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NFL Free Agency Preview: Defense

NFL Free Agency

NFL free agency, the most exciting time of the offseason, is about to begin. The 2019 NFL season officially starts on Monday March 11 and with it, the legal tampering period begins. Teams and players can begin to talk with each other on that day. Then two days later, on March 13, they can negotiate and sign contracts. In this year’s free agency, there are quite a few star players on the market. Specifically, teams have an opportunity to make big-time additions on the defensive side of the ball.

Last year, there were some good players in the free agent class, but only a few legitimate stars. This time around, there are quite a few big names who could change teams.

Here is a brief preview of the 2019 NFL free agency defensive market, broken down by position:

Safety

The position most loaded with available players in NFL free agency this offseason is safety. Even after the Rams signed former Ravens Free Safety Eric Weddle two days ago, there are still a good number of Pro Bowl safeties on the market. The biggest names are former Giants safety Landon Collins and former Seahawks safety Earl Thomas. Collins is about five years younger so will probably receive more money, but signing either of these two would be a big boon to a secondary. Thomas is also coming off a season-ending broken leg, which could lower his value a bit.

NFL Free Agency
Adrian Amos intercepts pass in end-zone during playoff game against the Eagles (Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In addition, other good, young safeties like Tyrann Mathieu, Lamarcus Joyner and Adrian Amos are available. The first two are proven and versatile players who can play deep, down low and even be in coverage. However, they had relative down years last season. Amos, on the other hand, does not have the longevity of success as the other two, but is coming off a great season. While he was playing with a bunch of stars on the Bears, Pro Football Focus had him rated as the eighth-best safety in football last year. It seems like he will end up in Denver where the head coach is Vic Fangio, Chicago’s old defensive coordinator.

These five guys listed are the cream of the crop but there are still more capable starters out there. That includes HaHa Clinton Dix, who was on a path to becoming one of the best safeties in football before falling off the last two seasons. If a team has a hole in the deep secondary, they will probably be able to fill it through free agency.

Cornerback

The cornerback market is not nearly as deep as the other part of the secondary. The top free agent corner this year is Ronald Darby, a physical, ball-attacking player. He is only 25 and will get paid since he is the only true number one outside corner available.

There are also a couple of solid slot corners in Bryce Callahan and Bradley Roby. Roby was great in the slot for the Broncos for four seasons. However, his play took a downward turn after moving to the outside last year. Callahan, the number seven cornerback last season according to Pro Football Focus, played primarily in the slot last year for the Bears. He, just like Amos, might follow Fangio to Denver and take Roby’s old spot in the secondary.

Edge Rushers

Initially, the edge rusher market was set to be unfathomably deep. But expectedly, a bunch of defensive ends including either received the franchise tag or re-signed with their original team. These players include Demarcus Lawrence, Brandon Graham, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford and Frank Clark. Outside of Graham, who signed a three-year deal with the Eagles, the others could theoretically hit free agency if their team rescinds the tag. Most likely, though, they are off the market.

NFL Free Agency
Flowers sacks Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles in 2018 AFC Championship Game (Image by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

However, starting with former Patriot Trey Flowers, there are still some great pass rushers out there who could switch teams. Flowers is only 25 years old and has 14 sacks along with 45 quarterback hits over the past two seasons. He is expected to receive an average value of over $10 million dollars per year, a figure the Patriots most likely aren’t willing to pay.

Other names to watch are Ezekiel (Ziggy) Ansah, who is great when healthy, Alex Okafor and especially Za’Darius Smith. Smith has the potential to be a true star in this league, as he had ten sacks, ten tackles for loss and 25 QB hits last year. He was only a starter in eight of the 16 games, so his numbers could go even higher.

Older veteran pass rushers like Cameron Wake, Terrell Suggs and Clay Matthews are also out there. They probably shouldn’t be full-time starters at this point (outside of maybe Matthews) but can certainly contribute as rotational pieces.

Interior Linemen

In a repeat of last offseason, the best defensive tackle in free agency is Ndamukong Suh. But this year, there are a bunch of other top defensive tackles, starting with Sheldon Richardson, the former Pro Bowler. Suh was fairly quiet during the regular season last year even with all of the attention focused towards his partner Aaron Donald. However, he flipped a switch and brought the heat in the playoffs, proving that he is still one of the top interior linemen football. Wherever he goes, Suh will sign a short-term deal because he is 32 years old. Richardson though, is only 28 and bounced back with a very good season after a poor 2017. As long he can prove his maturity, he could get a big-time contract.

Other defensive tackles available include Malik Jackson, Timmy Jernigan, Malcolm Brown and Corey Liuget. Of the four, Brown and Jernigan have the most upside while Liuget and Jackson can still serve as solid starters on the inside.

Linebackers

NFL Free Agency
Mosley celebrates against Falcons (Image by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Ravens made a surprising decision when they decided not to franchise tag middle linebacker, CJ Mosley. Only 26 years old and already a four-time All-Pro, Mosley is in the discussion for the best middle linebacker in football. While Baltimore will still focus on bringing him back, there is now a chance he joins a new team. If he does, Mosley is the type of impactful player that completely changes the trajectory of a franchise.

Anthony Barr, 26 years old and a four-time Pro Bowler, is also a free agent. He plays on the outside so may not have as much impact as Mosley, but is still a great player. Barr tackles very well, is a good run stuffer, and can rush the passer.

Another middle linebacker on the market is Jordan Hicks, who is coming off four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He is another guy who simply has a nose or the football and is terrific as the captain of the defense. However, Hicks’ issue is that he seems to always be hurt. In his four seasons, Hicks has played more than twelve games just once and has suffered two season-ending lower body injuries. He might end up signing a short-term deal to try and prove he can stay healthy.

Other free agent linebackers include Kwon Alexander, Jaime Collins and KJ Wright, all of whom are above average starters in this league. Outside of safety, linebacker is probably the deepest position in NFL free agency this year.

 

Featured image by AP Photo

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