As we noted yesterday when we examined the notable free agents still available on the offensive side of the ball, the first few weeks of 2014 free agency haven’t left the cupboards totally empty. There are still many intriguing players out there looking for work, and the best bargain signings of the offseason may be yet to come.
Since we published that piece, a pair of veteran safeties – Danieal Manning and Patrick Chung – have agreed to deals, while another (Rafael Bush) signed an offer sheet. Still, plenty of free agent defenders remain on the market. Let’s highlight a few of them….
There are a handful of 2013 starters among the group of available defensive ends, but not all those starters are created equal. Jason Hunter and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, for instance, logged 600+ defensive snaps for their respective clubs last season, but both ranked in the bottom five qualified 4-3 defensive ends, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Meanwhile, longtime starters Will Smith and Anthony Spencer are recovering from an ACL tear and microfracture surgery, respectively, so betting on the two former Pro Bowlers to return to peak form in 2014 seems unwise.
Perhaps the most interesting name in this group is Brett Keisel, another former Pro Bowler who logged four sacks and modest PFF grades for the Steelers in 2013. He’ll turn 36 in September, which helps explain why he hasn’t found a new home yet, but he could still help fortify a defensive line, particularly in a part-time role.
After 11 seasons in Minnesota, which included five All-Pro nods, Kevin Williams doesn’t appear likely to continue his career with the Vikings, but he’s still an above-average run-stopper and could be a nice piece for a team in need of interior line help.
Among the other notable names at this position: A pair of ex-Packers in Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett, longtime Niner Isaac Sopoaga, and Colin Cole and Aubrayo Franklin, neither of whom were difference-makers last season in 300+ defensive snaps. Kyle Love is also worth keeping an eye on — after a couple solid seasons with the Patriots in 2011 and 2012, he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes and cut by the team before the 2013 regular season. Love is a bounce-back candidate if he’s healthy.
Teams willing to roll the dice on a veteran who is past his prime but could still contribute have a couple solid options here in James Harrison and Will Witherspoon — neither player should be a full-time starter in 2014. Ernie Sims, Rocky McIntosh, and Michael Boley fall into a similar boat. They aren’t as old as Harrison or Witherspoon, but their resumés also aren’t as impressive, and their starting days are probably behind them.
London Fletcher hasn’t 100% committed to retirement yet and considering he hasn’t missed a start since 2000, it’s probably best to keep him on the list of possibilities to be safe. However, he’ll turn 39 next month and doesn’t seem likely to play in 2014.
Age is also a concern for Paris Lenon, who turns 37 in November, and there will be questions about the health of veterans Larry Foote and Jonathan Vilma, who both spent most of the 2013 season on injured reserve. Throw in a torn MCL for Nick Barnett and off-field concerns for Erin Henderson, and there are certainly no slam dunks in this group. 27-year-old Pat Angerer may be the most appealing name here, but he’s certainly no beacon of good health himself.
Champ Bailey doesn’t appear quite ready to change positions or retire quite yet, and the future Hall-of-Famer certainly represents the biggest name on the market. Still, there are a few other noteworthy veterans here: Jabari Greer, Quentin Jammer, Asante Samuel, Rashean Mathis, Drayton Florence, and Dunta Robinson are among them.
Corey Webster and Josh Wilson are among the other players on the market who have extensive starting experience, but my favorite potential bargain buy might be Terrell Thomas, who returned admirably from back-to-back torn ACLs in 2013.
Safety is perhaps the deepest defensive position in free agency, even after Manning, Chung, and Bush came off the market. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription required), Steve Gregory, Ed Reed, and Quintin Mikell had the best 2013 seasons among this group, but there are plenty of other longtime starters or players with upside here.
Thomas DeCoud, Reed Doughty, and Major Wright are reportedly drawing some interest this week. Meanwhile, Mike Adams, Yeremiah Bell, Michael Huff, and Jim Leonhard have a combined 341 NFL starts to their names, for clubs in search of veteran experience.