Top 10 Remaining NFL Free Agents: Defense

The most high-profile NFL free agent signings occurred two months ago, but as we near June, there are still talented free agents available on the open market. Most of these players won’t command much guaranteed money, and none will factor into the compensatory draft pick formula given that we’ve passed the May 7 deadline for comp selections. After looking at the offensive side of the ball on Wednesday, let’s go over the defensive players who will try to find a home as training camp approaches:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT

Suh hasn’t drawn any known interest since the free agent period began in March, and that’s apparently due to his asking price. As Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reported earlier this month, Suh — who has never played on an annual salary of less than $10MM — is searching for another large contract. The 32-year-old Suh ratcheted up his play near the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, generating nine pressures and 1.5 sacks during Los Angeles’ run to the Super Bowl. The Rams aren’t likely to re-sign Suh but probably can’t be completely ruled out, while the Vikings are defensive tackle-needy yet cap-strapped. Cutting or trading tight end Kyle Rudolph would free up $7.625MM that could go into a Suh fund.

Possible fits: Seahawks, Cowboys, Rams, Broncos, Vikings

2. Tre Boston, S

Boston has been in free agent limbo before. In 2017, he was forced to wait until May 12 to sign a one-year deal with the Chargers, and last season, he didn’t get a contract done with the Cardinals until July 25. Still only 26 years old, Boston has posted 10 interceptions over the past three years and in 2018 graded as the 20th-best coverage safety in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. That deep, center-field ability is extremely valuable in the NFL, so it’s certainly surprising to see Boston still on the sidelines. Jacksonville needs to replace Tashaun Gipson in the back end of its secondary, and Boston would be a worthwhile target.

Possible fits: Jaguars, Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Panthers, Buccaneers

3. Shane Ray, EDGE

The 23rd overall selection in the 2015 draft, Ray posted his best campaign during his sophomore season, registering eight sacks and finishing as a top-40 edge defender with 45 pressures. He’s only played roughly 600 defensive snaps in the two years since, however, as multiple wrist surgeries have kept him off the field. A one-year deal seems likely for Ray, but a smart team might attempt to secure an option for the 2020 season. If Ray can stay healthy and provide production, he’d stick around at a cheap rate. If not, there’d be no loss for the club.

Possible fits: Colts, Raiders, Seahawks, Bengals, Giants, Ravens, Rams

4. Morris Claiborne, CB

While there aren’t a ton of NFL clubs with glaring needs at cornerback, the importance of coverage means that nearly every team could stand to add a steady defensive back like Claiborne. The 29-year-old has a concerning injury history, as he played in only 47 of a possible 80 games during the first five years of his career. But Claiborne managed to stay healthy during his two years with the Jets, appearing in 30 games and playing nearly 2,000 defensive snaps since 2017. Gang Green hasn’t ruled re-signing Claiborne, although it was former general manager Mike Maccagnan — and not interim GM/head coach Adam Gase — who indicated a reunion was possible.

Possible fits: Jets, Giants, Chiefs, Bills

5. Eric Berry, S

Now 30 years old, Berry has only played three total games over the past two seasons, with an Achilles injury limiting his availability. The Cowboys took a visit with Berry during the opening days of free agency, but they’ve since added free agent George Iloka. The Browns, too, reportedly expressed interest in Berry, but went on to sign Morgan Burnett and acquire Eric Murray. Colts general manager Chris Ballard, a former Chiefs executive who places an emphasis on character, could team Berry with incumbent safeties Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers, while the Buccaneers and Panthers are in both in desperate need of secondary help.

Possible fits: Cowboys, Colts, Jaguars, Redskins, Buccaneers, Lions, Panthers

6. Danny Shelton, DT

Shelton is a free agent after the Patriots — who acquired him from the Browns last offseason — turned down his fifth-year option, which would have netted the former first-round pick $7.154MM for the 2019 season. A behemoth at 6’2″, 345 pounds, Shelton isn’t really a great fit for today’s NFL, as run-stuffing nose tackles are slowly making their way out of the league. Still, PFF graded Shelton as a top-45 interior defender a season ago, so he should still be able to find a new club. The Bengals met with him earlier this offseason, and could still make sense as a destination.

Possible fits: Bengals, Texans, Colts, Titans, Falcons, Rams

7. Coty Sensabaugh, CB

While he’s probably not a household name, Sensabaugh was a fairly regular starter for the Steelers over the past two seasons, starting four games at the tail of end the 2017 campaign and 10 more last year. Football Outsiders was a fan of Sensabaugh’s work, charting him as ninth among qualified corners in yards allowed per pass and 26th with a 56% success rate (meaning he was effective at stopping opposing wide receivers short of the sticks). Tampa Bay, which has yet to re-sign Brent Grimes and is instead relying on Vernon Hargreaves and a cavalcade on inexperienced players at corner, should give Sensabaugh a call.

Possible fits: Buccaneers, Lions, Redskins, Giants, Jets, Dolphins

8. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT

The 2018 season couldn’t have gone much worse for Wilkerson. Forced to sign a one-year, prove-it deal with the Packers, Wilkerson managed to play in only three games before going down with a fractured ankle. Wilkerson’s contract with Green Bay was worth $5MM and carried $3MM in available incentives, and he’ll have to accept something far cheaper to find a new team this time around. The Packers and Wilkerson reportedly had “mutual interest” in a fresh deal as of March, but nothing has come of those talks.

Possible fits: Packers, Patriots, Titans, Raiders, Cowboys, Seahawks

9. Corey Liuget, DT

Speaking of lost 2018 campaigns: Liuget was suspended for the first four games of the season after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, and was then pressured to accept a pay cut from the Chargers. The former first-round pick appeared in just six contests before a torn quad ended his season prematurely. Los Angeles moved on at the end of the season, declining his option for the 2019 season. Liuget never lived up to his draft billing, but he’s got 108 games of experience under his belt and didn’t have any serious injury concerns unless last year. He’s met with the Giants, Seahawks, and Jaguars this offseason.

Possible fits: Giants, Seahawks, Jaguars, Cowboys, Vikings

10. Nick Perry, EDGE

This final spot came down to Perry and fellow edge rusher Derrick Morgan, and we went with Perry because he’s actually garnered interest this offseason after being released by the Packers. The 29-year-old Perry visited the Seahawks earlier this year, while the rebuilding Dolphins have also made an overture. The 28th overall pick in the 2012 draft, Perry posted 11 sacks in 2016, a performance which earned him a five-year, $60MM contract from Green Bay. A knee injury cost him the final seven games of the 2018 season, during which PFF graded Perry as a bottom-seven edge defender among 113 qualifiers.

Possible fits: Seahawks, Dolphins, Bills, Ravens, Giants

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13 comments on “Top 10 Remaining NFL Free Agents: Defense

  1. amx19

    You mean to tell me Morris Claiborne is better than Eric berry, he is just as injury prone with less production

    • qbert1996

      Based on the last 2 seasons Claiborne has been an ironman compared to Berry. The medical situation with Berry is what kept Dallas from signing him earlier in the offseason.

    • connfyoozed

      Claiborne was mostly injury-free as a Jet. Berry has unquestionably been the more talented player of the two, but after all of these leg injuries and only a few games played recently, teams don’t really know what Berry has left.

    • bradthebluefish
      bradthebluefish

      Eric Berry is almost always injured so you have to take that into consideration.

  2. crosseyedlemon

    If I were a GM I’d rather gamble on Captain Munnerlyn than Sensabaugh.

    • connfyoozed

      Munnerlyn is getting up there in years though. And I will say this as a Steelers fan: as bad as Sensabaugh was as a Giant and initially in Pittsburgh, for most of last season he was very steady. He got picked on a lot by QBs avoiding Joe Haden, and Sensabaugh held up well once he got consistent playing time in the last 10 games for so. It’s not out of the question that he could return to the Steelers in a more limited role, but it’s more likely he waits for an injury or suspension to cause a need… are you reading this, Arizona?

  3. connfyoozed

    I continue to not understand why year after year Tre Boston gets left waiting after the initial waves of free agency. He’s been solid everywhere he’s played. He wants starter money and his play dictates that he should get it. The guy’s a smart and sound piece to add to a defensive puzzle for just about anyone. Would love to see him as a Steeler but it won’t happen as they want to develop Edmunds and Sean Davis as the starters, and Boston should be starting somewhere again this year.

  4. frankchitown

    The Bears are super thin on the outside, and at Nose tackle. Why not give a look at Shelton or Ray?

  5. T-Dawg

    Muhammad Wilkerson is definitely the kind of high reward, low risk, and cheap $ player that Bill Belichick scours the league for! Definitely won’t surprise many if the Patriots sign him!

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