It’s been a little over a month since the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl. The offseason has started with a lot of rumors and speculation, especially involving the quarterback position. The offseason is moving very quickly as the league year starts in less than two weeks.
The 2021 NFL league year starts on March 16 at 4 pm ET. This is when teams can officially sign free agents and trades also become official. All major moves that occur before that point will not be official until the start of the league year.
There is a decent amount of time until the offseason begins. But it is never too early to speculate on where some of the biggest free agents could end up. After evaluating every team’s major needs and taking into consideration this year’s salary cap here is where the NFL’s Top-25 Defensive Free Agents could play next season.
25. Emmanuel Ogbah, Edge Rusher
A free agent who has received some much-deserved recognition as one of the best free agents available is Miami Dolphins pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. He has quietly been one of the best pass rushers in the league since signing with the Dolphins in 2020. After stints in Cleveland and Kansas City before playing in Miami the past two seasons, Ogbah has an opportunity to get a large payday and find his long-term home of the future, if it isn’t with the Dolphins.
Ogbah had 41 combined tackles (26 solo tackles), 12 passes defended, nine sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery this past season. Ogbah’s nine sacks match his career-high that he had the season prior. He has developed into a consistent pass rusher during his time with the Dolphins.
It will be interesting to see if the firing of Brian Flores will have an effect on Ogbah’s decision to leave Miami. The speculation around Ogbah is that there is a good chance he leaves the Dolphins this offseason. If he was to leave Miami a potential landing spot for him could be the Indianapolis Colts. Edge rusher is now a major need for the Colts now that Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyquan Lewis, and Kemoko Turay are going to hit free agency.
Ogbah can slide into the defensive end position opposite 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye in Gus Bradley’s defense. Chris Ballard has been very conservative when it comes to spending money on free agents from other teams. However, spending the money on an underrated productive player like Ogbah feels like a signing that Ballard would be all over to strengthen Indianapolis’ pass rush. The defensive line of DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye, Grover Stewart, and Emmanuel Ogbah could break havoc on the rest of the AFC.
Prediction: Emmanuel Ogbah signs a three-year $15 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts.
24. Marcus Maye, Safety
Before the 2021-22 NFL season New York Jets safety had a case to be considered a top-10 potential defensive free agent. However, this past season Maye’s stock went down which could be part of the reason why New York didn’t franchise tag him for the second season in a row. He dealt with some legal issues off the field and was put on Injured Reserve after tearing his Achilles in Week 9.
In six games last season Maye had 46 combined tackles (30 solo tackles), two passes defended, and a sack. It is likely that Maye has to take a one-year prove-it deal to show the league that he deserves the large contract many thought he deserved after last season.
One destination that makes a lot of sense for Maye would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They could lose starting safety Jordan Whitehead in free agency. Also, Maye would reunite with the head coach who drafted him in Todd Bowles who is the defensive coordinator for the Buccaneers. If Bowles can get the most out of Maye in his defense they could be adding a Pro Bowl-caliber safety at a great value.
Prediction: Marcus Maye signs a one-year $8.6 million deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
23. Carlton Davis, Cornerback
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis has asserted himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league over the last few seasons. Davis has been responsible for covering the opposing team’s number one receivers which is high praise considering he plays for a talented young secondary. Now that he is going to hit the market he will definitely be paid like one of the best cornerbacks in the league.
In ten games last season Davis had 39 combined tackles (33 solo tackles), 11 passes defended, an interception, and a fumble recovery last season. Even though Davis has never played a full season he is capable of being recognized as a Pro Bowler when healthy.
The New York Jets would be a prime landing spot for Davis for a few reasons. It is no secret that the Jets need to add to their young cornerback group this offseason. They are lacking a cornerback that can cover opposing number one receivers and lock them down with some consistency. It would be smart for New York to sign a cornerback like Davis because he is an extremely talented player, but will not be getting the contracts J.C. Jackson or Stephon Gilmore would be getting.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme doesn’t rely on elite cornerback play but focuses more on the pass rush. Davis is a young cornerback the Jets could invest in to fill their needs but not totally break the bank to bring onto the roster.
Prediction: Carlton Davis signs a four-year $56 million deal with the New York Jets.
22. Donte Jackson, Cornerback
The Carolina Panthers had one of the most talented cornerback rooms in recent memory this past season. After drafting South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn with the eighth overall pick, Carolina traded for 2020 first-round pick C.J. Henderson. Then a few weeks later after Horn was lost for the season Carolina traded for former defensive player of the year Stephon Gilmore. The forgotten man in this Panthers cornerback group last year was Donte Jackson.
Since being drafted in 2018, Jackson was been a ballhawk for the Panthers. Jackson had ten interceptions over the previous three seasons before this past year. During the 2021-22 season, Jackson had 61 combined tackles (50 solo tackles), ten passes defended, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.
Carolina may want to build their secondary around Horn and Henderson who are both still on rookie contracts. So if the Panthers don’t retain Jackson the Cincinnati Bengals could be a destination for him this offseason. The Bengals will likely cut Trae Waynes and find a better starting cornerback than Eli Apple to play opposite Chidobe Awuzie. Jackson could be attracted to play with two other LSU Tigers in Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase.
Cincinnati has not been shy to spend money on defense in recent years and they need to upgrade the outside cornerback position. The secondary made up of Donte Jackson, Chidobe Awuzie, Jessie Bates, and Vonn Bell would be one of the more talented units in the league. They are all capable of forcing multiple turnovers. Jackson shouldn’t be expected to be a lockdown cornerback. However, he will be a solid player that won’t be a liability and could force turnovers throughout the season.
Prediction: Donte Jackson signs a three-year $42 million deal with the Cincinnati Bengals.
21. De’Vondre Campbell, Linebacker
Seemingly out of nowhere Green Bay Packers De’Vondre Campbell had an outstanding season that returned him to relevancy. Campbell was not signed till the summer and was not guaranteed to make the Packers roster. Originally Campbell was known for emerging as a potential star as a member of the Atlanta Falcons defense under Dan Quinn. However, after a lackluster season in Arizona last year, Campbell was left unsigned and did not have a clear NFL future.
Campbell was named First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his career for his performance last season. He had 146 combined tackles (102 solo tackles), two forced fumbles, two sacks, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery. Campbell was seventh in the league in combined tackles and tied for third in the league in solo tackles.
It is unlikely that Campbell returns to Green Bay because of the lack of salary cap space the team has available to sign free agents. This is Campbell’s best opportunity to get a massive contract. The team that has a need for an inside linebacker and would pay Campbell like one of the league’s better linebackers is the Miami Dolphins.
Last offseason Miami made a great trade to upgrade the inside linebacker position by trading pass-rusher Shaq Lawson to the Houston Texans for former Pro Bowler Bernardrick McKinney. By the end of the preseason, McKinney was cut from the Dolphins and Lawson was traded to the New York Jets.
Miami could take another big swing at linebacker by trying to add Campbell to pair with Jerome Baker in the middle of the field. Both Campbell and Baker are tackling machines but both compliment each other because Baker is a great pass rusher while Campbell is better in coverage.
Prediction: De’Vondre Campbell signs a three-year $45 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.
20. Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker
The career of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been a roller coaster, to say the least. After an outstanding rookie season in the 2018-19 season, Vander Esch struggled with multiple injuries and was eventually replaced by 2021 first-round pick Micah Parsons.
Vander Esch was voted to the Pro Bowl and was named Second Team All-Pro in his rookie year. Four years later he is hitting the market as a free agent. He was able to stay healthy for the Cowboys this season but was limited to a smaller role. Vander Esch had 77 combined tackles (48 solo tackles), two passes defended, and an interception.
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator may be comfortable replacing Vander Esch who did not have a major role for his defense this past season. One team that could sign Vander Esch and transform him into the player he was in his rookie season is the New England Patriots.
Doesn’t Vander Esch feel like the kind of player Bill Belichick would bring in on a cheaper contract and coach them into the defensive star they once were? The Patriots have a major hole at linebacker with both Dont’a Hightower and Jawhaun Bentley hitting free agency. Vander-Esch is younger than Hightower, does everything he could do, and is a massive upgrade (when healthy). It may be more beneficial for Vander Esch to take a cheaper contract in New England than sign a larger contract with another team that won’t try to coach him back to the player he was earlier in his career.
Prediction: Leighton Vander-Esch signs a two-year $18 million deal with the New England Patriots
19. Justin Reid, Safety
This past season was a weird one for Justin Reid. He was the most talented homegrown player on a defense in Houston that was made up of cheap veteran depth players. Nothing was weirder than when Reid was benched against the New York Jets for a disagreement with the coaching staff. There is a chance Reid returns to the Texans after promoting defensive coordinator Lovie Smith to head coach. However, Reid should take the opportunity to leave the dysfunctional Texans organization while he can.
Overall Reid has developed into a really good pro since being drafted in the third round out of Stanford. This past season in 13 games Reid had 66 combined tackles (41 solo tackles), four passes defended, two interceptions, and a forced fumble.
At 25 years old Reid is an extremely young player with the potential to continue to grow into a better player. He could be a nice piece for a growing young defense looking to improve on the backend. The Seattle Seahawks currently had the third most cap space available and could need to add a free safety this offseason. Former Pro Bowl safety Quandre Diggs may be out of the age range of players the Seahawks want on their roster now they want to rebuild.
Reid may be attracted to the opportunity to play for Pete Carroll’s defense that has groomed so many stars on defense. The Pairing of Jamal Adams and Justin Reid would be one of the best young safety tandems in the league. Even though Reid would be leaving one rebuild for another, he could trust that the Seahawks organization will be more competent than the Texans.
Prediction: Justin Reid signs a four year $46 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks
18. Anthony Barr, Linebacker
For the second time in his career, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr is going to hit the market as a free agent. Last time Barr was a free agent he agreed to join the New York Jets but then decided to resign with the Vikings for a lesser contract. Barr prioritized winning and playing in Mike Zimmer’s scheme over the money he’d get in New York. Now that Minnesota has brought in a new administration, it will be interesting to see how Barr views returning to the Vikings.
At this point of his career, Barr appears to no longer be the perennial Pro Bowler he was earlier in his career. In thirteen games last season Barr had 72 combined tackles (38 solo tackles), five passes defended, three interceptions, 2.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries. Even though Barr isn’t an elite linebacker anymore he is still a great starter for a defense when healthy.
It feels like the Vikings may want to chip away at Mike Zimmer’s defense which could start with letting Barr walk this offseason. Even though he could play in a 3-4 defense the Vikings likely want to look at other options. Instead, Barr could sign with a team that doesn’t usually prioritize adding linebackers with premium assets in the Philadelphia Eagles.
Barr would be a perfect fit for Philadelphia’s hybrid linebacker/edge rusher that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon added to their 4-3 defense this past season. Last year Genard Avery and rookie seventh-round pick Patrick Johnson filled that role and didn’t produce very well. Barr played in that exact role with the Vikings for the past eight seasons. Gannon adopted that role from his time with Minnesota as an assistant coach with Barr. The combination of Gannon’s experience coaching Barr and the role the Eagles need to be filled on their defense feels like why Philadelphia would be a perfect landing spot for Anthony Barr.
Prediction: Anthony Barr signs a one year $9.5 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles
17. Akiem Hicks, Defensive Lineman
Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has a great case for being the second-best defensive player for the Chicago Bears over the last couple of seasons behind Khalil Mack. From the interior, he has been both a force as a run stuffer and pass rusher. Even at 33 years old Hicks should have a large market for his services. Now that Chicago is in the process of gutting their expensive defense, it is very unlikely they will attempt to resign Hicks.
The 2018 Pro Bowler was only limited to nine games last season. His absence was felt by the Bears because without Hicks they struggled to stop the run. This past season Hicks had 25 combined tackles (19 solo tackles) and 3.5 sacks.
Multiple teams are in need of defensive linemen who can help plug up running lanes. However, no team has struggled at defending the run in recent years than the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers have made it clear that they are looking to add one if not multiple run-stuffing defensive linemen. Hicks may be interested in reuniting with former Bears teammate Khalil Mack who was traded to Los Angeles a few days ago. He would also be a key piece for the growth of this defense by being responsible for plugging up run lanes at the line of scrimmage.
Prediction: Akiem Hicks signs a three year $27 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers
16. Randy Gregory, Edge Rusher
Seven seasons after being drafted Randy Gregory has finally will hit the open market as a free agent. Gregory played five seasons over those seven years due to suspensions. His off-the-field issues were a major risk when he was drafted in 2015. A consensus top-10 player in the draft fell to a late second-round pick because of those issues.
This past year Gregory finally showed the promise that many believed he had coming out of the 2015 draft. Gregory had 19 combined tackles (15 solo tackles), six sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Dallas had three top-tier pass rushers this season in Gregory, DeMarcus Lawerence, and hybrid linebacker Micah Parsons.
Dallas has opened up salary cap space with multiple transactions including trading Amari Cooper to Cleveland. However, it is very possible that Gregory signs elsewhere in free agency. There are plenty of teams who can use a pass rusher like Gregory. One team that has the cap space and is a great scheme fit for Gregory is the Seattle Seahawks.
Seattle needs to add pass rushers this offseason because Rasheem Green is going to be a free agent, Kerry Hyder shouldn’t be a starting defensive end at this point of his career, and Carlos Dunlap cannot be relied upon to be a team’s pass rusher at 33 years old. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has never had a problem giving players with off the field issues opportunities to play for him in the past. Last offseason Seattle gave Aldon Smith an opportunity to play for them before cutting him in training camp.
On top of that Gregory would be put into a similar role as he was in this previous year because Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme draws a lot of parallels to Pete Carroll’s scheme. Gregory would immediately be the Seahawks’ best pass rusher. At age 29 it appears that Gregory is reaching his peak as a pro and could become a key player for this defense over the next few seasons.
Prediction: Randy Gregory signs a three year $49.5 million deal with the Seattle Seahawks
15. Jadeveon Clowney, Edge Rusher
It feels like every season that Cleveland Browns pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney is a free agent. That is because Clowney has been a free agent in each of the last four seasons. He has also played for four teams in four seasons. At this point, there are many questions as to why the former first overall pick cannot stay with one team. This offseason Clowney could be joining his fifth team in as many years.
The former three-time Pro Bowler thrived playing opposite Myles Garrett this past season. In 14 games Clowney had 37 combined tackles (24 solo tackles), nine sacks, and two forced fumbles. Clowney has shown that he thrives statistically as a pass rusher when he isn’t the best pass rusher on his team. One constant with Clowney is that he is an elite-run defender.
There is a team in the AFC that is a perennial Super Bowl contender in need of an edge rusher. The Kansas City Chiefs were able to trade for Melvin Ingram at the trade deadline to move Second Team All-Pro defensive tackle back to his natural defensive tackle position. Now the Chiefs will need to ensure they don’t have the same problem next season.
Clowney would be joining a defensive line with three-time Pro Bowlers Chris Jones and Frank Clark (if Clark isn’t cut or traded). Those three would make this defensive line extremely athletic and dangerous at its peak performance. At this point of Clowney’s career, he may want to try to latch onto a contender to potentially win a Super Bowl.
Prediction: Jadeveon Clowney signs a one year $10.5 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs
14. Calais Campbell, Defensive Lineman
Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell will be 36 years old at the start of next season. However, he plans on returning for the 2022-23 season. Campbell is no longer the elite pass rusher he was Arizona and Jacksonville that was a six-time Pro Bowler, one-time First-Team All-Pro, and Defensive Player of the Year in 2017. The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner wants to win a Super Bowl at this point of his career to solidify his case for the Hall of Fame.
Last season in 15 games Campbell had 49 combined tackles (29 solo tackles), 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery. He is not going to rush the passer at an elite level anymore. However, Campbell is still a great run defender.
One team that has entered the Super Bowl conversation that is in need of an interior run defender is the Denver Broncos. After trading for Russell Wilson, veteran free agents will take a pay cut for an opportunity to play for them and potentially win a Super Bowl. A void opened up on the interior of Denver’s defensive line when they traded Shelby Harris to Seattle in the Wilson trade.
Campbell could rotate with Dre’Mont Jones and McTelvin Agim at defensive tackle during passing downs then line up on the edge in running downs. Another factor that could go into this signing is that Campbell was born and raised in Denver, Colorado. It could be fitting for the veteran to play in his hometown team before he retires in the near future.
Prediction: Calais Campbell signs a one year $7 million deal with the Denver Broncos
13. Quandre Diggs, Safety
Since being traded from the Detroit Lions to the Seattle Seahawks during the 2019-20 season, safety Quandre Diggs has emerged as one of the best ball-hawking free safeties in the league. Diggs has been voted to back-to-back Pro Bowls. At the age of 29, this may be the last time Diggs could receive a large contract offer.
Last season Diggs had his best statistical season as a pro. He had 94 combined tackles (66 solo tackles), seven passes defended, and five interceptions. This was his second season in a row with five interceptions. In his two and a half seasons in Seattle Diggs has 13 interceptions.
The Seahawks could try to bring Diggs back and build around him on defense. But Diggs may want to sign with a team with a clearer plan at quarterback that isn’t entering a rebuild. Diggs could potentially reunite with good friend and former Detroit Lions teammate Darius Slay with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles have a major need at safety because both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris will be hitting free agency. Diggs would fill Harris’ void at free safety and could be an upgrade if he continues to play at a Pro Bowl level. Harris had a history of having great ball production but is not as consistent as Diggs. A major factor in Diggs’ free agency will be his recovery from his broken ankle and broken fibula injury he suffered late in the year. Depending on how he recovers, teams may wait to sign him or be hesitant to sign him to a long-term deal.
Prediction: Quandre Diggs signs a two year $24 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles
12. Dont’a Hightower, Linebacker
The long-time New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower could potentially be leaving the team in free agency. New England drafted Hightower in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. During his time in New England Hightower has been a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams, been voted to two Pro Bowls, and was named Second Team All-Pro in 2016.
This past season Hightower took a slight step back after sitting out the season before due to COVID-19. He had 64 combined tackles (39 solo tackles) and 1.5 sacks. At age 31 Hightower appears to be slowing down and the Patriots are notorious for letting go of players a year early instead of a year late.
Hightower could land with a team in the Las Vegas Raiders that just established roots with the New England Patriots. They hired former Patriots Director of player personnel Dave Ziegler as their general manager and former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their new head coach.
Las Vegas could rotate Hightower with Pro Bowler Denzel Perryman, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Divine Deablo. He would be the perfect veteran to help these players transition to Patrick Graham’s New England-style defense. Hightower could also be a key player for the Raiders defense next season that will be in plenty of competitive games against great offenses.
Prediction: Dont’a Hightower signs a one year $10 million with the Las Vegas Raiders
11. Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle
For the second year in a row, Ndamukong Suh will be hitting the market as a free agent. Even though he hasn’t been a Pro Bowler since 2016, he has been an extremely productive player for multiple teams that have been to the Super Bowl. During the 2020-21 season, Suh won the Super Bowl as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That victory has helped out the five-time Pro Bowler, three-time First-Team All-Pro, and two-time Second Team All-Pro make a valid case to be in the Hall of Fame one day.
When it is all said and done it could be said that Ndamukong Suh was one of the pass-rushing defensive tackles in NFL history. At age 35, Suh is still an extremely productive pass rusher. Last season Suh had 27 combined tackles (15 solo tackles) and six sacks.
If he is willing to take a pay cut he could definitely return to Tampa Bay. But if Suh wants to join a different Super Bowl contender that could pay him at the market value he could join the Baltimore Ravens. Both Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams are expected to hit free agency. Outside of Justin Madubuike, the Ravens don’t have another player on their roster they could feel comfortable starting on the interior of their defensive line. Suh could fill either void left by Campbell or Williams. He is a great run defender and would be an upgrade over both as a pass rusher.
Prediction: Ndamukong Suh signs a one-year $8.5 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens.
10. Haason Reddick, Edge Rusher
Last year Haason Reddick bet on himself when he signed a one-year $6 million deal with the Carolina Panthers. For the second season in a row, Reddick had an outstanding season despite playing with a completely new team. Even though Reddick has been one of the best pass rushers in the league over the last two seasons he could be playing for his third team in three years.
Reddick was a pass-rushing linebacker in Carolina’s 4-3 defense. He had a competition with teammate Brian Burns to see who could have more sacks at the end of the year. Reddick beat out Burns by the end of the year. He had 68 combined tackles (37 solo tackles), 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Despite having 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons Reddick was not voted to a Pro Bowl either season.
If the Miami Dolphins lose Emmanuel Ogbah in free agency they could replace his sack production with Haason Reddick. Though Reddick will not play the same position as Ogbah, he will lineup as a standup linebacker and rush the passer opposite 2021 first-round pick Jaelan Phillips.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer’s defense features so many versatile players with multiple responsibilities that Reddick could easily slide right in and play a similar role to what he had in Arizona and Carolina the past two seasons. The Dolphins also have the cap space to sign Reddick to the large deal that he deserves with his play over the last few years.
Prediction: Haason Reddick signs a three year $54 million contract with the Miami Dolphins
9. Jason Pierre-Paul, Edge Rusher
Two-time Super Bowl champion Jason Pierre-Paul could be playing for the third team of his career next season. Pierre-Paul has been an extremely productive pass rusher since being traded from the New York Giants back in the 2018 offseason. The duo of Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett have made lives for quarterbacks opposing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers extremely uneasy.
This past season Pierre-Paul had a down year from a production standpoint. In 12 games Pierre-Paul had 31 combined tackles (20 solo tackles), four passes defended, 2.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Prior to this season, Pierre-Paul had 18 sacks over the previous two seasons.
It is likely that Pierre-Paul leaves Tampa Bay because they cannot afford to retain a pass rusher at his age. There are also going to be questions regarding if it would be worth it to resign Pierre-Paul because of his age and potentially decline. They drafted Washington pass rusher Joe Tryon in the first round of the 2021 draft to become the eventual replacement for Pierre-Paul. The Arizona Cardinals have a history of getting production out of veterans towards the end of their careers.
Arizona has a history of bringing in veterans like Pierre-Paul who fill their needs but also want to play in a great warm-weather city as the final destination of their careers. They will need to add at least one edge rusher this offseason because Chandler Jones is expected to leave in free agency. Pierre-Paul could potentially fill the void left by Jones even though his peak of play will not be as high as Jones. He could be a value signing for the Cardinals because they will not have to break the bank to bring him in to be one of the team’s best pass rushers.
Prediction: Jason Pierre-Paul signs a two year $22 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals
8. Casey Hayward, Cornerback
It was very odd last season that veteran cornerback Casey Hayward did not receive a lot of attention from cornerback needy teams until late in the offseason. Las Vegas signed Hayward to be their number one cornerback and he did not disappoint.
The former two-time Pro Bowler was one of the best cornerbacks in all of football last season. Hayward had 46 combined tackles (39 solo tackles), nine passes defended, and one interception. He is no longer the ballhawk he was earlier in his career. But Hayward is still a great coverage cornerback.
There is one team that should sign Hayward this offseason and it is the Indianapolis Colts. They need to sign a cornerback because Xavier Rhodes is a free agent. Also, Hayward’s defensive coordinator from both Los Angeles and Las Vegas Gus Bradley is now the defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. Hayward is an outstanding player in Bradley’s scheme. It is a no-brainer for Hayward to sign with the Colts this offseason.
Prediction: Casey Hayward signs a one year $13 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts
7. Marcus Williams, Safety
There is a better than a great chance that the New Orleans Saints let one of the best young safeties in the league, Marcus Williams, sign with a new team this offseason. Last year Williams received the franchise tag from the Saints. However this offseason they chose not to franchise tag Williams again. This would be a major loss for New Orleans if he was to sign elsewhere.
Last year, in 16 games, he had a career-high 74 combined tackles (52 solo tackles), eight passes defended, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. It is shocking that Williams has not been voted to a single Pro Bowl in his career to this point.
The Detroit Lions are a team that would make a lot of sense for Marcus Williams to sign with. Detroit is going to have a need for a safety because Tracy Walker is going to be a free agent. Also, Will Harris has not been overly impressive as a starter.
What might draw Williams to Detroit is his familarity with the coaching staff. Both Lions head coach Dan Campbell and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn were coaches on the Saints staff for the first four years of Williams’ career. Glenn was even Williams’ defensive backs coach and helped him develop into the player he is today.
Detroit should use the roots of their coaching staff to help build this roster. Bringing in a guy like Williams to be a featured star for this rebuilding defense would be an outstanding signing for a team trying to be more competitive next season.
Prediction: Marcus Williams signs a four year $64 million deal with the Detroit Lions
6. Von Miller, Edge Rusher
This past season Los Angeles Rams pass rusher solidified his status as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Miller won his second Super Bowl following a dominant playoff run as a pass rusher. Miller is in the conversation as the greatest pass rusher in NFL playoff history. Los Angeles made the bold trade of acquiring Miller from the Denver Broncos for a second and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. That addition played a key role in their Super Bowl victory this season.
In 15 regular-season games between the Denver Broncos and Los Angeles Rams, Miller had 50 combined tackles (33 solo tackles), 9.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. During the playoffs, he had four sacks in Los Angeles in four playoff games.
Even though Miller won the Super Bowl with the Rams this past year there is a great chance he leaves in free agency. The wild part is that Miller may leave to sign with his former team in the Denver Broncos. He has been posting on social media about how he misses playing in Denver and wants to return. The Broncos have the cap space to sign Miller without him taking a pay cut. Now that the Broncos finally have a quarterback in Russell Wilson he likely wants to return to try and win another Super Bowl in Denver.
Prediction: Von Miller signs a two year $25 million with the Denver Broncos
5. Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback
Not too long ago Stephon Gilmore had won the Defensive Player of the Year and was no doubt the most dominant cornerback in the league. This past season was a strange one for Gilmore because the New England Patriots traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers before he had played a snap for them this season. He was added to the Panthers to potentially get this defense to play at an elite level and get this team to the playoffs.
Gilmore has possible Hall of Fame accolades on his resume. He has been named Defensive Player of the Year, two-time First-team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler, and Super Bowl champion. In eight games in Carolina, this season Gilmore had 16 combined tackles (15 solo tackles), two interceptions, and two passes defended. That was enough to get Gilmore the Pro Bowl.
It is unlikely that the Panthers bring back Gilmore because he likely wants to sign with a team that will contend for the Super Bowl in the near future. The San Francisco 49ers have missed having a lockdown cornerback at the backend of their defense like Richard Sherman. Gilmore could fill that void for the 49ers.
San Francisco would have to move some money around (trade Jimmy Garoppolo) in order to have the cap space to sign Gilmore. The 49ers are expected to make a run at Gilmore and a signing like this could be enough to get this team over the top and into the Super Bowl.
Prediction: Stephon Gilmore signs a two year $34 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers
4. Tyrann Mathieu, Safety
It is wild that Tyrann Mathieu could potentially be playing for the fourth team of his career despite still being in his prime. That goes to show how the league values safeties, even ones as talented as Mathieu. He is a versatile defender is not only a leader but usually the best all-around defensive player for a team.
In 16 games last season Mathieu had 76 combined tackles (60 solo tackles), six passes defended, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and a sack. Mathieu also returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown.
Kansas City would have a massive void on their roster if he was to leave. But if Mathieu was going to sign somewhere else in free agency there is no better fit than the Baltimore Ravens. His playstyle is a perfect fit for this defense and he’d follow in the footsteps of two great safeties who played for John Harbaugh in Ed Reed and Earl Thomas. Mathieu would DeShon Elliot who is a free agent this offseason as well. This is the type of signing that could get an extremely talented Ravens defense playing at an elite level and beyond.
Prediction: Tyrann Mathieu signs a three year $45 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens
3. Bobby Wagner, Linebacker
This defensive free-agent class is so talented, especially when it comes to the top players at each position. This class could now be historic with the addition of former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. Seattle cut Wagner the same day they traded away Russell Wilson The eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time First-Team All-Pro, and two-time second-team All-Pro will get attention from almost half the league.
At this point, there is no debate that Wagner is a future Hall of Famer. But at age 31 Wagner is no longer the consensus best linebacker in the league. Wagner had 170 combined tackles (93 solo tackles), one interception, one forced fumble, and a sack. That stat line got Wagner voted to the Pro Bowl and named Second Team All-Pro.
Wagner would fit in almost any defense. So he will likely sign with the team that gives him the best opportunity to win. Even though the Los Angeles Rams don’t value the middle linebacker position very high, Bobby Wagner is more than a middle linebacker. They are well aware of how dominant he can play having played them twice a year every year for the past decade.
It is video game-like to imagine a defense with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and Bobby Wagner. Los Angeles could put together a defense that can have more stars than their star-studded offense. Wagner not only may want to play with Ramsey and Donald, but he may also be interested in sticking it to the Seahawks who didn’t formally inform him that they were letting him go. He also is also from California, so playing for the Rams would be a homecoming for him.
Prediction: Bobby Wagner signs a two year $35 million deal with the Los Angeles Rams
2. J.C. Jackson, Cornerback
There is no debate that the best ballhawk in the league is New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson. The former undrafted free agent is looking for a major payday. Surprisingly the Patriots aren’t willing to pay Jackon what he is worth on the open market. This is surprising because not only did they trade away Stephon Gilmore, but Bill Belichick has always prioritized retaining the best players in their secondary.
Jackson was voted to his first Pro Bowl this past season. He finished the season with 58 combined tackles (44 solo tackles), eight interceptions, and a forced fumble. This was his first full season as the Patriots’ best cornerback, but not his first season being productive. Last season Jackson had nine interceptions. Over Jackson’s four seasons in the league, he has 25 career interceptions.
Since Jackson is likely to leave New England he will likely sign with the team willing to make him one of if not the highest-paid cornerbacks in the league. The Los Angeles Chargers have not been quiet about wanting to sign a big-name corner and their interest in Jackson. A secondary composed of J.C. Jackson, Asante Samuel Jr., and Derwin James covering pass-catchers while Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack rush the passer sounds like the formula for a lot of turnovers. By signing Jackson the Chargers could be punching their ticket to the playoffs this upcoming season and possible success beyond that.
Prediction: J.C. Jackson signs a five year $90 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers
1. Chander Jones, Edge Rusher
Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones has as great of a case as anybody to be identified as one of the best pass rushers in the league. He dominates the line of scrimmage like few others in the league can do. The only reason why Jones is going to be on the market is that he wants to leave Arizona. If he wanted to stay with the Cardinals an extension would have been worked on already.
Last season Jones started the year with that dominant five-sack game against the Tennessee Titans. Jones finished the season with 41 combined tackles (31 solo tackles), 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, four passes defended, and a fumble recovery. Jones was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl this past season. He has put up a Hall of Fame-caliber career to his point. Beyond the four Pro Bowls, Jones has been a two-time First-Team All-Pro and Super Bowl Champion. He has been one of the most dominant pass rushers for the past decade posting seven double-digit sacks seasons.
In what could be Jones’ last big contract as a free agent he could sign with his hometown Buffalo Bills. Jones is from Rochester New York and went to school at Syracuse. It could be fitting for Jones to join a Super Bowl contender in Buffalo who needs a dominant pass rusher to get them over the top. Plus he would get to play the team that drafted him in the New England Patriots twice a year.
Prediction: Chandler Jones signs a two year $31 million deal with the Buffalo Bills
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