five interceptions in 2016 and brings a much different skill set than Newton.

Griffin could presumably do better than that, if asked, and provide more continuity for an offense that relies on Newton’s dual-threat abilities that are lost with Anderson under center.

Team prediction: Panthers

Mario Williams

The Miami Dolphins parted ways with Mario Williams in February, and there hasn’t been any word of interest for the four-time Pro Bowler since. That’s unsurprising considering he recorded just 1.5 sacks in 13 games in 2016.

It was a big swing and miss for the Dolphins, who signed the former Texans and Bills pass rusher to a two-year, $17 million deal a year ago. Another team won’t make the same mistake investing in Williams.

But that doesn’t mean a team won’t take a flier on one of the most dominant pass rushers of the last decade. Only DeMarcus Ware and Jared Allen have recorded more sacks than Williams in the last 10 years.

He may be done, but injuries may have contributed to his poor 2016 and there are plenty of pass rushers who have continued to find production into their 30s. If a team could snag Williams on a cheap, one-year deal, they may get a rotational pass rusher worth a handful sacks.

The Oakland Raiders could be one of those teams. The defense has few pass-rushing threats after Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, and it could stand to bolster its front seven with a rotational rusher. Trent Cole and Elvis Dumervil are other options, but Williams has the strongest career résumé.

Team prediction: Raiders