Julius Peppers

NFC Notes: Panthers, Peppers, Giants, Apple

The Panthers would like to have 37-year-old Julius Peppers back in the fold next year, as David Newton of ESPN.com writes.

I’d love for him to come back, absolutely,’’ head coach Ron Rivera said. “And I know we’ve managed him [in terms of practice time] and we’ll do whatever we need to. But it’s all up to him. He’s had a very good year. Who knows? Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.”

Peppers is playing out a one-year deal with a base value of $3.5MM that could reach up to $4.25MM with bonuses. Of course, his focus is currently on helping the Panthers advance in the playoffs.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • New Giants GM Dave Gettleman had a sit-down meeting with Eli Apple this week, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post (on Twitter). Schwartz takes this as a sign that Apple could still be in the team’s plans for 2018 and Mike Garafolo of NFL.com (on Twitter) agrees. However, that comes with the caveat that Apple shows increased maturity. If all goes right, both Apple and offensive lineman Ereck Flowers could be a part of the team moving forward.
  • The Cardinals are in town to interview Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for their head coach opening today, a source tells Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer (on Twitter). First, Schwartz gets his shot in the afternoon, followed by DeFilippo in the evening.
  • The Packers want to talk to a key executive from the Ravens about their GM vacancy.

The 10 Best One-Year NFL Contracts Of 2017

Signing a one-year contract is almost never ideal from a player’s perspective — while a single-season pact can often mean a larger salary, it doesn’t come with the security or guarantees that a multi-year deal offers. From a team’s vantage point, however, there’s essentially no such thing as a poor one-year contract. The player doesn’t work out? No problem: he’s off the books in one season and doesn’t hinder the club’s long-term financials.

Not every player listed below was inked with the presumption that they’d become an integral piece of their respective team’s roster, but they’ve all made good on their one-year pacts. Here are the ten best one-year NFL contracts signed in 2017:

Case Keenum, QB (Vikings)

In Week 9 of the 2016 season, Keenum was appearing in his final game as the Rams’ starting quarterback, and had led the club to a 3-5 record while ranking 29th in both quarterback rating and adjusted net yards per pass attempt. Fast forward to the 2017 campaign, and Keenum is 16th in quarterback rating, 11th in ANY/A, and fronting a Vikings team that leads the NFC North at 6-2 — not bad for a one-year, $2MM deal. It’s unclear how long Keenum will remain Minnesota’s starter under center (Teddy Bridgewater is due back next week), but Keenum, who will be 30 years old when free agency opens next spring, has put himself in line to compete for a starting job in 2018, either with the Vikings or with another club.

Josh McCown, QB (Jets)

Although the Jets were thought to be tanking this season, they’ve posted a 4-5 record (a mark that includes close losses to the Dolphins and Falcons), and McCown has been a key driver of that success. Now 38 years old, McCown is posting his best statistics since 2013, and has completed 70.4% of his passes for 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s been especially productive in the deep passing game, ranking second in touchdowns and third in passer rating on throws of 20 yards or more, per Mike Castiglione of Pro Football Focus. Given his performance and his locker room presence, McCown shouldn’t have any trouble landing another job next offseason.

LeGarrette Blount, RB (Eagles)LeGarrette Blount (Vertical)

While trade acquisition Jay Ajayi figures to take over as the Eagles’ starting running back going forward, Philadelphia has already gotten value out of Blount and his one-year, $1.25MM pact. Blount has handled at least 12 carries in seven of nine games this season while posting a robust 4.6 yards per rush. While he’s scored only two touchdowns thus far, Blount ranks first among all running backs with more than 25 touches with a broken tackle per touch ratio of 39.4%, according to Football Outsiders. The Eagles are the best team in the league right now, meaning they’ll be favored in a majority of their remaining games. Even with Ajayi in tow, positive game scripts should ensure Blount still has a role in Philadelphia’s backfield.

Alshon Jeffery, WR (Eagles)

Following two consecutive down seasons in Chicago, Jeffery took a pillow contract with the Eagles — he’ll collect $9.5MM (and can earn $4.5MM via incentives) before searching for a long-term deal next spring. Jeffery is fresh off his best game of the season, as he posted six receptions for 84 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos’ vaunted pass defense. While he’s still not creating separation — dead last in the league in yards of separation among qualified wideouts — Jeffery and his contested catch ability are nevertheless a large part of the Eagles’ offense. He’s accounted for 35.03% of his club’s air yards (10th in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats, giving quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz a much-needed weapon on the outside.

Alex Okafor, DE (Saints)

After trying the likes of Bobby Richardson and Paul Kruger of the past two seasons, the Saints have finally found a counterpart to Cameron Jordan at defensive end in the form of Okafor, whom New Orleans lured away from Arizona with a $2MM contract. He’s since played more than three-quarters of the Saints’ defensive snaps, racking up 3.5 sacks in the process. Also excellent against the run, Okafor ranks second among 4-3 defensive ends with a 9.5% run stop percentage, per PFF. All told, Okafor has helped the Saints defense rebound to a No. 16 ranking in DVOA and No. 15 ranking in adjusted sack rate (and those numbers are prior to New Orleans’ five-sack performance against the Buccaneers on Sunday).

Julius Peppers, DE (Panthers)

Peppers is back in Carolina following a seven-year hiatus, and the former No. 1 overall pick is playing like it’s still 2008. He’s 37 years old now, so the Panthers are wisely limiting his snaps — he’s seen action on roughly half the club’s defensive plays through nine weeks. Peppers has racked up 7.5 sacks this season, a figure which ranks eighth among defenders this season and places him fourth all-time with 150.5 career sacks. If Carolina earns a postseason berth — FiveThirtyEight gives them a 52% chance to do so — it will be on the strength of the team’s defense, which currently ranks sixth in DVOA.

Zach Brown, LB (Redskins)

Coming off the best season of his career with the Bills in 2016, Brown was surprisingly forced to settle for a one-year, $2MM deal with the Redskins after initially searching for a $6MM/year contract. And that’s not due to lack of interest, as Oakland, Miami, Indianapolis, and Buffalo all expressed interest in the veteran linebacker before he landed with Washington. Several of those clubs (we’re looking at you, Raiders) would certainly love to have a defender of Brown’s caliber and price available right now. A playmaking machine who embodies a 21st-century linebacker, Brown should be able to land a multi-year pact next offseason, when he’ll still be only 28 years old.

Morris Claiborne, CB (Jets)Morris Claiborne (Vertical)

The Jets’ offseason was primarily dedicated to getting rid of veteran players, but general manager Mike Maccagnan‘s small-scale signings have worked out well, as Claiborne joins McCown as the second Gang Green addition on this list. Claiborne, 27, has always been an effective player when healthy, but injuries have often marred his performance. He’s never played an entire 16-game slate, and he’s managed more than 11 games just once during his five-plus year career. Like Brown, Claiborne can use 2017 as his platform season in order to secure a multi-year deal in 2018 — as long as stays healthy for the rest of this year, that is.

Nickell Robey-Coleman, CB (Rams)

A perfectly-named slot corner, Robey-Coleman was shockingly cut loose by the Bills earlier this year despite ranking as PFF’s No. 33 cornerback in 2016 and being on par to earn just $2.083MM in 2017. The Rams scooped him up on a one-year deal worth the minimum salary, and he’s been outstanding under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, helping Los Angeles to a No. 3 ranking in pass defense DVOA. Thus far, the 25-year-old Robey-Coleman ranks third among 64 qualified cornerbacks in success rate, per Football Outsiders.

Patrick Robinson, CB (Eagles)

While the Eagles certainly have leaned on their excellent young corps on the way to a 8-1 record, general manager Howie Roseman should be lauded for his one-year, cost-effective signings of Robinson, Jeffery, and Blount. Cast off by the Colts one year into a three-year deal, Robinson signed with Philadelphia for the minimum salary and has since become the Eagles’ best cornerback. Pro Football Focus ranks the former first-round pick as the No. 4 corner in the league, and Robinson is allowing only 56.3% of targets in his area to be caught. While Robinson may not be able to parlay his production into a hefty deal in 2018 given that he’ll be 31 years old when next season gets underway, he’s been a superb addition for the Eagles.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

South Notes: Brees, Panthers, Titans, Texans

Don’t expect Drew Brees to sign another extension before the season. The 38-year-old Saints quarterback is again entering a contract year but wants to wait until after the season to discuss another deal to stay in New Orleans. Brees said waiting until the end of the year is best for himself and the team, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com reports. Brees’ one-year extension from 2016 will pay him $24.25MM this season.

The 17th-year quarterback is also not exactly endorsing the Saints taking a signal-caller early. While that may be in the best interest of the franchise post-Brees, the current starter doesn’t want a high draft pick that will sit behind him and not help the team in 2017.

The flip side is, if I’m going to start and that quarterback sits, well that’s not helping our team right now,” Brees said, via Katzenstein. “So, I want somebody who’s going to help our team right now. When I leave here, I want this organization to be successful — whenever that is — so I want them to be prepared for that. They need to be thinking about that, but then again, I don’t want to make it seem like this is my farewell tour. That’s not the way I view it.”

Here’s more from the league’s South divisions.

  • The Panthers‘ free agency plan focused on established veterans, and Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera pointed to the success the more veteran-laden 2015 Super Bowl team had compared to its successor. “You go back to the Super Bowl year and you look at what we had with Roman (Harper), Charles (Tillman) and Jared Allen. Those three veteran guys right there. And then you look at what we did with (Mike) Adams, (Captain) Munnerlyn and Julius (Peppers),” Rivera said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, pointing to the additions of a 36-year-old safety, a soon-to-be 29-year-old nickel corner and a 37-year-old defensive end. “Are we trying to copy what we did? You’re darned right. We really are.” Both Adams and Peppers are actually older than the players the Panthers are bringing them in to emulate.
  • Rivera hopes Peppers’ decision to sign a one-year pact doesn’t amount to a farewell tour. The seventh-year Panthers coach said the 16th-year edge defender has a lot left in the tank and wants him to consider playing beyond this season. Peppers’ three mid-30s seasons produced a combined 25 sacks, adding to Rivera’s point.
  • Carolina also will consider using Munnerlyn outside in addition to his usual slot role, Person notes. Munnerlyn has far more experience than James Bradberry or Daryl Worley but has spent the majority of his career in the slot. The now-two-time Panther could be competing for an base defense starter’s role while sliding to his customary nickel on passing downs.
  • The Titans worked out Miami tight end David Njoku on Saturday, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. They hold picks 5 and 18 in the first round. Njoku’s soaring value has induced mock drafts to route him to teams picking in the range of Tennessee’s No. 18 selection. The Titans still have Delanie Walker under contract, but he will be 33 in August.
  • Having been connected to Tony Romo throughout the offseason, the Texans are also a candidate to take a quarterback early. Bob McNair said as much earlier this offseason. But Bill O’Brien may not necessarily be ready to start a rookie. “I think it’s tough to play quarterback as a rookie in our league,” O’Brien said this week. “I think that there’s no substitute for experience. So, I think it’s hard to ask a guy to come in straight from college and Day 1 he’s a starter on your team. But I know that there are some really good quarterbacks in this draft that we’re looking at and we’ve met with a lot of them. We’re excited about continuing to get to know them. But, I just think for me as a general rule, that’s tough to start them as a Day 1 guy.”

NFC Contract Details: Fairley, Peppers, Reiff

Let’s take a look at the details of a few recently-signed NFC contracts:

  • Nick Fairley, DL (Saints): Four years, $28MM. $14MM guaranteed. $8MM signing bonus. Base salaries of $1MM, $4.25MM, $5.95MM, $5.95MM (Twitter link via Wilson). $500K available yearly in sack incentives (link via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com).
  • Captain Munnerlyn, CB (Panthers): Four years, $17MM. $8MM guaranteed. $6MM signing bonus. $1MM available via incentives (Twitter link via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).
  • Julius Peppers, DL (Panthers): One year, $3.5MM. $750K available via incentives (Twitter link via Josina Anderson of ESPN.com).
  • Riley Reiff, T (Vikings): Five years, $58.75MM. $26.3MM guaranteed. $11MM signing bonus (Twitter links via Ben Goessling of ESPN.com). Annual $500K Pro Bowl escalator clause (Twitter link via Wilson).
  • Mike Remmers, T (Vikings): Five years, $30MM. $10.5MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune).
  • Dion Sims, TE (Bears): Three years, $18MM. $6MM guaranteed (Twitter link via Adam Caplan of ESPN.com).
  • Stefen Wisniewski, OL (Eagles): Three years, $9MM. $3.25MM guaranteed. $1.75MM signing bonus (Twitter link via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer)

Panthers Sign Julius Peppers

The Panthers are bringing back Julius Peppers back home, agent Carl Carey tweets. The discussions between the two sides were first reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). It’s a one-year deal, according to Peter Schrager of FOX Sports (on Twitter). <a rel=

Peppers, 37, spent the first eight years of his career with the Panthers. In Carolina, he earned five Pro Bowl selections and three First-Team All-Pro nods. He is one of the greatest players in franchise history and he’ll now get to finish his career where it all started.

Of course, a Peppers return is more than just a feel good story. Even at this stage of his career, Peppers is still a very effective player. Last year, he appeared in all 16 regular season games (11 starts) for the Packers and recorded 7.5 sacks. He also started in all three of Green Bay’s playoff games.

All in all, he was on the field for 715 snaps in the regular season and he appears to be as durable as ever. Peppers has only missed two games in his career due to injury (sprained MCL, 2007). He was out of action for four games in his rookie season, but that was due to a suspension.

Peppers played a variety of positions during his tenure in Green Bay, so it’s logical that he could slot in at defensive end, linebacker, or even defensive tackle. The Panthers have a trio of first-rounders manning linebacker, so it’s unlikely that he’ll start there. It’s more likely that he’ll start at defensive end, where he’ll be competing with Mario Addison and Kony Ealy for snaps.

PFR ranked Peppers as the seventh-best free agent edge defender.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents

It’s free agency week! This year, thanks to the salary cap increase, the dollars will be flying and players will make more than you ever could have expected. Our lists for offense and defense rank free agents based on overall ability, but our Top 50 ranks players based on earning power. Here, you’ll get a good sense of what the market will be like this week and who the big fish are.

The league’s “legal tampering” window will open on Tuesday at 11:00am CT. Technically, teams and players aren’t permitted to finalize agreements on contracts during that legal tampering window, but that’s often treated as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule. We will almost certainly see handshake agreements go down on Tuesday and Wednesday before they become official on Thursday, the technical beginning of free agency.

Our list of 2017’s top 50 free agents doesn’t include restricted free agents, or franchise tagged players, since they’re effectively restricted free agents as well.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive right in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2017, along with a few predictions on how much they might earn and what teams could be in the mix to sign them:

1. A.J. Bouye, CB (Texans): Bouye is an overnight sensation, going from unknown to elite talent in the blink of an eye. No one knows exactly what to make of Bouye, but his upside is too much for teams to pass up. The Texans declined to use the franchise tag on the 25-year-old (26 in August), but they’re still hoping to get a deal done this week. The Jets are said to have interest, but it’s not clear if they’ll have the room to get something done. Cornerback-needy teams like the Panthers, Saints, Jaguars, Titans, Bears, and Eagles can be expected to at least kick the tires on this year’s top player in the secondary. Could something like Janoris Jenkins‘ five year, $62.5MM contract ($28.8MM fully guaranteed) from last year be within reach? Jenkins had a longer history of success than Bouye, but consider these facts: Bouye nearly two years younger than Jenkins was at time of signing and the salary cap has risen by about $12MM.
Signed with Jaguars for five years, $67.5MM.A.J. Bouye (vertical)

2. Alshon Jeffery, WR (Bears): He was hurt for most of 2015 and he slumped along with the entire Bears offense in 2016, but his natural ability is still evident and he is a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver. At one point, it seemed like Jeffery could wind up as the league’s highest-paid wide receiver. That won’t be the case, but he will likely get more cash than any other wide receiver in this year’s class. The Eagles and Titans have been hot on his tail for some time now. The 49ers could also get involved and a return to the Bears cannot be ruled out either. Ultimately, Jeffery should wind up fetching at least $10MM per year and perhaps as much as $12MM per year on his next deal.
Signed with Eagles for one year, $9.5MM.

3. Kenny Stills, WR (Dolphins): Jeffery isn’t the only wide receiver who could fetch $12MM per year. Stills isn’t necessarily the best wide receiver on his own team, but he is just on the cusp of his 25th birthday and his ability to stretch the field is tantalizing. It doesn’t sound like the Dolphins are ready to be the highest bidder for his services and it’s not hard to imagine a team like the Eagles landing him. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the potential suitors for Jeffery and Stills: the Eagles, Titans, Bears, and 49ers will probably come calling. The Rams may not have enough room to squeeze in Stills, but they could certainly use a playmaker like him if they do not re-sign Kenny Britt. Stills reportedly likes the West Coast (who doesn’t?) so the Niners and Rams could have a leg up on the others if the bidding is close.
Re-signed with Dolphins for four years, $32MM.

4. Dont’a Hightower, LB (Patriots): The market is capped for non-rush linebackers, but Hightower is pretty much the best at what he does and is also lauded for his intangibles. The Patriots have always embraced the “next man up” philosophy, so it is possible they will allow him to go elsewhere. The Dolphins have been frequently connected to Hightower, but that might be too ambitious for a team that has multiple major needs to address. The Colts might also make sense, but the price might be too rich for their blood. A Patriots return appears to be the most likely outcome, but anything is possible.
Re-signed with Patriots for four years, $35.5MM. 

5. Kevin Zeitler, G (Bengals): Zeitler has age on his side and he’s one of the safest free agents in the top ten after three consecutive years of dominance. Interior offensive linemen don’t get as much love as their counterparts on the outside, but they are still incredibly vital and Zeitler’s next contract will reflect that. If he doesn’t circle back to the Bengals, the Jaguars, Cardinals, Packers, and Seahawks all make varying degrees of sense for Zeitler. From a football standpoint, you can add the Jets to that group too, but I’m not sure they can meet a ~$12MM/year asking price.
Signed with Browns for five years, $60MM.

6. Logan Ryan, CB (Patriots): There are bigger names available at the cornerback position, but Ryan slots ahead of many of them after a career year. It also doesn’t hurt that this fresh-faced Super Bowl champ only just turned 26 in February. If the Patriots don’t tie him down, Ryan’s earning power could conceivably vault him past Trumaine Johnson in terms of guaranteed cash. The Jaguars and Titans would be wise to zero in on Ryan if they can’t land Bouye and it’s possible that some of their evaluators might even prefer Ryan over the Houston standout. Ryan’s next deal will probably pay him eight figures per year and it should be a lengthy pact.
Signed with Titans for three years, $30MM.

7. Terrelle Pryor, WR (Browns): There is strong mutual interest in a new deal between Pryor and the Browns. Still, the Browns passed on the opportunity to franchise tag the Ohio State product and he now appears poised to test the open market. With pretty much just one year to show, how will Pryor fare in free agency? His next deal should pay him at least $10MM/year and he could get up to $12MM/year. In addition to the Browns, the usual suspects for this year’s high-end WRs will explore signing Pryor (say it with me): Eagles, Titans, and 49ers. There’s conflicting word about whether the Steelers will get involved. The Giants are known to have interest, but I don’t think they’ll be splurging on free agents like they did one year ago.
Signed with Redskins for one year, $6MM.

8 .Ricky Wagner, OT (Ravens): There’s already talk of Wagner fetching around $10MM/year and it’s not like this year’s free agent market is flush with young, quality tackles. When you also consider the lack of quality tackles in the draft, it’s apparent that Wagner is about to get PAID, in all caps.Believe it or not, $10MM/year might be his floor. When all is said and done, he’ll be the league’s biggest earner at right tackle. The Bears are particularly interested in Wagner, so he could go from the AFC North to the NFC North this week.
Signed with Lions for five years, $47.5MM.

Calais Campbell (vertical)9. Calais Campbell, DL (Cardinals): Campbell was supposed to be an afterthought in Arizona after the addition of Chandler Jones. Perhaps motivated by a perceived slight, Campbell turned in a stellar year. Now, the Cardinals would very much like to keep him, but they can only go so far as they back up the Brinks truck for Jones and look into retaining other key free agents. If Jones does not agree to a cap-smoothing long-term deal between now and March 9th, the odds of Campbell leaving increase. The Jaguars are said to be a leading contender for Campbell while the Titans, Broncos, Colts, and Bears could also use a force like him. His age (31 in September) gives him a bit of a ceiling in terms of overall compensation, but he should still do nicely this month.
Signed with Jaguars for four years, $60MM.

10. Stephon Gilmore, CB (Bills): In terms of pure talent, Gilmore might be the best cornerback available. Trouble is, no one knows what to make of him after a down 2016. Some have openly theorized that Gilmore was playing it safe to avoid injury in his pivotal contract year. It’s also possible that Buffalo’s injuries in the front seven put undue stress on the secondary. The Bears are reportedly high on Gilmore and he may represent a cheaper option than Bouye or Ryan. A Bills return would also make sense here.
Signed with Patriots for five years, $65MM.

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Top 2017 Free Agents By Position 2.0: Defense

NFL free agency gets underway on Thursday and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. Here is our updated outlook for each defensive and special teams position.

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 franchised players 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 this offseason:

Edge defender:

  1. Nick Perry
  2. Jabaal Sheard
  3. John Simon
  4. DeMarcus Ware
  5. Lorenzo Alexander
  6. Andre Branch
  7. Julius Peppers
  8. Charles Johnson
  9. Datone Jones
  10. Dwight Freeney
  11. Chris Long
  12. Mario Williams
  13. Paul Kruger
  14. Courtney Upshaw
  15. Jarvis Jones

Now that Chandler Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Jason Pierre-Paul have all been assigned the franchise tag, Nick Perry stands as the top edge defender on the free agent market, and is now in a position to cash in. The Packers opted against the franchise tender for the 26-year-old Perry, so he’ll hit the open market following a career year which saw him post 11 sacks."<strong

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among players with youth still on their side, Datone Jones figures to interest clubs thanks to his versatility, as he can vacillate between end and linebacker, while fellow former first-round pick Jarvis Jones is solid against the run. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. Charles Johnson, meanwhile, looks like a good bet to return to the Panthers, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Calais Campbell
  2. Johnathan Hankins
  3. Brandon Williams
  4. Dontari Poe
  5. Chris Baker
  6. Bennie Logan
  7. Nick Fairley
  8. Alan Branch
  9. Jared Odrick
  10. Karl Klug
  11. Terrell McClain
  12. Lawrence Guy
  13. Stacy McGee
  14. Stephen Paea
  15. Sylvester Williams
    Honorable mention: Paul Soliai

Calais Campbell is the best overall player among interior defenders, and though he’s entering his age-31 season and may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe, Campbell will still be highly-sought after as he searches for his last substantial payday Campbell’s agent met with the Cardinals last week, but other speculative fits for the veteran defender include the Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Colts, and Titans."<strong

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Karl Klug), and run stoppers (Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Julius Peppers To Continue Playing

Julius Peppers isn’t done with football just yet. The veteran will return to play in 2017, though his next stop is still uncertain. Julius Peppers (Vertical)

Julius, after taking some time to reflect during the offseason, has decided that he still has the desire and enthusiasm for the game, and his intention is to play a 16th NFL season,” agent Carl Carey told ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky and Vaughn McClure.

Peppers is fifth on the NFL’s all-time career sacks list, and could conceivably move up to No. 4 with another year on the field. The 37-year-old has 143.5 career sacks and needs seven to match Chris Doleman’s 150.5 total. Last year, Peppers finished out with 7.5 sacks, so a repeat effort would leave him all alone at No. 4 on the list. To have any chance of bypassing Kevin Greene (third all-time with 160 sacks), he’ll need at least two more seasons. Of course, Peppers will be taking things one step at a time and his next deal will almost certainly be of the one-year variety.

Our updated rankings of this year’s defensive free agents lists Peppers as one of the ten best edge defenders out there.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 2017 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Thursday, March 9th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

[RELATED: Top 2017 NFL Free Agents By Position: Offense]

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. Chandler Jones
  2. Melvin Ingram
  3. Jason Pierre-Paul
  4. Nick Perry
  5. Jabaal Sheard
  6. James Harrison
  7. John Simon
  8. DeMarcus Ware
  9. Lorenzo Alexander
  10. Andre Branch
  11. Julius Peppers
  12. Charles Johnson
  13. Datone Jones
  14. Mario Addison
  15. Dwight Freeney

The Cardinals have already made it abundantly clear that Chandler Jones will see the franchise tag this offseason, and Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul are also candidates to be tagged by the Chargers and Giants, respectively. If the latter two are able to hit the open market unfettered, however, they both figure to break the bank. Ingram, Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 edge defender, could be a fit for both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, while JPP will be looking for a long-term commitment after signing consecutive one-year deals.Chandler Jones (vertical)

The rest of this year’s crop of free agent pass rushers is a blend of young defenders searching for their first payday and veterans on the hunt for one last contract. Among the players with youth still on their side, Packers edge defenders Nick Perry and Datone Jones figure to interest different clubs, as Perry is a better match for a 3-4 defense while Jones needs to restart his career as a 4-3 defensive end. John Simon has been overlooked while playing alongside the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Whitney Mercilus but could represent a hidden gem, while the Dolphins are reportedly prioritizing Andre Branch.

After managing nine sacks over the first nine years of his NFL tenure, Lorenzo Alexander busted out with 12.5 quarterback takedowns in 2016, and now could be looking for a double-digit annual salary. James Harrison and Charles Johnson, meanwhile, look like good bets to return to Steelers and Panthers, respectively, but DeMarcus Ware could be something of a wild card — after missing 11 games in the past two seasons, does the 34-year-old have enough left in the tank? The same could be asked of Dwight Freeney, who at age-37 posted three sacks in a rotational role for the Falcons.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Kawann Short
  2. Calais Campbell
  3. Johnathan Hankins
  4. Brandon Williams
  5. Dontari Poe
  6. Chris Baker
  7. Bennie Logan
  8. Nick Fairley
  9. Alan Branch
  10. Jared Odrick
  11. Karl Klug
  12. Terrell McClain
  13. Lawrence Guy
  14. Earl Mitchell
  15. Stacy McGee

Unlike the edge defender market, the 2017 cadre of interior defensive lineman shouldn’t be overly affected by the franchise tender. Head coach Ron Rivera recently confessed the Panthers will “probably” have to use the tag on Kawann Short, but the rest of the defensive tackles listed here should be able to hit the open market. Of the remaining defenders, Campbell is the best overall player, but given that he’s entering his age-31 season, he may not cost as much as Johnathan Hankins, Brandon Williams, and Dontari Poe.Johnathan Hankins (Vertical)

Hankins is only 24 years old, and though the Giants are trying to retain him along with the rest of their defensive core, the 6’3″, 320-pound mauler should represent an attractive option to a number of clubs this offseason. Williams, too, offers a massive presence on the inside, while Poe could intrigue clubs based on his first-round pedigree and athleticism (though his play hasn’t always matched his potential). The Redskins’ Chris Baker is a solid, well-rounded defensive tackle, and could constitute a consolation prize for teams that miss out on their top targets.

The rest of the class offers an interesting mix of nose tackles (Bennie Logan), interior pass rushers (Nick Fairley, Earl Mitchell), and run stoppers (Karl Klug, Alan Branch), so clubs hoping to bolster their defensive line should find no shortage of options. Jared Odrick recently hit free agency after being released by the Jaguars, while Terrell McClain, Lawrence Guy, and Stacy McGee could be underrated finds for the right team. McClain, for what it’s worth, has already been linked to the Falcons.

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Julius Peppers Finished With Packers?

Pending free agent Julius Peppers “appears to be done” with the Packers, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Peppers has declined to address retirement in the past, so although Demovsky’s report likely means Peppers won’t re-sign with Green Bay, Peppers may look to continue his career elsewhere.Julius Peppers (Vertical)

[RELATED: T.J. Lang Expects To Reach Free Agency]

Peppers, 37, wrapped up another productive season with the Packers, as he appeared in all 16 games, posted 7.5 sacks, and graded as the league’s No. 35 edge defender, per Pro Football Focus. A rare external signing by Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson, Peppers has delivered on his three-year, $26MM deal by racking up 25 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and 14 passes defensed during his time with the Packers. Peppers, who ranks fifth all-time with 143.5 quarterback takedowns, was coy when asked about retirement late last year.

“I’m not saying that I don’t want to play next year,” said Peppers. “I’m not saying that I do. I’m just saying that right now I don’t know.” 

If he does reach the free agent market, Peppers will join a group of available edge players that includes Chandler Jones (who is likely to be franchised), Melvin Ingram, Jason Pierre-Paul, fellow Packer Nick Perry, James Harrison, Jabaal Sheard, and others.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.