The Schein Nine  

 

Matt Forte, Eric Weddle among useful 30-something free agents

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You know what they say: Life begins at 30.

Or maybe I say that.

But I do think it's an exaggeration to say a football player promptly expires when he reaches that age. Each player is a unique case, with a specific amount of miles logged, his own injury history and additional variables.

Free agency officially begins Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET -- and your team can find great value in the 30-something crop.

Here's my ranking of the top nine free agents who've already celebrated the big 3-0 -- with potential destinations for each:

1) Matt Forte, running back (age 30)

I am still of the belief that Forte is one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL. He remains a legit first- and second-down runner, a strong blocker and a potent pass catcher out of the backfield. During his eight-year run in Chicago, he averaged 1,075 rushing yards and 61 receptions per season. Forte's always had a knack for making plays and is a leader.

I believe he should -- and will -- be coveted by many teams. Forte would give the Cowboys a nice backfield boost. Yes, Darren McFadden eclipsed 1,000 yards last year -- filling in admirably for the departed DeMarco Murray -- but that was only the second time McFadden logged 16 games in a season. Dallas certainly could use the talent influx Forte would provide.

If the Jets lose Chris Ivory, whom I listed as one of the riskiest free agents last week, they have to make a play. Forte's talent, versatility and savvy also make him a good fit in New England. Seattle makes a ton of sense, as well, in the wake of Marshawn Lynch's retirement.

2) Alex Mack, center (30)

This cat is a stud -- truly one of the best and reliable centers in the game. He's a free agent after exercising an opt-out clause in his contract with the Browns, but the educated guess is that Cleveland will try to bring him back on a shiny new contract.

If that doesn't come to fruition?

The Jaguars tried to snatch away Mack two offseasons ago, when the Browns had placed the transition tag on the center -- will Jacksonville get back in the mix? Last season, the Chargers were playing up front with guys who shouldn't be in the league. San Diego should make a play for Mack, too.

Watch:

3) Eric Weddle, safety (31)

I'm a huge Weddle fan. There was a period of time where he was annually a top-four safety in the NFL. Nowadays? He's still a very good player with a lot of gas left in the tank. Weddle's an excellent playmaker, tackler and a big-time leader.

Weddle would provide a lot of intangibles -- while breaking the hearts of a lot of Chargers fans -- if he signed with the AFC West rival Raiders. The Jaguars have money to spend -- and a need for a guy like Weddle.

4) Reggie Nelson, safety (32)

Quick quiz, kids: Who led the NFL in interceptions last year?

Well, actually, two players tied with eight picks apiece: 22-year-old rookie Marcus Peters, and yes, Mr. Nelson ... at the ripe age of 32.

I'm sure Cincy wants to keep him. I wouldn't let him get away. But if he does, I can see former Bengals offensive coordinator/current Browns head coach Hue Jackson being the guy to snag him. And like they do with Weddle, the Raiders and Jaguars make sense for Nelson, too.

5) Derrick Johnson, inside linebacker (33)

I've always been a Derrick Johnson fan. He's just so consistent, and the epitome of a great leader. The traditionalist and romantic in me hopes he doesn't leave Kansas City. That would just feel wrong. But of course, free agency's free agency. So we have to explore other possibilities.

If the Giants or Packers actually signed free-agent linebackers, Johnson would be a logical pick. The Bears should get involved if they don't bring in John Fox's old friend Danny Trevathan.

6) Tamba Hali, outside linebacker (32)

Kansas City can't keep everyone. The Chiefs just franchised Eric Berry, and you know they'll make a major effort to bring back Johnson. Where will Hali (and his 86 career sacks) end up?

I think Cardinals GM Steve Keim has a fantastic knack for signing players in their 30s and then watching Bruce Arians maximize them. Tampa Bay would make sense, too. The Falcons can use help getting to the quarterback and former K.C. general manager Scott Pioli is a valued voice these days in Atlanta ...

Have I mentioned the Jaguars will be looking for defensive upgrades?

7) Chris Long, defensive end (30)

I still think the now ex-Ram can play, lead and help a winning team. Long was ravaged by injuries over the past two seasons, but he didn't miss a single game in his first six NFL campaigns. If healthy, Long can still get to the quarterback and be a legit force off the edge.

Division rivals Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle know how disruptive Long can be. For a variety of reasons, I believe he can bounce back.

8) Donald Penn, offensive tackle (32)

Penn proved to be reliable for the Raiders over the past two seasons. A true rock on Oakland's offense line, Penn evened out his play greatly from his days in Tampa. Oakland should look to keep him as a Raider and protect Derek Carr.

Other teams that would make sense for the veteran tackle? The rival Chargers, Lions, Vikings and Seahawks, who all need to improve in the offensive trenches.

9) Robert Ayers, defensive end (30)

Ayers sacked the quarterback 9.5 times last year and was one of the few reliable defenders for the Giants, who should try to keep him.

If Ayers leaves Broadway, I could see him setting up shop in Atlanta or Arizona, as both teams desperately need more pressure off the edge.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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