Paul Kruger

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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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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Extra Points: Roman, Giants, Jets, Saints

Former Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whom the team fired Friday, issued a statement to the Buffalo News’ Vic Carucci, saying, “I just want to thank the Pegulas for the opportunity to work in Buffalo, Russ Brandon, Doug Whaley, Rex Ryan and the entire Bills organization — all the great players and coaches I got to work with. I want to thank all the great fans of Buffalo for all and we love the community of Buffalo. I wish the Bills’ organization the best moving forward.”

The Bills’ decision to fire Roman came as a surprise to him, per Carucci, who tweets that the coach was working on an offensive game plan for the club’s Week 3 matchup with the Cardinals when he received the news. Carucci reported earlier Friday that Roman was not a big Ryan fan and had hoped to head elsewhere at the end of the season.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • Rookie Sterling Shepard, who caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ Week 1 win over the Cowboys, has the chance to be the team’s next great wide receiver, argues Jordan Raanan of Former Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara had one workout session with the second-round pick from Oklahoma this summer and came away impressed with his skill set. “His confidence and raw skills … he’s just confident in his ability that he’s going to beat the man across from him,” Amukamara said. “And he’s very sudden at the line, meaning he’s quick. He has a combination of [Victor] Cruz and Odell [Beckham Jr.]’s skill set.” Recently, PFR’s scouting guru Dave-Te Thomas praised Shepard in his rundown of the Giants’ rookie class.
  • Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa could end up as the lone bright spot from ex-general manager John Idzik‘s failed 2014 draft class, opines Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News. Enunwa, a sixth-rounder that year, has begun the season in terrific fashion, having hauled in 13 catches on 14 targets for 146 yards and a touchdown in the Jets’ first two games. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder appeared in 12 contests last year and failed to find the end zone while amassing 22 receptions on 46 targets. Now, along with the excellent tandem of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, Enunwa’s early 2016 breakout has given quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick another quality option in the passing game. “That’s what we didn’t have last year. We didn’t have a No. 3 guy. We didn’t have a No. 4 guy,” said Marshall. “Quincy is our unsung hero.” Fitzpatrick targeted Enunwa six times in the Jets’ 37-31 win over Buffalo on Thursday. Enunwa caught all six passes for 92 yards.
  • The Saints‘ defensive line couldn’t get any kind of pass rush going against the Raiders in Week 1 and one reader asked Herbie Teope of The Times-Picayune if Paul Kruger can be fairly labeled as a bust signing. Kruger can’t be written off as a bad addition, nor can he be blamed for the lack of pressure on Derek Carr, Teope contends. While Kruger was in on 53 percent of the team’s defensive plays on Sunday, he was restricted somewhat by the team’s defensive game plan along with the rest of the front seven. Carr’s mobility kept the Saints from getting too aggressive, but Teope expects to see a much different plan of action against Eli Manning and the Giants in Week 2. Earlier this month, the Saints signed Kruger to a three-year deal that can be voided after one year. The deal comes with a $2.1MM signing bonus and base salaries of $900K, $1MM, and $1MM.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Saints To Sign Paul Kruger

TODAY, 4:30pm: Nick Underhill of the New Orleans Advocate has the details on Kruger’s deal with the Saints.

While the deal is for three years and is accompanied by a $2.1MM signing bonus, the final two years of the contract can be voided. Therefore, in reality, the deal is really for one season.

Kruger will make a base salary of $900K in 2016, and (if he sticks around) will see that salary increase to $1MM in 2017 and 2018. The signing bonus will remain $700K through each of the three years, and the cap hit will decrease from $1.6MM in 2016 to $700K in 2017 and 2018.

AUGUST 31, 8:05am: Former Browns pass-rusher Paul Kruger is signing with the Saints, a source tells Ian Rapoport of (on Twitter). Kruger visited with New Orleans and Kansas City this week but ultimately chose to join up with Sean Payton & Co. Paul Kruger (vertical)

A few years ago, Kruger was a top target of the Saints in free agency. However, they were outbid by the Browns who gave him a five-year free agent deal worth $40.5MM, including $13MM guaranteed. Years later, they have acquired Kruger at a much lower price.

After notching 11.0 sacks in 2014, Kruger only had 2.5 sacks in 2015. Apparently, he struggled on the practice field this summer, prompting Cleveland to release him. Still, the Saints are hoping that Kruger can get back to his 2013/2014 form as they deal with injuries in the front seven.

He still affects the passer,” Payton said on a teleconference Tuesday when asked about Kruger visiting (via Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune). “You see a pressure player. He rushes with power. I think you see a high motor and a guy that plays extremely strong.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Preseason, QBs, Goldson, Kruger

The NFL’s longtime format of four preseason games could be set to change as soon as next year, Jason La Canfora of reports. A lot of talk’s occurred about altering the length of the preseason, with some in league circles wanting to ditch the fourth game. Pointing to the number of injuries to starter-level players that occur during meaningless contests and the public relations hits the NFL’s taken about the safety of its game, others see no reason more than two are necessary.

Additional practices, including joint workouts, are among the ways the league could bypass coaches’ concerns about not having enough evaluation time, La Canfora notes. The league remains committed to implementing a plan for a developmental league or an in-season academy that would help the lower-tier players hone their skills without having to do so for teams come August.

La Canfora believes the preseason could change as soon as next year, and be drastically different within five years, but doesn’t see a spring developmental league on the immediate horizon since the NFLPA would have to sign off on that.

Here’s more from around the league as teams get their backups ready for the final night of exhibition tilts.

  • Multiple quarterbacks being lost for either the season or a significant part of it has inflated the value of backups on the trade market. La Canfora notes the Buccaneers, Bengals and Browns are not likely to part with respective No. 2 signal-callers Mike Glennon, A.J. McCarron and Josh McCown for anything less than a Day 2 draft pick, with the possibility a team holds out for a first-round selection. Each team would prefer to keep their backups, La Canfora writes.
  • Mark Sanchez could qualify for this above discussion, though it’s highly unlikely the Broncos would receive a Day 2 pick for him with $4.5MM and just one season left on his contract. Troy Renck of Denver7 reports (on Twitter) a Sanchez resolution could come by Friday. The Broncos have engaged in efforts to try and trade Sanchez this week after naming Trevor Siemian the Week 1 starter.
  • Dashon Goldson‘s deal with the Falcons is a one-year, $1.5MM deal with $250K guaranteed, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today (on Twitter). $500K of his money is tied to per-game active bonuses.
  • The Saints‘ deal with Paul Kruger is a one-year, $3MM pact worth up to $5MM with incentives, a league source told’s Adam Schefter. Before his release, he was under contract through next season at $6.5MM this year and $7MM next year with Cleveland. The Saints will have to carve out some cap space to make way for Kruger’s deal and they’ll likely do that through contract restructuring.

Zach Links contributed to this report

Paul Kruger To Visit Saints, Chiefs

Paul Kruger might not be out of work for long. The defensive end/outside linebacker is slated to visit the Saints today, as’s Mike Triplett tweets. After that, he’ll visit the Chiefs.Paul Kruger (vertical)

[RELATED: Saints Acquire Chris McCain From Dolphins]

Kruger, released yesterday, was courted heavily by the Saints before he signed a free agent deal with the Browns in 2013. Now, New Orleans has renewed interest years later as their pass rush is lacking. The season hasn’t started yet and the Saints are already missing two key players in their front seven. Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha, a 2015 second-round pick and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, this year’s first-round choice, are both sidelined as the season approaches. Kikaha’s torn ACL rules him out for the season while Rankins will hopefully rejoin the team this fall.

The Saints’ lack of an pass rush was glaring in Friday night’s preseason contest against the Steelers and signing Kruger could go a long way towards fixing that problem.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Cut Paul Kruger, Others

The Browns have released linebacker Paul Kruger, as Mary Kay Cabot of writes. Also in this wave of cuts were kicker Travis Coons, quarterback Austin Davis and tight end E.J. BibbsPaul Kruger (vertical)

Kruger recorded 11.0 sacks in 2014, but last season he saw his sack count drop to 2.5. Over the summer, Kruger didn’t perform as well as the team had hoped and today he became a roster casualty as the club focuses more on its young players. According to Cabot, Friday night’s preseason game against the Bucs was Kruger’s last chance to make a strong impression on the team but he failed to do that as he didn’t get close to sacking starter Jameis Winston.

Kruger came to the Browns in 2013 when he inked a five-year free agent deal worth $40.5MM, including $13MM guaranteed. He was under contract through next season at $6.5MM this year and $7MM next year. Now, the Browns will save millions by cutting him loose.

Meanwhile, the release of Coons means that former Bucs kicker Patrick Murray has won the Browns’ kicking job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Broncos, Browns, Texans

Contract talks between the Broncos and franchise-tagged pass rusher Von Miller are going so poorly that the Super Bowl 50 MVP could consider holding out until November both this year and, if needed, in 2017, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). Cole says that the Broncos’ current offer to Miller is worth only a little more per year than what the Giants gave the far less accomplished Olivier Vernon ($17MM) in free agency and doesn’t contain nearly enough guaranteed money for Miller’s liking.

Here’s more on Denver and a couple other AFC clubs:

  • Broncos quarterback Mark Sanchez is working hard to take the reins in Denver, showing leadership, and impressing his teammates in the process, reports Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today (video link). “I can tell he wants to be a leader on this team. He wants to be our quarterback. He wants to be The Guy. And that’s the type of guy we need,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. Of course, early reviews aside, Sanchez is a long shot to win the Broncos’ starting job. The team could foil his plans to start by trading for the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, adding a high-round draft pick, or signing free agents like Brian Hoyer or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
  • After the Browns released veteran defenders Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner earlier this offseason, linebacker Paul Kruger worried about his own status with the team, he told Mary Kay Cabot of “Yeah I was definitely anticipating something,” the 30-year-old said. “Made me a little nervous, I’m not going to lie.” The Browns could still part with Kruger and save $5.3MM before June 1 or $6.5MM if he’s a post-June 1 cut, but they already have the third-most cap space in the league. Kruger, for his part, now expects to remain in the fold. “Those are discussions that I let my agent and those people take care of but hey, I’m here right now and this is where I’m planning on being come August,” he said. Kruger’s sack total plummeted from 11 in 2014 to 2.5 last season, though he still menaced opposing quarterbacks, finishing with the league’s fourth-most hurries (33).
  • The Texans will bring in Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt and Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams for Wednesday visits, reports Tania Ganguli of ESPN (Twitter links). Derek Watt is the brother of superstar Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt.
  • Wide receivers Cam Worthy and Saalim Hakim, offensive lineman James Brewer and defensive back Dax Swanson will partake in Browns minicamp this week as tryout players, tweets the team’s communications manager, Dan Murphy.

Extra Points: Dolphins, Lynch, Giants, Browns

As the Dolphins get their head coaching search under way, the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero lists a slew of candidates. Chip Kelly, Todd Haley, Josh McDaniels, Jim L. Mora, Jim Schwartz and Hue Jackson are those with NFL head coaching experience. The potential first-timers consist of three offensive coordinators – Carolina’s Mike Shula, son of legendary ex-Dolphins coach Don Shula, as well as Chicago’s Adam Gase and Tampa’s Dirk Koetter. The Dolphins are looking for a leader of men capable of assembling a great staff, according to Salguero.

More from around the league as the first day of 2016 wraps up:

  • Welcome news for the Seahawks as the playoffs near: Running back Marshawn Lynch should return to practice Monday, head coach Pete Carroll said (link via The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta). Lynch has been out since mid-November because of abdominal surgery.
  • Sunday could be head coach Tom Coughlin‘s last game with the Giants. The same holds true for a pair of the club’s defensive institutions, writes Paul Schwartz of the New York Post, as end Jason Pierre-Paul and cornerback Prince Amukamara are both pending free agents. “I’d be lying if I said it’s never come up in my head or someone has never brought it up to me,” said Amukamara, whom the Giants chose in the first round of the 2011 draft. Amukmara added that he’d like to remain a Giant. “I love the organization, definitely treated first class here, so it’s been great.’’ There’s no word on whether the Giants want to retain Amukamara, but there was a report Thursday that they are hoping to keep Pierre-Paul, a 2010 first-rounder.
  • Browns pass rusher Paul Kruger indicated Thursday that the team’s coaching staff hasn’t deployed him properly this year. “Personally, I probably wouldn’t say so. I don’t have too much more to say about it, and I don’t put everything personally this year on that, but I don’t think I was utilized in the best way,” he opined, per Jeff Schudel of the Morning-Journal. Kruger has just 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks, his lowest total since 2010, though Schudel notes that he’s second in the league in quarterback hurries (33, up from 18 in 2014). Assuming Kruger’s with the Browns next season, he’ll probably work under a different staff than the one with which he’s currently disenchanted, as head coach Mike Pettine and coordinator Jim O’Neil are both on the outs.

Breer’s Latest: P. Manning, Browns, L.A.

There’s a widely-held assumption in NFL circles that Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will call it a career after the 2015 season and will subsequently find work as an NFL executive, says Albert Breer of the NFL Network in his latest column. According to Breer, Cleveland and Tennessee are frequently mentioned as potential landing spots for the future Hall-of-Famer, with Indianapolis and New Orleans “not to be completely discounted” either.

It’s not clear whether or not Manning would be immediately effective if he were to transition into a decision-making role in a team’s front office so soon after his playing career ended. Still, as Breer observes, “it’s easy to figure someone with Manning’s football acumen would be able to figure things out on the fly, so long as the right structure existed around him.”

Here are a few more items of interest from Breer’s column:

  • While the Browns made clear to other teams that they were open for business prior to the deadline, some of their potential trade chips – such as Joe Thomas and Paul Kruger – drew interest, while others – like Barkevious Mingo – didn’t. According to Breer, some potential trade partners had trouble determining “who was carrying the hammer” in Cleveland, since GM Ray Farmer said he’d have to check with other members of the organization before engaging in serious discussions.
  • Continuing to address the Browns, Breer notes that, internally, the team doesn’t see chain of command as having been an issue this year, including at the deadline. Other clubs viewed Cleveland as being indecisive “when the heat was turned up” though.
  • There continues to be steady progress on getting the NFL back to Los Angeles, according to Breer, who provides an update from this week’s relocation committee meetings. As Breer details, some owners are concerned about allowing a team to bend relocation guidelines in order to move, so that club must provide a strong case that its existing market has failed.
  • While there’s no guarantee the Seahawks make a second-half run – as they did last season – the team is confident it still has an impressive core in place. “The guys here feel like once they play for each other the way they know they can, there’s something really strong here,” one Seahawks source tells Breer.