I took a look at the top 10 available offensive players the other day and wanted to look at the defense. The defense is a much larger group so I made my choices for the top 20 but probably could have easily gone 30 deep. There are plenty of good pass rushers, corners, and safeties that should be available to teams this summer and during the season.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Edge Rusher
One of the most surprising free agents in recent memory Clowney really checks off almost every box that makes teams usually go crazy in free agency but it just hasn’t been there for Clowney this year. Clowney’s primary negative is that his sack numbers are not going to match the expectations which combined with some injury potential may have made teams afraid of a big deal. The question I have at this point is will he look for a team that is featured a lot nationally to showcase or go for the biggest money offer? The big money might be around $10 million but probably less for a better team.
2. Everson Griffen, Edge Rusher
Griffin bounced back big in 2019 which allowed him to void his contract. You can pretty much pencil Griffen in for 8 sacks a season and he is an every down player which makes him a real bargain this late in free agency. He certainly tracks with the other veterans who have signed in recent years for $7+ million, but it will likely be less than that at this stage. Every contender with a need on the edge should take a close look.
3. Logan Ryan, Cornerback
Another surprising available option, Ryan looked to be one of the better corners available but may have fallen victim to initial high contract demands and a pretty big group of available corners. It was clear that the market for the older corner wasn’t there this year when Chris Harris signed for $8.5 million. He has been linked to the Jets, who are desperate for help in the secondary, but at what price? I would guess around $6 million which is probably enticing enough to attract Ryan to a team not considered a playoff team.
4. Eric Reid, Safety
Had the Panthers not gone into cleaning house mode Reid probably would have kept his starting job and still be under contract this season. Reid is still pretty young and teams should expect a bounce back season. For a team with help needed in the secondary he would be a good addition at a pretty low cost.
5. Markus Golden, Edge Rusher
Golden pretty much did everything right last year making the most of a “prove it” year with the Giants, but teams have remained lukewarm on Golden this year. Golden has probably gotten tagged with lucking his way into some sacks last season, but still players like Golden usually get multiple opportunities at reasonable offers. The Giants tendered Golden so he may wind up back in New York on another one year contract.
6. Brandon Carr, Cornerback
Carr fits the mold of the solid dependable veteran. There probably is not a chance of a great season but for a team in need of a quality veteran Carr should be able to step in immediately as a third option. Prince Amukamara recently signing for the minimum may give an idea as to the market for Carr. A perfect fit for a playoff contender looking to load up on affordable options in coverage. I could see Carr as an in-season signing if he is looking for a contending option.
7. Cameron Wake, Edge Rusher
While Wake is nearing the end of his career he should still be able to get after the passer as a situational player. The one year with the Titans did end up bad and likely hurt his standing around the NFL, but I would think he is worth a low cost flier. At the least he should be a good locker room example as someone who really battled hard to not just get into the NFL but to become one of the most consistent rushers of the last 10 years.
8. Damon Harrison, Defensive Tackle
“Snacks” has been so highly touted for years that his lack of interest has certainly been a surprise. Teams don’t generally go overboard for run defenders but Harrison still remains one of the game’s better defenders in that area. He may have been hurt by the talk of retirement at the end of last season which could lead some to question if they are getting Harrison at his best or not.
9. Tramon Williams, Cornerback
Probably the same situational fit as Carr with the exception here being that Williams is even older at 38. While there is the fear that he can fall apart at any time this is a nice player to have as a third option especially if you put him in there with a young group of players he can mentor.
10. Aqib Talib, Cornerback
This is the high upside, high risk player available in the secondary. Talib has had a very good career and was good until last season where he only appeared in 5 games due to injury. There were concerns as to how he looked over those five games but if he is fully healthy and those games were an outlier this will be the best pick up of the bunch.
11. Nigel Bradham, Linebacker
Bradham’s outcome may be tied to what teams are looking for in a linebacker. If they are looking for a traditional player that can attack the line and cut off outside runs on a regular basis he probably is not the guy. If you are looking for assistance in covering running backs out of the backfield he would be a nice veteran pickup.
12. Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback
Dennard never lived up to the potential but in a league where Eli Apple just got a late opportunity for $3 million I’m surprised that Dennard has not gotten a look. He is hurt too often which damages his stock, but there is enough here to take a gamble on him for a year to play in the slot.
13. Timmy Jernigan, Defensive Line
Jernigan had agreed to terms with the Texans but the pending contract was ultimately never finalized. Jernigan is a good talent who is still young and probably has a few years of football ahead of him but the problem is he is too often hurt. It’s a high upside potential but what is the right cost is the question now that he is back in free agency.
14. Ross Cockrell, Cornerback
Cockrell played over 65% of the defensive snaps for the Panthers last season and has been a solid journeyman corner who can fit in plenty of schemes and provide a boost to a coverage unit. There won’t be much upside with Cockrell but the downside isn’t terrible. He could be a good pick up during the year if things go that long.
15. Vinny Curry, Edge Rusher
The problem for Curry has always been that when he has been given an expanded opportunity he has never really given expanded performance. But when you play Curry in the kind of role he excels at- pure pass rushing downs- there are few better. In terms of talent he deserves to be higher but too many people put weight on what he cant do rather than focusing on what he can do. Would be a great pick up for a team with a weak pass rush.
16. Terrell Suggs, Edge Rusher
The “old man” certainly still has it and could probably play until he is 45 if he wanted to. Suggs is probably a better option than Wake and many others on this list, but I dropped Suggs this far because I think there are questions about who he will and will not play for. That probably limits his market especially if the feeling is he only wants a call from the Ravens or Chiefs.
17. Jabaal Sheard, Edge Rusher
Sheard comes off a bad season with the Colts but he is the type of veteran that usually gets picked up in the middle of camp, maybe gets released for the first week to avoid a full salary guarantee and then comes back. Id lean toward him reuniting with a coach who is familiar with him and goes to bat to bring him in.
18. Mike Daniels, Defensive Line
Daniels’ has probably been hurt by the pandemic preventing workouts for a team. This would be a pure hope signing if he comes in during camp. Daniels has been a solid higher end player on the line for years, but the last two years have been wrecked by injury and for many that will be enough to pass on. He may be a player who gets looked at by a playoff team during the season.
19. Marqui Christian, Safety
An all around player that can play both safety positions and chip in at corner. A perfect fit for a team looking for a third safety. Had originally agreed to a contract with the Jets but that fell apart at the last minute. One of the younger players on this list that could be auditioning for a long term role with a team.
20. Clayton Geathers, Safety
Another solid younger player. Geathers is a bit more limited in his role, but with the need for depth in the secondary it would be surprising if he did not get an opportunity somewhere. He would also be someone that could be signed with a potential long view in mind which makes him more valuable than some of the other well known available players.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.