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NFL free agency 2017: Best players still available

There aren't too many top-notch free agents left, but there are still quality players available.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Big-name free agents like DeSean Jackson, Andrew Whitworth, A.J. Bouye, and Stephon Gilmore are no longer available. Jackson took his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Whitworth landed with the Rams, Bouye will be covering receivers in Jacksonville, and Gilmore is in Foxboroguh with the New England Patriots.

However, there are still a few top-notch players available. Maybe they aren’t all game-changing players, but they are productive veterans with a wealth of experience in the NFL. Here are a few of them:

Dont'a Hightower, ILB

Some expect Hightower to re-sign with the Patriots, but teams like the Jets, Steelers, and Titans are still pursuing the hard-hitting linebacker. The one-time Pro Bowler is an old school linebacker who can deliver big hits on ball carriers and is an enforcer as a middle linebacker.

Hightower isn't a boisterous player, but he leads by example and is a reliable player. He has the strength and size to shed blockers and the speed to defend tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. He was the anchor of the Patriots defense. In 2016, Hightower had 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble.

The 27-year-old also made game-changing plays for New England, especially in the Super Bowl.

He should get a lucrative contract wherever he lands.

Other available free agent linebackers: Zach Brown, Gerald Hodges, Perry Riley

Dontari Poe, DT

Poe is one of the best nose tackles in football. He uses his size and strength to shed blockers and tackle running backs at the line or behind it. He also has the speed and pass rushing skills to wreak havoc on quarterbacks.

In five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, the two-time Pro-Bowl tackle racked up 201 tackles, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 12 pass deflections.

Also, durability has never been an issue with the 26-year old. He’s played in 78 out of 80 games since Kansas City drafted him in 2012. Poe should be a hot commodity in free agency because he’s young and has produced a lot over the years.

He’s already had a visit with the Colts, and he’ll make a trip to Atlanta next.

Other available free agent defensive linemen: Johnathan Hankins, Datone Jones, Jared Odrick

Jared Cook, TE

The 29-year-old tight end has been inconsistent throughout his entire career, but he has the size, speed, and athleticism to give a team’s passing game a boost.

Cook played with the Green Bay Packers in 2016 and was effective with quarterback Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. He racked up 30 receptions for 377 yards and a touchdown. In the postseason, Cook played like a Pro Bowler, catching six passes for 103 yards and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round. He also hauled in an especially memorable 36-yard pass that led to a Packers victory.

Even though the veteran tight end is inconsistent, he is a threat down the middle of the field. Cook is not a great blocking tight end, but he could be a viable player for a team that fields a pass-happy offense.

Other free agent receivers and tight ends: Michael Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jacob Tamme

Adrian Peterson, RB

Peterson will go down as one of the greatest running backs of all time. In 10 seasons, he amassed 11,747 yards and 97 touchdowns. He has a rare combination of size, speed, and power, and he’s still in excellent shape.

However, the seven-time Pro Bowler played in only three games in 2016 before suffering a torn meniscus.

On the other hand, if history is an indicator of how Peterson will perform after a major knee injury, whomever he signs with will be pleased. When Peterson tore his ACL and MCL in 2011, he came back in 2012 and was eight yards away from eclipsing Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record. Of course, he’s now 32.

Peterson’s days as one of the league’s highest-paid running backs are over, but he can still be useful as part of a rotation. Look for him to sign an incentive-laden deal.

Other available running backs: Eddie Lacy, LaGarrette Blount, Jamaal Charles

Ryan Clady, OT

You have to go back to 2014 to find Clady’s last productive season in the NFL. Injuries have kept him off the field over the last two years. But with offensive linemen being a popular target in free agency, Clady’s likely to get a prove-it deal somewhere.

Other available offensive linemen: Sebastian Vollmer, Austin Pasztor, Nick Mangold

Morris Claiborne, CB
T.J. McDonald, S

The best starting corners got scooped up early, and there weren’t that many of them to begin with. (There are better corners in the draft this year). However, teams in need of depth or even an emergency starter can find help in free agency.

Claiborne is a solid starter, but he’s had trouble staying on the field. He’ll be another guy getting a prove-it deal.

McDonald is likely looking at a suspension after pleading guilty for reckless driving involving drugs or alcohol back in January. Once he’s done with his league-mandated break, he can be a decent starter for a team in need of a strong safety.

Other available defensive backs: Brandon Carr, Darius Butler, Bradley McDougald