2013's free agent Defensive Linemen and potential cap casualties
The top of the free agent class as far as defensive tackles is Henry Melton, who has turned into a complete monster in the middle over the past two seasons. Only 26 years old, he'll be the Bears top priority in free agency, and is unlikely to hit the open market, but if he does, teams will line up for his services.
Randy Starks was an anchor in the middle of the Dolphins' 7th ranked scoring defense last year. The two sides have opened contract talks, and the Dolphins badly want Starks back, but they are reportedly not close to getting a deal done. It is a situation to monitor, because if the Dolphins can't lock him up, he'll probably be the best defensive tackle on the market.
A former draft-bust, Alan Branch has rejuvenated his career over the past two seasons in Seattle. He'll now be looking for a nice new contract, and though he has expressed a desire to return to the Seahawks, better offers may await on the open market.
With the Raiders clearly in rebuilding mode, they'll have no reason to bring back 33 year old Richard Seymour. Seymour struggled with injuries in 2012, but was very effective when on the field. He's likely to sign with a contender on a one- or two-year deal.
An unsung hero on the Seahawks defense, Jason Jones had three sacks in 2012 as a situational interior pass rusher. With Chris Clemons coming off an ACL tear, and Alan Branch possibly leaving via free agency, the Seahawks will likely do their best to get a new deal done. Jones could opt to test the market, however, where he'd get plenty of interest.
Another player unknown to many is Desmond Bryant of the Raiders. The Harvard grad has had 10.5 sacks over the past three seasons with the Raiders. At the age of 27, he's sure to draw some interest.
One final overlooked player is Terrance Knighton, who had a great year with the Jaguars in 2010 with four sacks, four passes defended, and an interception. He hasn't been able to build off that season the past two years, eventually being demoted to a bench role in 2012. Still only 26 years old, he'll be one of the Jaguars' priorities this offseason, and will draw plenty of interest if he hits the open market.
Chris Canty can play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense, and has been limited only by injuries over the past few seasons. He has visited with the Titans, will visit with the Chiefs, and is eligible to sign a contract now due to being released.
The Chiefs are expected to let Glenn Dorsey hit the open market, and the former fifth overall pick will draw interest from those in the market for a 4-3 defensive tackle... Corey Williams was once a great interior pass rusher, but has only six sacks over the past three seasons... The 49ers really want Ricky Jean-Francois back next season, and if they lock him up that could mean the end for Isaac Sopoaga in San Francisco... Casey Hampton started all 16 games for the Steelers last season, but isn't expected back in Pittsburgh in 2013.
Here are some of the defensive linemen that are likely to be free agents by March as a result of their release:
After four straight Pro Bowl seasons, Jay Ratliff (DAL) was plagued by injuries in a 2012 season that was capped off with a DUI. He's reportedly on shaky ground with the Cowboys' management, and would draw a lot of interest if he were released.
Tyson Jackson (KC) has not only been extremely ineffective since being drafted third overall in 2009, but he's due $14.72 million in 2013. There's no way the Chiefs keep him around at that price.
Will Smith (NO) had another solid season with the Saints in 2012, but is turning 32 years old over the summer and is due $9 million in 2013 (plus a $1 million roster bonus). He's a candidate for a restructured contract, as the Saints will want him back, but not at such a steep price.
Another player who will likely get his contract restructured is Ryan Pickett (GB), who started 16 games for the Packers in 2012. The Packers will want Pickett back, but they may need some of his $5.4 million salary to pay other players.