Every year at this time, the NFL's attention shifts from free agency to the upcoming draft and the soon-to-be rookies who are hoping to make an immediate impact in the league. But the NFL isn't just a young man's game. There are a handful of longtime veterans who will be suiting up for a new team next season, out to prove that they still have something in the tank.
There are some legitimate concerns with these players — maybe they're getting older, maybe the injuries are piling up, maybe they just don't have that quick step they used to. As a result, they tend to get smaller contracts than you'd expect given their name recognition.
But these guys can still play, make no mistake. Maybe not as great as they did when they were 25, but they bring a lot to the table, and not just in the nebulous concept of "veteran presence." With the draft fast approaching, some of these signings may have slipped under the radar, but they're smart moves for the teams making them.
Let's take a look at several veteran players who still have a few good years left in them.
Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets
Forte is getting up there in years (he turned 30 in December) and had some injury concerns last season, but the former Chicago Bears star should remain productive for at least one or two more years. Even though the Jets will likely reduce his workload with Bilal Powell and Khiry Robinson both on the depth chart, Forte figures to be a big part of the offense. His skill set — an elusive back with pass-catching talent — typically ages well and he should fit like a glove in Chan Gailey's spread offense.
Evan Mathis, OG, Arizona Cardinals
Mathis was released by the Philadelphia Eagles and didn't find a new home last year until August, signing a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos. With age and injuries starting to become a concern, it'd be understandable if Mathis' production declined. Instead, he played all 16 games and continued playing like one of the best guards in the league, doing his part to keep Grandpa Peyton Manning upright. The Cardinals signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal, pairing him with Mike Iupati on the inside. Even at age 34, Mathis doesn't look like he's slowing down any time soon.
Eric Weddle, S, Baltimore Ravens
Lost in all the drama of Weddle's ugly divorce from the San Diego Chargers is just how good a player the 31-year-old still is. Despite missing some time with injuries last year, Weddle continued playing at a high level and was one of the few bright spots on the Chargers' 20th-ranked defense.
The Ravens are taking a bit of a gamble this offseason, choosing to reload with veterans after a 5-11 year, but they're clearly banking on their myriad injured stars to come back healthy. Bringing in Weddle should help stabilize the secondary for the short-term future.
Martellus Bennett, TE, New England Patriots
Bennett had a good run with the Chicago Bears, but he never got along with John Fox's coaching staff and seemed mentally checked out in 2015. So, Chicago traded him to the New England Patriots. There are plenty of reasons to believe Bennett is still in his prime — he's 29 years old and just one season removed from a career year of 90 catches, 916 yards and six touchdowns. And while Jay Cutler played better in 2015, Tom Brady is a big upgrade at quarterback.
Pairing Bennett with Rob Gronkowski could make the Patriots unstoppable in the red zone next year. This is a move that should benefit both New England and Bennett.
James Laurinaitis, LB, New Orleans Saints
After being a rock in their defense for seven years, Laurinaitis was surprisingly released by the Los Angeles Rams in a cap-saving move. He landed on his feet in New Orleans, which is looking to improve a defense that was possibly the worst in the league last year. Laurinaitis is still just 29 years old and hasn't missed a game since being drafted by the Rams in 2009. Although his play declined in 2015, the Saints will take that over ... whatever they were fielding at linebacker last year.
Leodis McKelvin, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
McKelvin has been a reliable presence for eight seasons with the Buffalo Bills, but in 2015 he saw a diminished role as Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby emerged as one of the best corner duos in the league. McKelvin was a cap casualty and soon found a home with the Eagles, who are rebuilding their secondary. With Byron Maxwell and his bloated contract shipped off to Miami, McKelvin has a prime opportunity to win back a starting job. The 30-year-old has long been one of the more underrated corners in the league, and Philadelphia could have a free agency steal here. He'll also be working with Jim Schwartz again, who was the Bills' defensive coordinator in 2014.
Anquan Boldin, WR
As of this writing Boldin is still unsigned, which is a bit of surprise this late into free agency. Despite being 35 years old and slowing down, Boldin is still a good possession receiver and expert route-runner. The San Francisco 49ers' offense was a trainwreck last season, but Boldin still had a relatively productive year with 69 catches, 789 yards and four touchdowns.
Wherever Boldin lands, he should continue to be a reliable pair of hands for the quarterback throwing to him. He's no longer a No. 1 (or even No. 2) receiver, but he still has a lot to offer.
Karlos Dansby, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
Dansby was released by the Browns in a cap-cutting move. He's now 34 and had a bit of a decline last season, posting zero sacks for the first time in his 12-year career. But despite the lack of sacks, Dansby was still an effective playmaker on defense, finishing with 108 tackles, three interceptions (two returned for a touchdown), two forced fumbles and six passes defended. He has since signed with the Bengals and should play a major role, particularly with Vontaze Burfict serving a three-game suspension to start the year. It's a smart signing for Cincinnati, and Dansby could be rejuvenated playing for a contender after two seasons in Cleveland.