A team can never have too many pass rushers. Even as quarterbacks around the league try to get the ball out of their hands more quickly, the emphasis that most offenses put on their aerial attacks ensure that quality edge defenders will continue to be among the NFL’s most desirable commodities and, therefore, among the highest earners. As we sit in the middle of the lull between OTAs/minicamp and the start of training camp, let’s take a look at where things stand with a few of the highest-profile pass rushers that are still on the market.
- Justin Houston: Houston, one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the league during his heyday with the Chiefs, just finished up a two-year contract with the Colts. He is no longer a First Team All-Pro talent, but he was still plenty productive in Indianapolis, at least from a raw statistic standpoint. He averaged 9.5 sacks per year over his two Colts campaigns, and though Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics were not high on his work in 2020 – he received middling grades in both run defense and pass rush – the 32-year-old would be an asset to most any pass rushing corps. The only two teams really connected to him this offseason, the Ravens and the incumbent Colts, both added edge defenders in the first round of this year’s draft (Indy also invested a second-round choice on DE Dayo Odeyingbo). However, Baltimore’s first-round edge, Odafe Oweh, may be a little green, and the club lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue to free agency this offseason. As such, the Ravens may still be in the mix, and there are surely other teams monitoring the situation.
- Melvin Ingram: Like Houston, Ingram is 32, but unlike Houston, he is dealing with some health concerns. The longtime Charger earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2017-19, but knee problems limited him to just seven games in 2020. In those seven contests, Ingram failed to record a single sack, and given the lack of reporting on his knee, it’s fair to wonder if he is 100% healthy. He took a pre-draft visit with the Chiefs, and KC might still be interested, especially given Frank Clark’s recent legal trouble. Ingram also visited with the Dolphins after the draft, and while Miami selected uber-talented edge defender Jaelan Phillips with the No. 18 overall pick, the club also released LB and locker room favorite Kyle Van Noy. Plus, Phillips has a troubling medical history of his own, so there could be room in South Beach for another established pass rusher with leadership abilities. It is encouraging that Ingram’s PFF pass-rushing score of 76.3 was a top-20 mark, even if the sample size of snaps was comparatively small.
- Everson Griffen: Griffen’s free agency stay in 2020 lasted until August, when he inked a one-year deal with the Cowboys. Even though Dallas was still very much in the running for the historically weak NFC East, the club dealt Griffen to the Lions in advance of the trade deadline. The four-time Pro Bowler tallied six sacks across 14 games split between Dallas and Detroit, earning a 73.6 pass-rushing mark from PFF in the process (good for 25th out of 108 qualifiers). Now 33, Griffen is probably best utilized as a situational pass rusher at this point, but he could do well in such a role. While there has been no reported interest in his services this year, his recent history suggests that he is content to wait until late summer for the right opportunity to present itself.
- Olivier Vernon: Vernon, who will turn 31 in October, came to the Browns in 2019 as part of the blockbuster Odell Beckham trade. He lost six games to injury in his first Cleveland season and managed only 3.5 sacks. He was a candidate to be traded or released last offseason as the team flirted with Jadeveon Clowney, but ultimately he agreed to a paycut to remain with the Browns for 2020, the last year of his previous contract. He picked up nine sacks in 14 games – he has not played a full 16-game slate since 2016 – and while three of those sacks came against an injury-ravaged Eagles O-line, advanced metrics continue to be high on him. Pro Football Focus considered him the 20th-best edge player in the league last year, a grade that incorporated identical (and strong) 71.6 marks for his run defense and his pass rushing acumen. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn Achilles in the regular season finale, which is probably why there have been no reports of interest in him to date (and why he is not higher on this list). Depending on his prognosis, he could be an intriguing late summer or in-season add for any number of clubs.
- Bruce Irvin: Irvin suffered a torn ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 season, which he and the Seahawks had hoped would represent a successful second stint in Seattle. The ‘Hawks made him the No. 15 overall pick of the 2012 draft, which was generally viewed as a reach at the time, but the West Virginia product has put together a lengthy and productive NFL career. In his lone season with the Panthers in 2019, Irvin posted a career-high 8.5 sacks, and before his two-game campaign last year, he hadn’t posted a single-season sack total of less than 5.5 since his second pro season in 2013. At 33, he is the oldest player on this list, but assuming he has not faced any setbacks in his recovery, he should be ready to roll by the start of the 2021 season, or close to it. He might have a hard time getting much by way of guaranteed money, but he should certainly have an opportunity to continue his playing career if he wants to. But he may not want to. In March, Irvin posted a tweet that said, “I think it’s time,” which many obviously construed to be a hint that he was hanging up the cleats. There hasn’t been anything concrete, though, so his playing status is still unclear.