NaVorro Bowman

Packers Considered LB NaVorro Bowman

After losing linebacker Jake Ryan for the season due to a torn ACL, the Packers considered NaVorro Bowman and a host of other veteran linebackers, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link). However, it appears Green Bay will hold off on signing a new linebacker for the time being.

Bowman spent the entire 2017 campaign in the Bay Area, but split his time between two clubs thanks to a midseason trade that sent him from the 49ers to the Raiders. The 30-year-old Bowman hasn’t garnered much interest since the free agent market opened in March, although the Raiders have expressed a desire to re-sign him despite adding other veteran ‘backers such as Derrick Johnson, Tahir Whitehead, and Emmanuel Lamur during the offseason.

The Packers are keeping a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine, so Bowman would likely be comfortable in a scheme he’s played for most of his career. But Green Bay instead wants to give its younger players a chance to play, per Pelissero. Rookie third-round pick Oren Burks looks like a clear candidate to receive playing time next to Blake Martinez, while Pelissero indicates Ahmad Thomas (whom the Packers picked up last November) is also an internal favorite.

If Green Bay does end up looking at other free agent linebackers (instead of Bowman), a few options might stand out. Gerald Hodges is familiar with a 3-4 system (and recently took a visit with the Cardinals), Karlos Dansby played under Pettine with the Browns, and Lawrence Timmons offers 140 starts worth of experience.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

There are still plenty of impact free agents left on the board, including some big names. Here’s a look at some of the high-profile veterans that are still looking for work in advance of training camp: 

Kaepernick probably stands as the most talented quarterback left on the open market, but his ongoing collusion case against the NFL complicated matters. It seems unlikely that he’ll land anywhere between now and the start of the season, but friend and former teammate Eric Reid probably has a better chance of signing somewhere, despite being in a similar boat. Recently, the duo was spotted working out together in California.

It seems like just yesterday that Murray was the league’s most fearsome running back. Unfortunately, Murray’s age has caught up to him to some extent and he was overshadowed last year in Tennessee by the younger Derrick HenryThe Titans dropped Murray in March and he has not found a new NFL home despite meeting with the LionsSeahawks, and Dolphins since his release. Recently, the Saints tried to include Murray in their cattle call for running backs, but he declined the invite.

Peterson has lobbied the Texans, Saints, Packers, Panthers, Dolphins, and Rams to sign him, but we have yet to hear of any reciprocated interest from those clubs. It’s possible that Murray and Peterson won’t sign unless a running back injury opens up an opportunity for them. Teams could also steer clear of Peterson altogether given his desire for a starring role despite his lack of star performance over the last two years.

Bryant is the biggest name on this list, but we shouldn’t expect to see him sign anywhere until July. There have been conflicting reports on his market, but the latest word indicates that he is receiving interest, despite concerns about his demeanor in the locker room.

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The Best Remaining NFL Free Agents

The biggest names in this year’s free agent class such as Kirk Cousins, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, and Trumaine Johnson have long been spoken for, but plenty of notable players remain on the board here in June. With a hat tip to James Palmer of NFL.com (on Twitter), here’s a look at some high-profile veterans who are still seeking work this summer: 

Of course, Kaepernick’s situation is more complicated than the rest. Lately, the only updates we’ve heard regarding Kaepernick have been tied to his pending collusion case against the NFL. Former teammate Reid is certainly closer to the NFL radar after an April meeting with the Bengals, but he also believes teams are shying away from him due to his participation in anthem protests. Reid filed a grievance of his own against the NFL in May and has been spotted working out with Kaepernick.

Unfortunately for Murray and Peterson, filing a grievance for age bias against running backs is not an option. The Titans kicked Murray to the curb in March and he has not found a new NFL home despite meeting with the Lions, Seahawks, and Dolphins since his release. Peterson has lobbied the Texans, Saints, Packers, Panthers, Dolphins, and Rams to sign him, but we have yet to hear of any reciprocated interest from those clubs. Given Peterson’s reluctance to be on the lower end of a timeshare in New Orleans last year, one has to imagine that Peterson will not be a real consideration for teams unless a starter gets injured in camp. Murray could be a more attractive option for teams. Although he averaged just 3.6 yards per tote with the Titans last year, he contributed in the passing game with 39 receptions.

Bryant says he has no regrets about turning down a three-year, $21MM offer from the Ravens, but right now it looks like he blew his opportunity at a solid free agent deal. Reportedly, many teams are unwilling to consider him for even the league minimum, so it seems unlikely that he’ll find the lucrative one-year contract he’s seeking. On the plus side, his former employer says multiple teams have checked in on him.

Things have been eerily quiet for Maclin after he was displaced by the Ravens, though the Eagles and Cowboys considered him internally in the spring. We also haven’t heard a peep about Decker since his spring meetings with the Raiders and Ravens. Both players are roughly in the same boat – they were 1,000-yard receivers in 2015, but they are on the wrong side of 30 and haven’t done much on the field in the last two years. Still, both profile as low-risk/high-reward signings.

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Bay Area Notes: Johnson, Hurst, Miller, DBs

It sounds like Jon Gruden and Derrick Johnson hit it off in a one-on-one meeting, which led to the Raiders signing the 14th-year linebacker earlier on Friday. Johnson’s deal is a one-year agreement, Terez Paylor of Yahoo.com reports, adding that it’s worth up to $3MM. Gruden looks to have been a Johnson fan for a while during his years as ESPN’s Monday Night Football analyst, and that intel may have played a key role in the 35-year-old off-ball ‘backer landing with Oakland.

I’m one of Gruden’s favorite players — he’s always had a soft spot for me,” Johnson said, via Paylor. “He’s always said that over the years. I’m not playing for a rebuilding-type year. I sensed an urgency from Coach Gruden that winning is important right now.”

The Chiefs’ all-time leading tackler, Johnson has not played in a 4-3 defense since the 2008 season. Prior to the Chiefs switching to the 3-4 look in 2009, Johnson worked as an outside linebacker with Kansas City during his first four seasons. The Raiders signed Tahir Whitehead as well. He, Bruce Irvin and Johnson could be the Raiders’ three linebacker starters, despite Johnson telling Paylor he’s not quite the same player he was since the second of his severe Achilles injuries shut him down late in the 2016 season.

Here’s the latest out of the Bay Area:

  • Gruden, though, did not rule out a NaVorro Bowman reunion (Twitter link via Scott Bair of NBC Sports Bay Area). Bowman is nearly six years younger than Johnson but also carries injury baggage. However, Bowman graded as Oakland’s best linebacker by a wide margin last season. The Raiders have maintained they’re still interested in Bowman throughout the offseason, but they’ve now added four linebackers — with Emmanuel Lamur and Kyle Wilber coming to California as well — since Bowman became a free agent.
  • The Raiders began their rookie minicamp with Kolton Miller working at left tackle, where he’ll likely be Donald Penn‘s backup. Gruden confirmed the team’s first-round pick will start his career there, per NFL.com’s James Palmer (on Twitter), despite the team being in need of an immediate right tackle starter. Third-round pick Brandon Parker will work at that position.
  • Maurice Hurst Jr.‘s been cleared for workouts and participated in the first day of the Raiders’ minicamp. Gruden said (via Bair, on Twitter) the team doesn’t have any reservations about the Michigan product, whose heart issues played a major role in him sliding into the fifth round. Gruden believes the Raiders landed the top two interior pass rushers in the draft in Hurst and second-round pick P.J. Hall, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (via Twitter).
  • The 49ers plan to move third-round pick Tarvarius Moore from cornerback to safety, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee notes. The Southern Mississippi alum ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at his pro day, and his 6-foot-2 frame also makes John Lynch believe he could stick at corner. Interestingly, 5-9 safety D.J. Reed — an outside corner at Kansas State — will compete with K’Waun Williams for the slot job, per Barrows, but also practice at safety. San Francisco’s brass is clearly unafraid to shuttle its defensive backs around, having Jimmie Ward ready to potentially switch positions for the fourth straight offseason.
  • Would-be third-year DB Dexter McCoil broke a bone in his foot training independently, leading the 49ers to waive him with an NFI distinction, Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area tweets. A 16-game Charger participant in 2016 and having played eight games with the 49ers last season, McCoil is facing a four- to six-week recovery period, per Maiocco.

AFC West Notes: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders

Despite visiting with each of this draft’s top four quarterbacks and being consistently rumored to have a couple of them on their radar, the Broncos did not select one throughout the draft. And they aren’t planning on bringing another one in before training camp. John Elway said Paxton Lynch and Chad Kelly will compete for the backup job behind Case Keenum, per Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. This is an interesting approach considering both players are coming off injury-marred years. Lynch will be the only active-roster Broncos QB returning since the team let Brock Osweiler depart in free agency and traded Trevor Siemian. Denver is evidently set at the game’s marquee position, putting faith in Keenum.

Here’s the latest from the AFC West:

  • The Raiders had a busy weekend, making multiple trades for veteran players and taking multiple high-ceiling, low-floor defenders. But they did not invest big in off-ball linebackers, and Reggie McKenzie said (via Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com) a NaVorro Bowman acquisition remains on the table. This has been the GM’s party line for a bit now, but it’s notable that stance remains after the Raiders brought in Tahir Whitehead to start and multiple other veteran backups. Bowman started for the Raiders most of last season and was by far their top-graded linebacker, in the opinion of Pro Football Focus.
  • In selecting a player with possible first-round talent in the fifth, the Raiders may have a steal in Maurice Hurst Jr. But the Michigan-developed defensive tackle will be subject to annual heart evaluations after the issue that caused his stock to slip. However, Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal notes (via Twitter) the Raiders do not view this as a flier or year-to-year proposition. Hurst was cleared going into the draft after being flagged for a heart problem at the Combine, but it’s clear all 32 teams were not in agreement on Hurst being a safe bet.
  • Each of the Chiefs‘ six draft picks went to addressing their defense, which ranked 30th in DVOA last season. But Louis Riddick of ESPN reported during the draft sixth-round pick Kahlil McKenzie — Reggie’s son — will begin his career at guard despite playing defensive tackle at Tennessee. The Chiefs lost Bennie Logan this offseason but drafted Derrick Nnadi out of Florida State to potentially move into that role. Kahlil McKenzie, then, will attempt to carve out a spot on the offensive line.

Raiders Trying To Re-Sign LB NaVorro Bowman

The Raider will meet with NaVorro Bowman‘s agent at this week’s league meetings in an effort to re-sign the veteran linebacker, according to Vic Tafur of the Athletic (Twitter link).

[RELATED: Raiders Interested In CB Leon Hall]

Bowman, 29, hasn’t drawn much interest since the market opened earlier this month, as Oakland is the only club to which he’s been linked. But he’s clearly the best off-ball linebacker who remains unsigned after fellow free agents such as Nigel Bradham, Avery Williamson, Zach Brown, and Anthony Hitchens all landed contracts.

The Raiders signed Bowman last October after he was released by the 49ers, and he went on to start 10 games for the club. In 15 total games last season, Bowman posted 80 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one interception while grading as the NFL’s No. 11 linebacker, per Pro Football Focus. Bowman said in December that he’d prefer to re-sign with the Raiders, noting his affinity for the Bay Area.

Oakland has already made one major addition to its linebacking corps this offseason by inking former Lion Tahir Whitehead to a three-year deal. Whitehead has experience at each of the linebacker positions, but he’d shift to the outside to make room for Bowman if the latter is re-signed.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

The Top 25 Remaining NFL Free Agents

Many of this year’s top free agents came off of the board during the legal tampering period, including Kirk Cousins, Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, and Allen Robinson. Still plenty of the names from our list of the Top 50 Free Agents remain, including some new additions. Here’s a rundown of the players to keep an eye on as free agency officially begins, ranked roughly by their expected contract value:

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT (Dolphins): The Dolphins bailed on Suh’s mega contract midway through, freeing him up to sign another high-priced contract. He won’t get anything close to a six-year, $114MM deal this time around, but he should settle in at an AAV that keeps him among the best compensated players at his position. Last year, Pro Football Focus ranked Suh fifth among 122 interior defenders. 

2. Tyrann Mathieu, S (Cardinals): The Cardinals worked feverishly to hammer out a new contract with the Honey Badger, but the two sides could not come to terms on a deal to lessen his 2018 cap hit. He has been released, allowing him to hit free agency as the best safety available. The Jets are not believed to be interested, despite his connection with head coach Todd Bowles. The other tenant of the Meadowlands, however, could have interest thanks to the presence of former Arizona DC James Bettcher.

3. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson may have lost some luster following the trade that sent him from the Jets to the Seahawks, but he among the best defensive tackles currently available. With plenty of cap space remaining, Richardson should find a lucrative deal, though it probably won’t come from Seattle. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will fetch about $9MM/year.

4. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe missed out on a big payday last year when teams shied away from him due to lingering back issues. After turning in his second consecutive 16-game season, things could be different this time. For the record – Poe has missed only two regular season games over the course of his career, so he boasts a better attendance record than a lot of other veterans on this list. He’s unlikely to circle back to Atlanta.

5. Josh Sitton, G (Bears): With Andrew Norwell off of the board, Sitton stands as the best guard on the market. He’s missed six games over the last two years, but he has four Pro Bowl appearances to his credit. He’s set to meet with the Dolphins.

6. A.J. McCarron, QB (Bengals): It’s difficult to peg McCarron’s value heading into free agency. Outside of some quality starts in 2015, there isn’t much film out there on McCarron, despite that fact that he has spent four years in the NFL. Hue Jackson was itching to reunite with McCarron, but the Browns no longer seem a likely destination for him after the acquisition of Tyrod Taylor. It’s also hard to see him landing with the QB-needy Jets after they re-signed Josh McCown and added Teddy Bridgewater. McCarron will find a home, but it may not be as a starter. [UPDATE: McCarron has signed with the Bills]

7. E.J. Gaines, CB (Bills): Injuries in the fall limited Gaines to just 11 games last season, but he proved to be a quality return for the Bills in the Watkins trade, in addition to the second-round pick that came with him. Gaines graded out as the No. 13 cornerback in the league last year, per PFF, and he just turned 26 in February. Gaines missed all of ’15 due to injury and didn’t look all that sharp in ’16, but timing is everything in free agency. You can expect multiple teams to call on him and the Texans could still have interest, even after inking Aaron Colvin.

8. Eric Reid, S (49ers): Reid is just 26 and is undoubtedly a starting quality safety. He has both youth and versatility on his side, but it’s possible that his anthem protest participation could hurt him when it comes to some suitors. Injuries over the last two seasons will hurt his market as well.

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Raiders Interested In Brown, Bowman

Jon Gruden loves his veterans, and the Raiders have their eye on a pair of experienced linebackers. Oakland has expressed interest in re-signing NaVorro Bowman and they have also shown interest in free agent linebacker Zach Brown, according to Michael Gehlken of the Review Journal (on Twitter). 

Gruden may have some familiarity with Browns since he played under his brother, Jay Gruden, in 2017. With the Redskins, Brown amassed 127 total tackles and 2.5 sacks, making him an excellent value on his one-year deal. This time around, Brown says he wants to be paid as a top-three inside linebacker. It’s unlikely that he’ll reach that lofty goal.

Bowman, meanwhile, has said that he wants to remain with the Raiders. New Raiders defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is a supporter of his, so it’s possible that he’ll stay put. We have Bowman and Brown ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, amongst this year’s top free agent linebackers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Top 50 NFL Free Agents For 2018 1.0

There will be tons of free agents available in March, but only a some of them can be real difference makers for your favorite team. To help separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve assembled our early list of the Top 50 NFL Free Agents for 2018.

Our early version of the NFL’s top 50 free agents may include players who will be re-signed between now and March 14. When we update this list next week, a few of the big names will be spoken for while new high-profile names will join the fray as veterans become cap casualties.

Recently, we broke down the top free agents by position on both offense and defense, but our rankings below may not have each player listed in the same order. Those position lists took the short-term value of a player into account more heavily, meaning many players in their 30s received prominent placement. Our overall top 50 list favors longer-term value, and is more about forecasting which players will be in highest demand when it comes to years and dollars.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s dive in! Here are Pro Football Rumors’ top 50 NFL free agents for 2018:

1. Kirk Cousins, QB (Redskins): At long last, Kirk Cousins is headed towards unrestricted free agency. You may or may not regard Cousins as a star, but he is the best quarterback in recent history to reach the open market and QB-needy teams will be rolling out the red carpet for him. The Jets, Vikings, Broncos, and Cardinals have been named as the top suitors for his services, but the NFL is full of surprises this time of year and we would not be surprised to see other teams get involved. The cash-flush Browns are reportedly keen on signing a lower-cost vet and drafting a QB early, but who’s to say they won’t change course and get in on the Cousins sweepstakes? The Bills, Giants, Dolphins, Bucs, and Colts could also consider kicking the tires here, but there are obstacles in that bunch ranging from established starters already in place (Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Andrew Luck) to financial constraints. No matter where he goes, it’s almost certain that Cousins will become the league’s highest-paid player of all-time. That is, until another top-tier QB signs a contract extension soon after.

2. Drew Brees (Saints): There are multiple possibilities for Cousins but it’s hard to see a scenario in which Brees actually leaves the Saints. Brees has already said that he does not plan on testing free agency, so he’ll likely put pen to paper before things begin on March 14. As far as we can tell, the only way Brees will think about leaving is if he is lowballed to an extreme degree by the Saints, but that seems improbable based on his history with the team

3. Case Keenum (Vikings): One year ago, no one ever would have expected Keenum to be one of 2018’s most sought-after free agents. The Vikings signed the former Rams signal caller to a one-year, $2MM deal in March with the idea that he would back up Sam Bradford and, eventually slide down to third on the depth chart when/if Teddy Bridgewater returned to full health. When Bradford went down in September, Keenum exceeded all expectations and put together the best season of his career. The 30-year-old graded out as Pro Football Focus’ ninth-ranked QB in 2017, putting him above the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford, and Tyrod Taylor. With Keenum at the helm, the Vikings earned a first-round bye and beat the Saints in a playoff thriller before succumbing to the Eagles in the NFC championship game. Of course, after four seasons of mediocrity, teams are wondering whether this was an aberration or a real sign of things to come. Teams know that Keenum is not a lock, but he’s also the best Plan B for any team that loses out on Cousins or doesn’t have the means to sign him.

4. Andrew Norwell, G (Panthers): There was a time when tackles were the only offensive linemen to really cash in on the open market. That’s no longer the case, as evidenced by the contracts of Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60MM) and Kelechi Osemele (five years, $58.5MM). Osemele inked his free agent deal with the Raiders in 2016 and Zeitler signed his in the 2017 offseason. Given the cap increase and the natural progression of the market, Norwell figures to reset the market for interior linemen. Keenum figures to gross no less than $20MM/year on his next contract, so he’s slotted behind him, but an average annual value of $13-14MM is not out of the question for the former undrafted free agent.

5. Nate Solder, OT (Patriots): Solder isn’t coming off of his best season and he might be the least sexy name in the top ten. Still, there’s a dearth of tackles league-wide and Solder has been among the league’s best at his position for quite some time. The Patriots are bracing for Solder to leave as they fear he’ll garner offers of $12MM/year. No other tackle in this year’s free agent crop is even close to him in terms of ability, so we’re also buying into the hype. Injuries contributed to Solder’s up-and-down season, particularly early on, so teams will take that into account when evaluating him.

6. Allen Robinson, WR (Jaguars): The Jaguars opted against using the franchise tag on Robinson, which is understandable since they have limited cap space. Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with an ACL tear, but his 2015 season (and even his so-so 2016 campaign) gives teams reason to believe that he can be a quality WR1. Robinson is one of only two such players on the unrestricted market, so expect him to get paid. Robinson probably couldn’t do worse than Kenny Britt‘s four-year, $32MM deal with the Browns from last season (and he should do a whole lot better), but if he is underwhelmed by the multi-year offers he receives, he could always go the Alshon Jeffery route. Jeffery inked a one-year, $9.5MM prove-it deal with the Eagles and that turned out to be a smashing success for both parties. Jeffery was rewarded with a four-year, $52MM extension in December, so Robinson’s camp will surely be open to a pillow contract if necessary. 

7. Sammy Watkins, WR (Rams): Some may view Robinson and Watkins as 1A and 1B in this year’s wide receiver class, particularly since Robinson missed all of 2017 and Watkins, despite his own injury history, played in all but one of the Rams’ games. Unfortunately, Watkins did not have the platform year he was hoping for as he caught just 39 passes for 593 yards. If we strike Robinson’s lost year and Watkins’ down year from the record, the breakdown favors the Jags receiver – Robinson averaged 77 receptions for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns per 16 games in that set versus Watkins’ 66 grabs for 1,063 yards and seven scores. These two should come pretty close in average annual value, but we give the edge to Robinson.

8. Trumaine Johnson, CB (Rams): Players often bemoan the franchise tag, but Johnson can’t really complain after receiving two consecutive tags from the Rams and earning more than $30MM between 2016 and 2017. The Rams, rightfully, did not consider a third consecutive tag for Johnson at a cost of ~$20MM and they already have his replacement in Marcus Peters. That’s one suitor down, but plenty of other teams will be eager to speak with Johnson, who profiles as the best cornerback in a deep class.

9. Sheldon Richardson, DT (Seahawks): Richardson gave the Jets lots of headaches, but he also gave them high-end production. He didn’t quite match that production in Seattle, but Richardson is positioned for a massive payday anyway since impactful defensive linemen are at a premium. Our own Dallas Robinson estimates that Richardson will garner about $9MM/year, but I would say that is his floor. The top-end of free agency rarely yields team-friendly deals, so Richardson could easily creep into eight figures in AAV, particularly since he does not turn 28 until November.

10. Dontari Poe, DT (Falcons): Poe thought he was in for a monster contract last offseason, but concerns about his lingering back issues forced him to take a one-year, $8MM deal with Atlanta. Teams may still worry about his back being a ticking time bomb, but perhaps they’ll view him in a different light now that he has played back-to-back 16 game seasons and has only missed two regular season contests over the course of his career.

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Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, 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 on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

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 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more