NFL Free Agents and Potential Cap Casualties: Defensive Linemen

2013's free agent Defensive Linemen and potential cap casualties

2/12/13 in NFL   |   Matthew_Shovlin   |   735 respect

I've already covered all of the best offensive players that are likely headed for free agency, but now we'll take a look at the free agents on the defensive side of the ball. Here we have the free agent class of defensive linemen.

For a look at the free agent quarterbacks of 2013, click here.
For running backs, click here.
For wide receivers/tight ends, click here.
For offensive linemen, click here.
Blog Photo - NFL Free Agents and Potential Cap Casualties: Defensive Linemen
With the ability to play end in a 4-3 defense or outside linebacker in a 3-4, Cliff Avril will be targeted by any team with cap space that is in need of a pass rusher. Avril bet on himself by turning down a three-year, $30 million contract with the Lions last summer, and after another solid season (9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles), he'll probably be looking for a similar annual salary. The Lions don't have the cap space to franchise tag him, so he's a lock to hit the open market.

Osi Umenyiora is another player who is a near lock to hit free agency. The Giants are looking to get younger on the defensive line, and Osi is 31 years old coming off his lowest sack total since he was limited to 11 games in 2006. Even so, he can certainly make a big impact as a situational pass rusher, and will likely get a multi-year deal. The Seahawks have been mentioned as a potential landing spot.

Dwight Freeney is one of the bigger names on the market, but his sack totals have decreased by nearly three per season since 2009, finishing with just five this past season. He's expressed a strong desire to stay with the Colts, but is a poor fit as an old 4-3 end in the Colts' young 3-4 defense. There's a good chance that the Colts let him walk and he's picked up as a situational pass rusher.

In his nine years with the Bears, Israel Idonije has shown versatility by playing inside at defensive tackle and outside at defensive end. The Bears would like to have his versatility back in 2013, despite the fact that Idonije lost his starting job to Corey Wooton down the stretch in 2012. Idonije, however, may look for a starting job that pays starter money. With 7.5+ sacks in two of the past three seasons, he'll probably be able to get that starter money if he decides to test the market.

Michael Johnson was one of the cornerstones of the Bengals defense in 2012, racking up 11.5 sacks and an interception. Johnson is believed to be the Bengals' top priority in free agency, so it would be a surprise to see him on the open market.

Matt Shaughnessy was once considered a big-time steal in the draft, getting seven sacks in 2010 and grading out as Pro Football Focus' fifth best defensive end against the run. He has since had injury issues, and was a disappointment (as were most Raider defenders) in 2012. Only 26 years old, someone will grab him in an attempt to relight the fire he once played with.

Andre Carter, who will be 34 years old by the start of next season, had 2.5 sacks as a situational pass rusher in 12 games with the Raiders in 2012. He had 10 sacks and was a Pro Bowler as recently as 2011, so someone may gamble on him.

Nov 25, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) is sacked by Chicago Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton (69) during the first quarter at Soldier Field.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY SportsThe 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:
Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Jay Ratliff (90) celebrates making a tackle during the game against the Cleveland Browns at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Browns 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
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.
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