Free Agent Market For Interior DL

Our list of 2015 free agents provides a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown of which players are eligible to hit the open market this year. However, that list of names doesn’t include much context or additional information about those players. So, with March’s free agent period fast approaching, we’ll be taking a closer look this month at the free agent market for each position. Today, we’ll turn our attention to interior defensive linemen — defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. Let’s dive in….

Top unrestricted FAs:

Suh may be the subject of more headlines this offseason than the rest of the players in this group put together, but there are plenty of above-average contributors here besides the Lions star. In fact, a couple of them are Suh’s teammates, Fairley and Mosley. It’s almost certainly a one-or-the-others scenario for Detroit, as the team will likely let its other defensive tackles go if Suh returns to the fold — if he lands elsewhere, the Lions would have much more flexibility to bring back the rest of their potential free agents.

Outside of the Lions trio, the top names here include Odrick, Knighton, Paea, and Williams. Melton could join this group too, if a team was confident in his health. All five of those players ranked among the top 20 defensive tackles in the league in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades (subscription required). Paea and Melton excelled at getting to the quarterback, but had the worst grades against the run of any top-20 defensive tackle. Knighton and Williams, on the other hand, had their positive grades buoyed by strong performances against the run, while Odrick was somewhere in between.

PFF also liked the performance of McDonald, who ranked as the NFL’s 12th-best 3-4 defensive end. However, the off-field issues surrounding McDonald, who is being investigated following accusations of sexual assault, were serious enough that the 49ers released him before the season even ended. Even if McDonald isn’t formally charged or convicted, he could be facing discipline from the league, and the trouble he has had with the law could scare off potential suitors.

Raji is another wild card in this group. He’s still only 28 years old, and he’s a former first-round pick, but he missed the entire 2014 campaign with a torn biceps, and had a dismal 2013 as a 3-4 DE. If he’s healthy and transitions back into his original nose tackle role, Raji could be a bargain for a team that takes advantage of a buy-low opportunity.

Other unrestricted options:

If a team misses out on the top tier of interior linemen, it should have plenty of choices here. The players in this list range from nose tackles to 4-3 DTs to 3-4 DEs, and some of them may even be capable of playing on the end for a 4-3 team, so a club’s targets will depend on its needs.

Kelly and Williams are among the veterans here who would be nice stopgaps for a team looking for a short-term solution on the inside. Guion should also attract plenty of interest, though he could be facing discipline from the league following his legal troubles. The same goes for Cody, whom the Ravens released just weeks before he actually reached the open market, due to an animal cruelty investigation.

Klug, Jenkins, Douzable, and Ellis are a few more players in their mid-to-late 20s who could be nice fits in the right system. Douzable and Ellis, in particular, are interesting cases — they have played well for Rex Ryan‘s Jets as run stoppers in recent years, but with so much talent on the Bills’ defensive line already, it will be interesting to see if they follow Ryan to Buffalo or try to find an opportunity that could afford them more playing time.

Restricted FAs:

In a class of restricted free agents that isn’t particularly strong overall, this group actually looks a little more intriguing than the RFAs at most positions. In my opinion, Harrison and Thornton are each worthy of at least second-round tenders from their respective clubs. Both players ranked among the best players at their positions against the run, according to PFF (subscription required). The full list of defensive tackle who had better run defense grades than Harrison? Marcell Dareus and Suh — that’s it. With negotiations for Muhammad Wilkerson on the horizon, the Jets will want to ensure that they lock up Harrison, so it wouldn’t even be a surprise if he received a first-round tender, given the team’s excess cap room.

Walker and Kitchen also held their own as part-time players for the Saints and Browns respectively, so I’d expect them to draw interest if their clubs decide not to extend an RFA tender.

Previous looks at the 2015 free agent market:

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