Steven Hauschka

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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NFC Notes: Hawks, Falcons, Pack, Saints

The Seahawks had been in danger of losing a second-round pick for failing to disclose cornerback Richard Sherman‘s “significant” MCL injury during the season, but the NFL decided Monday to let them off with a warning, tweets Mike Garafolo of NFL.com. The league concluded that the Seahawks merely misinterpreted its rules, per Garafolo. The news that Seattle is escaping punishment isn’t particularly surprising, as one of Garafolo’s NFL.com colleagues, Ian Rapoport, reported earlier this month that Seattle wasn’t going to face serious discipline for its violation.

More from Seattle and a few other NFL cities:

  • The Falcons have hired Bush Hamdan as their quarterbacks coach, reports Sporting News’ Alex Marvez (Twitter link). The younger brother of former NFL quarterback Gibran Hamdan, Bush Hamdan spent the previous two seasons as the University of Washington’s wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator. He’s taking over in Atlanta for Matt LaFleur, now the Rams’ offensive coordinator. In doing so, Hamdan will reunite with head coach Dan Quinn, notes Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), as the two worked together at the University of Florida in 2012.
  • The Packers have a decision to make on pending free agent defensive back Micah Hyde, who could seek $4MM-plus per year on his next contract, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. Hyde, who’s coming off an 11-start, three-interception season, has been with the Packers since they selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. If Hyde moves on, Green Bay could turn to Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans, Demovsky suggests. Elsewhere in the secondary, the team will either extend safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or exercise his fifth-year option for 2018, as Demovsky opines that the Pro Bowler could be general manager Ted Thompson‘s best first-round pick since he chose Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Clinton-Dix made a strong case for that honor as a third-year pro in 2016, when he played every defensive snap for the Packers and picked off five passes.
  • Newly signed Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh‘s single-year contract is worth $1.1MM and includes no guaranteed money, per Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. Walsh stands to earn an $800K salary and could make another $300K in bonuses. The Seahawks are likely to bring in another kicker to compete against Walsh for the job this summer. Odds are that won’t be soon-to-be free agent Steven Hauschka, observes Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, considering the five-year Seahawk will likely be out of their price range.
  • Continuing a Seahawks-heavy set of notes, defensive end Cliff Avril tweeted that he underwent successful surgery Tuesday. Avril didn’t specify which type of surgery he underwent, though Condotta points out that the physician who performed the procedure – Dr. William C. Meyers – specializes in core and sports hernia operations. Regardless, Avril should be fine for 2017 and will attempt to build on his first Pro Bowl season – an 11.5-sack, five-forced fumble campaign.
  • Fullback John Kuhn‘s one-year pact with the Saints is a minimum salary benefit deal worth $1.08MM, tweets Nick Underhill of The Advocate. Kuhn will earn a $1MM salary and count $695K against New Orleans’ cap in 2017.

Contract Details: DRC, Hauschka, Edelman

We’ve got plenty more contract details to round up, so let’s dive right in….

  • Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and Albert Breer of the NFL Network pass along several key details on Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie‘s contract with the Giants, which seems to include $12MM in fully guaranteed money, and a little more in salary guaranteed for injury only. Here are the relevant Twitter links to read up on all the specifics.
  • Wilson also shares the specifics on Steven Hauschka‘s three-year contract with the Seahawks (Twitter link), Walter Thurmond‘s one-year deal with the Giants (Twitter link), and Dane Fletcher‘s one-year deal with the Bucs (Twitter link).
  • Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com has been doing a great job all week getting finalized contract details up in his database, and he passed along several new entries today. Among them: The Raiderstwo-year deals for LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck, the Eaglesextension for Darren Sproles, and the Saints‘ five-year pact with Zach Strief.
  • Julian Edelman received a $5MM signing bonus from the Patriots on his new contract, tweets Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
  • John Keim of ESPN.com has the details on Santana Moss‘ minimum salary benefit contract and Clifton Geathers‘ two-year deal with the Redskins.
  • Although Michael Oher‘s four-year deal with the Titans was initially reported as including $9.5MM in guaranteed money, it’s actually a little less than that, and only $6MM is fully guaranteed, with another $3.35MM guaranteed for injury only. Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com has the details.
  • Emmanuel Sanders‘ three-year, $15MM contract with the Broncos features $6MM in guaranteed money and cap hits of $6MM (2014), $4MM (2015), and $5MM (2016), tweets Albert Breer of the NFL Network.
  • Updating his earlier report on Charles Tillman‘s contract with the Bears, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets that the deal includes $150K in performance incentives (based on total interceptions), so it could max out at $3.4MM instead of $3.25MM.
  • Frank Zombo‘s two-year deal with the Chiefs is worth $1.6MM and includes a $100K signing bonus, tweets Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. A minimum-salary deal for Zombo with a $100K bonus would work out to $1.575MM, so either that $1.6MM figure is rounded up, or the linebacker received slightly more than the minimum.

Seahawks To Re-Sign Steven Hauschka

The Seahawks have agreed to terms on a new deal with Steven Hauschka that will keep the standout kicker under contract for the next three seasons, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter). Rapoport reports that Hauschka’s new contract will be worth $9.15MM over those three years, with a guarantee of $3.35MM.

Hauschka, 28, has been with the Seahawks for the last three seasons after getting his NFL career started in Baltimore. He enjoyed his best season in 2013 for the Super Bowl champs, converting all 44 of his extra-point tries as well as 33 of his 35 field goal attempts. He also handled kickoffs for the club, racking up 49 touchbacks.

Assuming Hauschka plays out the three-year deal, it looks like his annual salary would be $3.05MM, which is in line with many of the other deals inked by top kickers this offseason. Nick Folk, Phil Dawson, Graham Gano, and Dan Bailey all signed deals with per-year salaries ranging from $3MM for Folk to about $3.21MM for Bailey.

Franchise Updates: Whitner, Houston, Byrd

With today’s franchise deadline now less than five hours away, let’s round up a few of the latest news items and rumors on the franchise tag from around the NFL….

  • The 49ers won’t be designating safety Donte Whitner as their franchise player, reports Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk (via Twitter).
  • Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston isn’t expected to receive the team’s franchise tag, a source tells Adam Caplan of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
  • The Bills have yet to express anything to Jairus Byrd about the franchise tag, and it appears unlikely that the club will use it, tweets Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Joe Buscaglia of WGR550 also hears that the Bills won’t franchise Byrd (Twitter link).
  • The Packers don’t look likely to use the franchise tag on their own defensive back, says Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette (via Twitter). A source tells Dougherty that the team has yet to mention the possibility to Sam Shields or his agent.

Earlier updates:

  • The Lions aren’t expected to use their franchise tag today, tweets Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew likely would have been the top candidate to be franchised.
  • The Seahawks won’t use their franchise tag on defensive end Michael Bennett, reports Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. We also heard over the weekend that the team doesn’t intend to tag kicker Steven Hauschka, but Seattle is still trying to reach deals with both players, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Twitter).
  • The Titans won’t use their franchise tag on anyone this offseason, tweets Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean. Cornerback Alterraun Verner appeared to be the most viable Tennessee candidate for the tag, but it appears the club will either reach a multiyear agreement with Verner or let him hit the open market.
  • Paul Soliai‘s agent says the Dolphins have told his client he won’t be franchised, according to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald (via Twitter). We heard last week that Miami was unlikely to re-sign Soliai, so the team may turn its attention to bringing back its other key free agent defensive lineman, Randy Starks.

NFC West Notes: Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals

The Jim Harbaugh saga continues. Today we learned that some 49ers players may be getting sick of their head coach. Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “Harbaugh’s act has worn thin in the locker room, particularly among some key “face of the 49ers” type players.” As Killion points out, this information comes close to a week before free agency is set to open. Harbaugh had been reportedly discussed in a potential deal between the 49ers and Browns.

Now, for more news around the NFC West…

  • The Seahawks will not offer the franchise tag to Steven Hauschka, tweets Tom Pelissero of the USA Today. Pelissero mentions that he thought the team might be tempted to use the tag on the journeyman kicker.
  • The Rams have three quarterbacks without contracts and may be looking for two backups for next season, writes Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com. Wagoner believes the team will go with a rookie and a veteran, and thinks that Kellen Clemens is likely to return. He also mentions Mark Sanchez as a possibility, pointing out the connection between Sanchez and Rams’ offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
  • As the salary cap continues to grow, so do the chances that Larry Fitzgerald stays with the Cardinals beyond 2014, writes Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.com.Weinfuss hypothesizes that if the cap increases to north of $140MM, there may be another restructuring of Fitzgerald’s contract that would be more manageable for the team.