Yesterday I took a look at the potential top free agents on the offense side of the ball. Today it is time to look at the defense.
Keep in mind that this list will change between now and when free agency kicks of on March 10, due to releases and teams using the franchise and transition tags.
DT Ndamukong Suh (Detroit):
Detroit’s use of the franchise tag to retain Suh would cost $26.9 million in salary for 2015 along with an additional $9.7 million cap charge because of his current contract structure. That means the Lions almost certainly need to re-sign Suh to a long-term deal or he’s gone.
DL Jared Odrick (Miami):
Odrick is the best jack-of-all-trades defensive lineman set to become a free agent. He can play serve as an end in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense and rush the quarterback as a defensive tackle in passing situations.
DE Greg Hardy (Carolina):
Hardy is appealing a guilty verdict for domestic violence that is keeping him off the field. If he wins, Hardy could have the chance to reinvent himself with a team willing to handle the heavy public scrutiny that would come with his signing.
DT Terrance Knighton (Denver):
After his promising career hit a wall in Jacksonville, “Pot Roast” reinvented himself in Denver the past two seasons as a beefy run-stuffer and team leader. Knighton wants to stay, but the Broncos may not be able to afford him with 12 pending unrestricted free agents.
DL Jerry Hughes (Buffalo):
A former first-round flop in Indianapolis, Hughes had 10 sacks in each of the past two seasons. If not re-signed, Hughes is a franchise-tag candidate depending upon how much he is valued by Buffalo’s new head coach when that spot is filled.
Justin Houston (Kansas City):
Houston came within a half-sack of tying Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record of 22.5. The Chiefs will assuredly franchise Houston if unable to strike a long-term contract.
Brian Orakpo (Washington):
Orakpo’s medical history will raise red flags as he has suffered three pectoral-muscle tears since the 2011 season. He should still draw interest because Orakpo posted 10 sacks when able to stay healthy in 2013.
Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh):
With a modest 7.5 sacks, Worilds didn’t enjoy the breakthrough campaign that Pittsburgh was expecting when naming him its 2014 transition player at a salary of $9.8 million. Worilds, though, will only be 27 next season and pass-rushing outside linebackers aren’t easy to find.
Rolando McClain (Dallas):
After washing out of the league as a first-round draft bust with Oakland, McClain surprisingly reinvented himself with a standout 2014 season. Potential suitors must decide whether McClain can be trusted to continue his impressive comeback in 2015 and beyond.
Brandon Graham (Philadelphia):
Now past a knee injury and slow start to his NFL career, Graham has gotten feelers about re-signing with the Eagles. Graham, though, has told Philadelphia media that he may be more comfortable playing end in a 4-3 defensive scheme.
CB Darrelle Revis (New England):
The pairing of Revis and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has paid big dividends for the Patriots. With quarterback Tom Brady recently restructuring his contract, New England has the salary cap space to keep Revis in the fold.
S Devin McCourty (New England):
A converted cornerback, McCourty is one of the NFL’s best cover safeties. He’s also one of the most disciplined. The NFLpenalties.com web site reported that McCourty wasn’t penalized in his 998 plays during the 2014 regular season.
CB Brandon Flowers (San Diego):
Because he was released by Kansas City so late during the 2014 offseason, Flowers opted for a one-year, $3 million deal with the Chargers rather than a long-term deal. Flowers played well enough this season to cash in with a more lucrative long-term contract.
S Antrel Rolle (New York Giants):
Rolle has value as both a player and locker-room leader. He is a candidate for a franchise tag designation, especially if the Giants are wary of giving a multiyear deal to a 32-year-old player.
CB Kareem Jackson (Houston):
Jackson became an instant starter when selected in the first round and has formed a strong starting combination with Jonathan Joseph. At age 26, Jackson should be a highly sought signing in a thin cornerback market.