By Sarah Berkowitz
The NFL draft is only five days away — April 30 in Chicago — and a lot of big names who haven’t been plucked out of the free agent ash can are still looking for a payday come September.
Three players from the original best-available list — Michael Crabtree (Raiders), Stefen Wisniewski (Jaguars) and Greg Jennings (Dolphins) — all have signed in the last week and a half. A trio of others take their place on the list, but the same name is at the top, and a veteran quarterback watches another big-name backup find a taker.
WR Wes Welker. The last team to bring in Welker was the Dolphins, two weeks ago, and on Wednesday they signed 31-year-old Jennings. Welker’s 34th birthday is next Friday, Day 2 of the draft. He’s 178 yards short of 10,000 for his career. If he lands anywhere — maybe back in Denver for one more run with Peyton Manning — he’ll probably come at a bargain at this point.
LB Lance Briggs. His visit to the 49ers in late March didn’t materialize into anything, and there appears to have been little interest in the longtime Bear since then. Consider that if the 49ers, hard-up for linebackers after the mass defection of this offseason, can’t use you, maybe nobody can. The past two injury-wracked seasons could be too much for Briggs to overcome at 34, but training camp is still a long way off.
RB Pierre Thomas. He’s 30, the age at which running backs scare teams away, but because he’s been used for so much more than just slamming between the tackles, he might not necessarily be an “old” 30. Still, Thomas is out there for a team looking for a third-down or situational back.
QB Michael Vick. Tim Tebow has found gainful NFL employment, but no one seems willing to take a flyer on Vick. He turns 35 in June, and he might be another candidate, like Welker, to go back to his old team at a reduced price. That would be the Jets, who will still have quarterback issues whether or not they take one in the draft and can’t afford to be all that picky about a backup.
LB Brandon Spikes. He should probably try to help his own cause a little and stay off of Twitter the next time an Aaron Hernandez verdict-level story breaks. Not that his little outburst there is the reason he’s still on the market, but honestly, at just 27 and with a solid rep as a run-stuffing inside linebacker, there’s little logic to his not being signed yet. The Bills could come back to him after the market shakes out, though.
WR Reggie Wayne. The 36-year-old ex-Colt has been tied to the expected teams, like the Broncos and Patriots, who could benefit from a vet like him in a limited role on a contender. He was also one of the names stirred up with the Dolphins as they replenish the position. Again, watch for him as training camps get closer.
RB Steven Jackson. Running backs who are 30 or older and not named Adrian Peterson were expected to have a hard time finding work this offseason, and Jackson is proving it at 31. Little interest, if any, has surfaced for the back who finished last year as the NFL’s active leader in rushing yards. His tank might be on “E.”
DE Dwight Freeney. The Chargers cut him after two seasons, during which he showed his age — he’s now 35 — but also that his desire hadn’t disappeared. He played all 16 games a year after suffering a torn quad that cost him 12 games; he had 3 1/2 sacks plus 40 hurries, third among all outside linebackers (according to Pro Football Focus). He’s made it clear he wants to play one more year. But so far, no one is biting.
S Stevie Brown. It might be just a matter of time before Brown finds a home, possibly his old home with the Giants, who let him test the waters. His most recent visit was with the Texans, who could use him as much as the Giants could. A year after sitting out the season with a torn ACL, he bounced back for a solid season in 2014.
WR Hakeem Nicks. It feels like his 1,000-plus-yard season with the Super Bowl champion Giants was 50 years ago, but it’s been just three. Last year with the Colts, in a place that seemed ideal for him to revive his career, he couldn’t stay healthy and caught a career-low 38 passes. But Nicks will look to revitalize his career with the Titans after signing a one-year deal Friday.