The first thing we always have to remember a month into the unrestricted free agency period is that this isn't a sprint. Yes, there's that initial wave of signings that leads to all sorts of predictable hype and endless debates. Then comes the constant discussion about the players who aren't considered hot commodities. That group can consist largely of unheralded types who fill out rosters, talented players with baggage or aging stars whose best days are behind them.
But it's not often that you see this many big names still looking for acceptable deals at this point of free agency. Take one glance at this year's market and you'll see the list of unemployed includes a future Hall of Fame running back (Adrian Peterson), a former No. 1 overall pick who's been named to four Pro Bowls (Mario Williams) and an assortment of other familiar names (Darrelle Revis, Jay Cutler, Nick Mangold). There used to be a time when such recognizable names would be snapped up in a heartbeat. Now, we'll likely have to wait until after the draft to see if this group gets any more serious bites.
The upside of all this is that it makes for interesting discussion. So here are the five most intriguing veterans still searching for a new team to call home:
Adrian Peterson, running back
The seven-time Pro Bowler met with New England on Monday, marking his second visit of the offseason. It represented an interesting possibility for one reason: Peterson hasn't played in a Super Bowl, and the Patriots have won five under head coach Bill Belichick. It also didn't result in anything, as Peterson left New England without a contract offer. This may very well be another sign of what lies ahead for one of the game's most decorated runners. There's little mystery about what kind of role the 32-year-old Peterson would have to accept, regardless of where he lands. A torn meniscus in his right knee limited him to just three games and 72 yards in 2016 and, as one NFC personnel director said, "He's at the point where's he's going to have to be part of a running back by committee."
The question is, what is Peterson willing to accept? It can be hard for stud runners to become role players, but Peterson may be seeing the writing on the wall at this stage. He's amassed 11,747 career yards while logging 2,418 carries over 10 seasons. Add in the fact that Peterson has never been a major contributor in the passing game, and teams understand they aren't getting a total package here. The Patriots seemed like a possible landing spot just because Belichick has been willing to sign aging stars in the past. Now that Peterson has met with two teams without landing a deal -- Seattle was the other -- you have to wonder what his next option will be.
Colin Kaepernick, quarterback
Let's get this out of the way early: Kaepernick isn't the worst thing to ever happen to the NFL. A Bleacher Report story recently quoted an unnamed AFC general manager as saying some teams may be blackballing the former 49ers quarterback as "a form of punishment" for his decision to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality this past season. The hard truth is that Kaepernick would have a job by now if he were more talented. There always have been questions about his accuracy. There are even more issues about his potential now that the read-option system that made him a superstar has become less popular around the league.
What Kaepernick needs most is what former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh gave him early in his career: an offensive strategist who knows how to play to his strengths. Kaepernick also needs to accept that a backup job is the best he can do at this stage. There are more positives about him than some people see -- he did win the 49ers' Len Eshmont Award for courage after all the controversy he initially sparked -- and he's already decided to stand during the anthem next season. "I have some reservations [about why teams aren't pursuing him], but I also believe situations like this get resolved around the draft," said one AFC personnel director. "He's more talented than many of the quarterbacks that are presently on rosters, but I also don't know his asking price. His opportunity to become a starter will come only because the original starter was ineffective or got hurt."
Jamaal Charles, running back
It wasn't surprising to see the Kansas City Chiefsrelease their all-time leading rusher earlier this offseason. It's been even less of shock that Charles has had such a tough time generating interest. He's played in just eight games over the last two seasons and missed 13 last year. That lost time was the result of a torn ACL sustained in 2015, one that never seemed to heal correctly following surgery and also happened to be the second ACL tear of his career. The Chiefs actually went so far as to release Charles with the "failed physical" designation, which means that he was going into free agency as damaged goods.
There's little doubt that Charles was one of the NFL's most electric runners when he was healthy. His career average of 5.5 yards per carry ranks second among running backs in NFL history. Charles also can do more in the passing game than Peterson, and he's two years younger. Still, it's hard to imagine anything other than a spot-duty role for him. "Jamaal has worked hard to make it back," said the AFC personnel director. "But he's a 30-year-old running back with two ACL injuries."
Jay Cutler, quarterback
Cutler is the most accomplished quarterback on the open market, which apparently doesn't mean much. The upside is obvious: Nobody has ever questioned his talent, especially not that cannon arm that has been his calling card for the past 11 seasons. The downside is even clearer: You know what you're getting with Cutler, which too often has been a negative. He's started 139 regular-season games over the span of his career. He's also made the postseason just once during that time (in the 2010 season) and played on a team with a winning record just three times.
What's even harder to know is what Cutler wants to do moving forward. There has been talk that he might retire, and it wouldn't be surprising to learn that he's been waiting to see what happens with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who just decided to retire himself. The one thing Cutler does have going for him is that people clearly remember the success he enjoyed when current Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase was the Bears' offensive coordinator in 2015. Cutler posted the highest passer rating of his career that season (92.3) before enduring an injury-plagued 2016. "Jay is definitely talented, but he needs to be in a structured situation with a good supporting cast," said the AFC personnel director. "Someone will dial his number."
Michael Floyd, wide receiver
There was a lot of talk that New England might be able to resurrect Floyd's career after a DUI arrest in Arizona resulted in the Cardinalsreleasing the fifth-year wide receiver in December. It turns out that the Patriots were just the next team to learn how many challenges come with Floyd, who was talented enough to be the 13th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Floyd is the youngest veteran on this list, but he's one of the biggest gambles left in free agency. When asked why he hasn't been signed yet, one NFC general manager said, "Upcoming] 2017 suspension, [still in house arrest, 2016 tape was awful, everyone watched the [police] video of Floyd's arrest] and [a [.217] blood alcohol level [at the time of the arrest]. Just a guess."
Floyd was supposed to be the heir apparent to Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Instead, he's become a cautionary tale of what can happen when teams minimize problems in college (Floyd had three alcohol-related offenses while at Notre Dame). Still, Floyd is on this list because he did have some success in Arizona, including a solid second year (when he had 65 receptions for 1,041 yards). The problem is, his production declined every season after that, culminating in a contract year that saw him generate a career-low 488 yards. All that said, Floyd is still only 27 years old. The major question is whether some team wants to pick up where Bill Belichick decided it was best to leave off.