Donte Whitner

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 3.0: Defense

The initial wave of NFL free agency is now complete, and while many of the league’s top available players are now off the board, there are still plenty of quality options still on the open market.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2017:

Edge defender:

  1. Dwight Freeney
  2. Elvis Dumervil
  3. Chris Long
  4. Mario Williams
  5. Connor Barwin
  6. Paul Kruger
  7. Trent Cole
  8. Erik Walden
  9. Jason Jones
  10. Darryl Tapp
  11. Devin Taylor
  12. Eugene Sims
  13. Howard Jones
  14. Wallace Gilberry
  15. Sam Acho

The pass rushing market has been completely depleted during the first week of free agency, as 14 of our original top 15 edge players have now been franchised, signed, or, in the case of DeMarcus Ware, retired. As such, a 37-year-old with 15 NFL seasons under his belt is now the best pass rusher on the market. Dwight Freeney played on roughly a third of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2016, and posted three sacks and 18 hurries. Capable of playing in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Freeney can still help out a club on the cheap.Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

Three players on this list — Elvis Dumervil, Connor Barwin, and Eugene Sims — were released by their respective clubs last week, meaning they won’t count against the compensatory formula if and when they’re signed. Dumervil, now 33, was hampered by injuries last season but still earned strong pass-rushing marks from Pro Football Focus. Barwin, meanwhile, wasn’t a good fit in Jim Schwartz‘s 4-3 defense, but he should flourish if he signs with a team running a 3-4 look. So far, he’s met with the Bengals (who use a 4-3) and Rams (3-4).

Chris Long has already indicated he won’t be returning to the Patriots, indicating he wants to join a roster where he’ll earn more playing time. Erik Walden, too, won’t re-sign with his 2016 club (the Colts), but he has taken a visit with the division rival Titans. Further down the list, Howard Jones has also met with at least one club, as he was hosted by the Jets on Tuesday. Jones, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL, but did post five sacks in five starts last season.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Johnathan Hankins
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Jared Odrick
  4. Vance Walker
  5. Sen’Derrick Marks
  6. Ricky Jean-Francois
  7. Roy Miller
  8. Al Woods
  9. Tony McDaniel
  10. Cullen Jenkins
  11. Frostee Rucker
  12. Cam Thomas
  13. John Jenkins
  14. Tyson Jackson
  15. Tyson Alualu

Although top-flight players such as Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams have already been signed, the crop of interior defenders remains strong at the top. The buzz around Johnathan Hankins has been virtually non-existent, as the only club that’s been even tangentially linked to the 25-year-old is the Redskins. He’s one of the youngest free agents on the market, and therefore is probably looking for a massive payday. But the lack of interest around Hankins may be an indication that he’s simply asking for too much money.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

The same issue could be surrounding Dontari Poe, although he’s not wanting for meetings around the league. He’s visited with the Colts, Falcons, Jaguars, and Dolphins, while the 49ers and Raiders also reportedly have some level of interest. Clubs may have concerns about Poe’s lingering back issues, and he might have to accept a one-year deal in order to prove he’s healthy and willing to provide full effort.

The remaining defensive interior players are mostly over-30 veterans, with names such as Tony McDaniel, Cullen Jenkins, Frostee Rucker, and Tyson Jackson still looking for new deals. While most of these guys can still play, they may have to wait awhile — possibly into the summer — before signing on with their next club. Jared Odrick (Patriots) and Vance Walker (Bears) have both taken visits, but the most intriguing lineman here may be Sen’Derrick Marks, who offers a good amount of pass rush from the interior.

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Redskins To Place Donte Whitner On IR

More turnover at safety will be on tap for the Redskins, with Field Yates of ESPN.com reporting (via Twitter) the team is placing Donte Whitner on IR.

Washington re-signed safety Josh Evans as a result of this move, reuniting after cutting the depth piece earlier this season. Whitner initially reached an agreement with the Redskins in October and played in 11 games for the team, starting nine, after a lengthy stay in free agency.

It’s a quadriceps injury that will end Whitner’s season and send him back to the UFA market.

The former Bills, 49ers and Browns cog received extensive interest as a UFA but opted to wait for a more attractive offer. However, he ended up signing a one-year deal for just $985K. Despite signing in October, Whitner became a key member of the Redskins’ secondary, one that now has Will Blackmon and Duke Ihenacho as its surefire starters going into a must-win Week 17 game against the Giants.

The 31-year-old back-line defender made 66 tackles and forced a fumble this season, his 11th in the league. Washington has seen much turnover at safety in 2016, cutting David Bruton after signing him to a three-year deal, placing DeAngelo Hall on IR, and determining Kyshoen Jarrett‘s injury was too severe for their liking. This could trigger the team to also move Su’a Cravens to safety, where the USC standout could reside long-term. Although, the Redskins may wait until the offseason to make that move for developmental purposes.

Initially a sixth-round Jaguars pick in 2013 who started for three seasons in north Florida, Evans caught on with the Redskins and played two games for the team earlier this season. He will now be looked to as a backup option again.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins To Sign Donte Whitner

It took a little while, but Donte Whitner has found himself an NFL home for this season. The Redskins signed the safety after a workout on Tuesday, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Whitner’s deal will be a one-year accord, which makes sense given his age and the fact that this is a mid-season deal. Donte Whitner (vertical)

The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus had Whitner pegged as a top 30 safety in 2015, but teams apparently did not agree with that assessment. Whitner met with multiple teams but found a very mild market this offseason. Now, Whitner will presumably be playing with a chip on his shoulder to show the rest of the league what they missed out on.

The Giants also auditioned Whitner this week given the rash of injuries they have had at the safety position, but he’ll be suiting up for a divisional rival instead.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins Work Out Donte Whitner

Donte Whitner worked out for rival Redskins this week, a source tells Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). However, they will not be signing him at this time, a source tells ESPN.com’s John Keim (on Twitter). Whitner also auditioned for the rival Giants recently, but they’re still in deliberations. Donte Whitner (Veritcal)

Whitner, 31. started 14 games for the Browns last year, defensing four passes, forcing one fumble, and posting 1.5 sacks. Whitner also graded out well via the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus, which rated him as the league’s No. 24 safety among 89 qualifiers.

Late in the offseason, we ranked Whitner as one of the very best defensive free agents to remain on the board. Even if he’s not as good as the advanced numbers would indicate, we’re surprised to see that he’s still without a job in October.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Giants To Work Out Donte Whitner

The Giants will work out free agent safety on Donte Whitner on Sunday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). Whitner has been sitting on the open market since April after being released by the Browns."<strong

[RELATED: Giants Place Shane Vereen On IR]

Whitner, who has drawn offseason interest from the Rams and Panthers, is still a productive player as he enters his age-31 season. In 2015, he started 14 games in Cleveland, defensing four passes, forcing one fumble, and posting 1.5 sacks. Whitner also graded out well via the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus, which rated him as the league’s No. 24 safety among 89 qualifiers.

Incumbent Giants safeties Nat Berhe (concussion) and Darian Thompson (concussion) are both unlikely to play on Monday night, and Leon Hall — who could shift to safety in a pinch — will be needed at corner given the injuries to Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. As Rapoport notes, New York is so banged up at safety that it’s been forced to use offensive players in the secondary during practice.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Donte Whitner To Visit Panthers

6:31pm: Whitner won’t serve as an immediate threat to either Boston or Coleman if the Panthers sign him, reports Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. Rather, he’d act as depth for a team currently dealing with injuries to reserve safeties Dean Marlowe, Marcus Ball and Trent Robinson.

5:22pm: Free agent safety Donte Whitner is headed to Carolina for a workout with the Panthers on Friday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

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A three-time Pro Bowler, the 31-year-old Whitner immediately became one of the most accomplished free agents on the market when the Browns released him in early April. There hasn’t been much interest in Whitner since then, however, as his only prior visit came with the Rams a week after Cleveland released him.

In trying to find a landing spot for Whitner last month, PFR’s Dallas Robinson listed the Panthers as one of eight potential fits for the former Ohio State Buckeye. As Robinson wrote, Tre Boston – the Panthers’ prospective starter at free safety – doesn’t have Whitner’s track record. Boston has totaled just six starts since the Panthers chose him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and he only partook in 20 percent of their defensive snaps last season.

Having lost veteran defensive backs Josh Norman, Roman Harper and Cortland Finnegan in recent months, it’s possible reigning NFC champion Carolina isn’t comfortable turning to the relatively inexperienced Boston as a starting option. If the Panthers end up going with the more established choice, Whitner, he and fellow ex-Buckeye Kurt Coleman would form an enticing safety duo on paper.

Whitner, a 10-year veteran, has started in all 93 of his appearances since 2010. The last time Whitner started in fewer than 14 games in a season was in 2009, when he missed six contests. In 14 appearances last year, Whitner amassed 81 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Despite failing to pick off a pass for the first time since 2008, Pro Football Focus ranked Whitner as the league’s 24th-best safety among 89 qualifiers.

Since entering the league as Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2006, Whitner has racked up 143 starts in 146 appearances, 11 interceptions and 10 forced fumbles in his time with the Bills, 49ers and Browns.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

8 Teams That Could Sign Donte Whitner

Veteran safety Donte Whitner wasn’t happy with the timing of his release from the Browns earlier this year, and he had every right to be upset. After Rodney McLeod, George Iloka, Eric Weddle, Tashaun Gipson, and a cadre of other safeties had already scored large contracts on the open market, Whitner hit free agency about three weeks after many clubs had already spent their free agent money. As such, Whitner will likely have to settle for a one-year deal in the coming weeks.Donte Whitner (Veritcal)

But Whitner, who will turn 31 years old later this month, is still a talented player, having graded as the league’s No. 24 safety among 89 qualifiers in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. He’s also remarkably durable, as he’s missed only three games over the past six seasons. As such, PFR recently ranked Whitner as the No. 1 free agent available on the defensive side of the ball, ahead of other players such as Leon Hall, Greg Hardy, and Dwight Freeney.

Let’s take a look at some potential landing spots for Whitner as he looks to ink a contract before (or during) training camp…

Carolina Panthers — Former fourth-round pick Tre Boston spent the first two years of his career as a special teams stalwart, biding his time behind Roman Harper while waiting for a starting opportunity. That time has come, but will Ron Rivera and the rest of Carolina’s coaching staff feel comfortable relying on Boston, who has just six starts to his name and has only averaged about 28% playing time over the past two seasons? After rescinding Josh Norman‘s franchise tag, the Panthers will have enough questions at cornerback without having to worry about their safety group, too. Adding Whitner to play opposite Kurt Coleman could help alleviate any concerns the club might have.

Dallas Cowboys — The Cowboys defense has taken its share of hits this offseason, with Rolando McClain, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory all facing multi-game suspensions. Dallas’ secondary has remained untouched, but second-year safety Byron Jones is the only above-average option projected to start in the club’s defensive backfield. Strong safety Barry Church has never been special, and the Cowboys didn’t select a safety in the draft until the sixth round (Central Michigan’s Kavon Frazier). If Tony Romo can stay healthy during the upcoming season, Dallas should return to contention in the NFC East, and Whitner could be the final piece of the puzzle on defense.

Detroit Lions — Lions general manager Bob Quinn has been adamant that his club will field a wide-open competition at strong safety, but the latest reports indicate the former Saint Rafael Bush holds the upper hand over fellow free agent signee Tavon Wilson and fourth-round rookie Miles Killebrew. Bush, though, hasn’t been able to stay healthy during his five-year NFL career. The 29-year-old ended the 2014 season on injured reserve with a broken leg, and missed all but one game last year after tearing a pectoral muscle. Wilson, meanwhile, never started a single contest for the Patriots despite being a former second-round pick, and played just 83 defensive snaps in 2015. All in all, it’s an unproven and untrustworthy group, and Whitner could represent a more sure thing.

Houston Texans — The Texans boasted one of the NFL’s best defensive units in 2015, so they don’t need to add a free agent like Whitner. Houston already had a poor encounter with a veteran free agent safety last season, as Rahim Moore was benched in early November before being released just one season into a three-year deal. But that experience shouldn’t scare the Texans off, as Whitner could add a hard-hitting force to a safety crop that possesses quantity, but perhaps not quality. Andre Hal looks like the club’s starter at free safety, but strong safety could be a toss-up between Eddie Pleasant, Quintin Demps, Antonio Allen, and rookie Kris Dillon. Whitner, for all his faults, looks to be an improvement over any of those options.

Jacksonville Jaguars — The Jaguars are going all-in on the 2016 season, and they spent the majority of their offseason upgrading their defense. After handing big-money deals to defensive lineman Malik Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson, general manager Dave Caldwell spent all but one of his draft picks on defenders, using his first two to pluck cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. But after allocating all that capital, strong safety is still a weak spot on the Jags’ roster, as former second-round pick Johnathan Cyprien graded out as a bottom-three safety last year, according to PFF. As such, Cyprien is reportedly in danger of losing his job to James Sample, but perhaps Jacksonville would prefer a more stable veteran. And not for nothing, Whitner has working experience with Gipson, as the pair spent the past two seasons together in Cleveland.

Kansas City Chiefs — Even after losing one safety to free agency (Tyvon Branch) and another to retirement (Husain Abdullah), the Chiefs are still pretty well-stocked at the position. All Pro Eric Berry, the club’s franchise tag designee, will hold down one spot, while Ron Parker will man the other. But with Parker taking on so many other roles in Kansas City’s defense, including nickel corner, Whitner could make for a strong depth addition. It wouldn’t be a perfect match, however, as Berry does his best work close to the line of scrimmage — the same area that Whitner regularly patrols. The Chiefs are going to mess with Berry’s role to accommodate someone like Whitner, so the latter might have to be open to a reserve role.

Los Angeles Rams — The Rams are perhaps the most obvious fit on this list, especially given that they’re the only club with which Whitner has had a known visit. Whitner met with Los Angeles in the beginning of April, and though reports have indicated that he remains “in play” for general manager Les Snead & Co., the Rams might be cooling in their pursuit of veteran safeties. LA’s search for secondary help — which, in addition to Whitner, has involved fellow free agent Dashon Goldson — could be limited by the team’s desire to see how its younger options, such as Maurice Alexander, Cody Davis, and Christian Bryant, play out before adding a more experienced player. The Rams’ only safety with more than five career starts under his belt is T.J. McDonald, who could possibly be facing a suspension after being arrested for DUI earlier this year.

San Diego Chargers — San Diego has already replaced franchise legend Eric Weddle, agreeing to a deal with former Colt Dwight Lowery over the offseason. But strong safety remains a weakness — in his first season as a full-time starter, Jahleel Addae was below-average, ranking as the No. 76 safety in the league, per PFF. The Chargers ranked 25th in defensive DVOA last season, and were even worse specifically against the run, where they placed 31st. Whitner would help in that regard, assisting the front seven in rush defense while Lowery covers the back end. San Diego did assign Addae the second-round restricted free agent tender, so the club clearly values him, but none of his $2.553MM salary is guaranteed, so if the Chargers wanted to go in another direction, they could easily get out of that contract.

Others — Given that former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is now with the Bears, I initially pegged Chicago as a good fit for Whitner, given that the pair enjoyed success together in the Bay Area from 2011-13. However, the Bears selected two safeties in this year’s draft, and as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune has written on multiple occasions, Chicago would like to see how those younger options play out, and is quite pleased with 2015 rookie Adrian Amos at strong safety.

The Ravens also struck me as a potential landing spot for Whitner, given that general manager Ozzie Newsome has a history of squeezing every last drop out of veteran free agents. But Baltimore already spent money on Eric Weddle this offseason, and even after offloading the troubled Will Hill, the club still boasts cornerback convert Lardarius Webb, former first-round pick Matt Elam, and Kendrick Lewis at safety, so it’s not exactly a position of need. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com noted that the Ravens have long been fans of Whitner, but allowed that a signing was unlikely.

Finally, the Vikings are known to be looking for the perfect complement to Pro Bowler Harrison Smith, and even after inking Andrew Sendejo to a four-year deal and signing free agent Michael Griffin, the club still doesn’t sound confident with its options at strong safety. Whitner, then, would seem to be a potential fit, but as Ben Goessling of ESPN.com wrote last month, Minnesota is probably looking for a player who can handle pass coverage responsibilities given how often the team moves Smith around the formation. Whitner is not that guy, so perhaps the Vikes aren’t quite a perfect landing spot.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Vegas, Bengals, Browns, Broncos

The National Hockey League officially announced its expansion into Las Vegas on Wednesday, which could affect the NFL – and the Raiders, to be more specific. The Raiders have been working to relocate to Vegas if they fail to come up with a stadium solution in Oakland, though there has been concern historically about placing a pro sports franchise in a city built on gambling. However, as evidenced by the NHL’s decision, sports commissioners are less and less worried about gambling as a factor, per Andrew Brandt of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Now, with the NHL having taken the plunge into Vegas, the door has opened that much more for the Raiders to do the same.

For more on the NHL’s 31 franchises, bookmark the newly launched Pro Hockey Rumors and follow PHR on Twitter.

Elsewhere around the NFL…

  • Bengals linebacker Karlos Dansby has tried to recruit free agent safety Donte Whitner to Cincinnati, he told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday (Twitter link via Alex Marvez). The rebuilding Browns released Dansby in March and Whitner in April after the two played together in Cleveland from 2014-15. Given the Bengals’ situation at safety, odds are seemingly against the 31-year-old Whitner joining them as anything but a backup – for which he’s overqualified. As Roster Resource shows, the team has expensive, in-their-prime starters in George Iloka and Shawn Williams.
  • In his interview with SiriusXM, Dansby also opened up about his experience with the 3-13 Browns last season (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com). “The coaches and the front office, there was just a lot of mess going on, a lot of things going on, a lot of distractions.” Dansby said, referring to the coaching staff Mike Pettine was at the helm of and the Ray Farmer-led front office. The 13th-year man added that his teammates “had just shut down” after a certain point, which would help to explain Cleveland’s 1-10 finish. The Browns moved on from both Pettine and Farmer at the end of the season, of course, and have begun a new era with ex-Bengals assistant Hue Jackson atop the coaching staff and Sashi Brown leading the front office.
  • Three of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen’s seven children – John Michael Bowlen, Brittany Bowlen and Jane Elizabeth Bowlen Wallace – are no longer employees of the organization, per Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post. That doesn’t mean a sale of the franchise is in the works, though. “No plans for the sale of the team. The hope remains to keep the Broncos in the Bowlen family,” Broncos vice president of communications Patrick Smyth tweeted in response to a Pro Football Talk report on Wednesday. PFT’s Mike Florio is skeptical, however, noting that “hope” isn’t a guarantee and one of Bowlen’s children will eventually have to show why he or she is worthy of taking control of the Broncos. In the meantime, with Pat Bowlen having resigned as the Broncos’ CEO in 2014 because of his battle with Alzheimer’s, the team will remain in a trust and president Joe Ellis will continue running the operation.

NFC Notes: Bears, Rams, Saints

Bears edge rusher Willie Young acknowledged Wednesday that there have been contract extension talks between him and the team, saying (via Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com), “Yeah, there has been some stuff mentioned here and there, but that’s something that will be left up to my agent so I don’t get caught in the middle of it.” As of earlier this month, Young was reportedly “50/50” on whether to accept a two-year offer from the Bears. Chicago is trying to keep the soon-to-be 31-year-old after he amassed a combined 16.5 sacks during his first two seasons in the Windy City, and he’s open to spending the rest of his career there. “I would like to finish my career up here in Chicago, but you know that’s not up to me; that’s up to my agent and management,” said Young, who will hit the open market next offseason if a deal isn’t reached by then.

More from the NFC:

  • Free agent safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner remain “in play” for the Rams, tweets Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News. If the Rams sign either, it won’t occur until after OTAs because the team wants to evaluate its in-house options, Bonsignore adds (Twitter link). Los Angeles hosted Whitner, a three-time Pro Bowler, in early April. Goldson, who has two Pro Bowl selections under his belt, met with the club earlier this month. PFR’s Dallas Robinson ranks Whitner as the best defensive free agent on the market.
  • Fellow free agent safety Roman Harper could rejoin the Saints, per FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez (via Twitter). Harper, whom the Saints took in the second round of the 2006 draft, spent his first eight seasons in New Orleans before signing with the division-rival Panthers in 2014. The 33-year-old proved to have a fair amount left in the tank last season for the NFC champions, starting all 19 of their games (playoffs included) while grading 53rd out of 89 qualifying safeties at Pro Football Focus.
  • Ex-Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who coached Harper in 2013, spoke negatively last week of his time on New Orleans’ staff. One of Ryan’s former pupils, now-Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, backed Ryan’s claim that the coordinator wasn’t running his own scheme during his final two years with the Saints. “Not to talk about New Orleans for the rest of this interview, but as a player in that system, you can see when power is taken away from a guy,” Hicks said Wednesday, per Mike Triplett of ESPN.com. “It was evident in that situation and you saw what the turnout was because of it.” Hicks also praised Ryan as a person, stating, “I didn’t see the interview, but I do know this, I’ll forever and always have a lot of love for Rob Ryan, just because there’s nobody that’s going to shoot you straighter.”

Best Available NFL Free Agents: Defense

The most high-profile free agent signings occurred more than two months ago, but as we near June there are still talented NFL free agents available on the open market. Most of these players (with a few exceptions) won’t command much guaranteed money, and given that we’ve passed the May 12 deadline, none will factor into the compensatory draft pick formula. After examining the offensive side of the ball yesterday, let’s take a look at the defensive players who will try to find a home as training camp approaches…Donte Whitner (Veritcal)

1. Donte Whitner, S: Despite being released by the Browns last month, Whitner is still an excellent player, having graded as the league’s No. 24 safety among 89 qualifiers in 2015, per Pro Football Focus. Remarkably durable (he’s missed only three games in the past six years), Whitner visited with the Rams in early April, and is reportedly still on Los Angeles’ radar. Elsewhere, both the Chargers and the Cowboys could make sense as potential landing spots if San Diego and Dallas want to upgrade on Jahleel Addae and Barry Church, respectively.

2. Leon Hall, CB: Hall hasn’t lacked suitors this offseason, as the Cowboys, Cardinals, Giants, and Falcons have all shown varying levels of interest in the 31-year-old cornerback over the past several months. He’s not the boundary defender that he used to be, but Hall is a productive slot corner, which essentially makes him a starter in today’s NFL. Health questions have nagged Hall throughout his entire career, and an offseason back procedure won’t quiet those concerns, but the former Bengal figures to find a new home sooner rather than later.

3. Greg Hardy, DE: Clearly the best defender on this list in terms of pure talent, Hardy’s off-the-field issues don’t need to be rehashed here. The 27-year-old edge rusher and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, are apparently lobbying NFL clubs for an opportunity, detailing the steps Hardy has taken to correct his pattern of behavior. However, it doesn’t appear as though many teams are convinced Hardy has changed his tune, as sources told Ed Werder of ESPN.com that no one is interested in Hardy, with executives calling him — at best — a “hard sell” to ownership and — at worst — “toxic.”
Dwight Freeney (Vertical)

4. Dwight Freeney, LB/DE: Freeney spent roughly a third of the 2015 season at home, waiting until the Cardinals called in October to get back on an NFL field. Now 36 years old, Freeney has become something of a cause célèbre of mine, as I think he’s a far more valuable player than the league apparently does. I outlined Freeney’s tools in April of last year, and much of what I wrote at the time still holds — any number of clubs could benefit from allowing Freeney to get after the quarterback 20-25 times per game. A reunion with Arizona isn’t out of the question, and the Ravens, Bengals, Panthers, Jets, Patriots, Lions, Chiefs, and Bills could all use an extra edge rusher.

5. Brandon Boykin, CB: At age 25, Boykin surprisingly had to settle for a minimum salary benefit contract to join the Panthers in March — he lasted less than two months on the roster, as he was released by Carolina earlier this week. That series of events, coupled with Boykin’s relative lack of playing time after being dealt to the Steelers last year, is hard to figure, as Boykin is considered one of the premier slot corners in the game. With teams lining up in sub packages more than 60% of the time, Boykin is capable of playing a substantial role, and shouldn’t stay on the street for long.

6. Mike Neal, LB: Neal started a career-high 15 games last season, and has posted at least four sacks in each of the past four years. He’s met with both the Lions and the Seahawks this offseason, but has yet to sign a contract, and would seemingly only be in line for a one-year pact at this point. The Packers selected fellow linebacker Kyler Fackrell in the third round of last month’s draft, so Green Bay probably isn’t an option (though Neal is open to returning). It’s possible that the 2015 Al Jazeera report that linked Neal to PEDs is hindering his market, a sentiment with which Neal agrees.Chris Culliver (Vertical)

7. Chris Culliver, CB: It’s been a trying 12 months or so for Culliver, whose 2015 one-game suspension voided his 2016 $8MM guarantee, making it much easier for Washington to release him — which they did earlier this month. Culliver, 27, also tore his ACL in November, meaning his availability for the start of the season could be in doubt. But Culliver is the one true outside cornerback on this list, and he has also has youth on his side. A smart team might sign Culliver to a two-year deal with limited or no guarantees for the 2017 season, let him rehab for the first half of 2016, and then evaluate him over the course of November and December.

8. Antrel Rolle, S: Rolle isn’t going to get the same kind of offers that fellow safety Whitner will — not only is he more than three years older, but Rolle ranked a little lower among safeties than did Whitner, coming in at No. 39 in the NFL according to PFF. Rolle has expressed an interest in reuniting with the Giants, with whom he spent the 2010-14 seasons, and on paper, it’s a match that makes a lot of sense, as New York needs a rangy free safety opposite Landon Collins. The Rams, Falcons, and Buccaneers could have interest in the veteran defensive back, as could the Colts if they plan to move 2016 second-rounder T.J. Green to cornerback, as has been rumored.

9. O’Brien Schofield, LB: Schofield and the Falcons were said to be working on a deal as far back as early March, but no signing ever came to fruition. At the time, the Cowboys, Bears, and Titans were reported to have interest in Schofield, and while he’s expressed his preference to return to Atlanta, he remains a free agent. Head coach Dan Quinn has stated he hopes that Schofield is re-signed, and the Falcons have in fact made an offer. Primarily a nickel linebacker, Schofield agreed to a two-year deal with the Giants in 2014 only to see it fall apart due to medical concerns — it’s unclear whether his current disagreement with Atlanta is due to injury questions or financial disparities.

10. Jeremy Mincey, DE: At 32 years old, Mincey isn’t going to suddenly blossom into a star, but he’s more than capable of being thrown into a defensive end rotation on a team that runs a 4-3 scheme. Mincey didn’t post any sacks last season, but he registered six quarterback takedowns in 2014, which led to him holding out for an extra $500K the following offseason. The Cowboys reportedly aren’t interested in a reunion, but Mincey did generate some level of trade interest last November, so it’s likely that there are clubs who’d be willing to offer a one-year deal.

Honorable mention: Chris Canty, DL; Henry Melton, DT; Kevin Williams, DT; Cortez Allen, CB; Antonio Cromartie, CB; Cortland Finnegan, CB; Jayron Hosley, CB; Will Allen, S.

Safety Walter Thurmond was not included on this list because he’s contemplating retirement and has reportedly turned down offers of $4MM per year.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.