Now that the NFL Combine is behind us, we’re racing into the new NFL calendar year as teams get set to reconfigure their rosters to try and make a playoff run in the upcoming season. With free agency opening on March 9th, there will be a frenzy surrounding the top players as usual. With your team attempting to fill the holes they need to in order to make that Super Bowl run you’ve been dreaming of, we here at CBS Local Sports are compiling lists, by position group, of the top five guys that are available on the market this spring.
Today, it’s on to the defensive linemen and linebackers, who are crucial in today’s pass-happy league both for their ability to get after the quarterback and, in the case of some linebackers, their ability to drop into coverage and defend the pass. One thing you’ll notice with these lists is I tend to favor youth and durability over aging stars with big resumes. That’s generally because the big-name over 30 guys tend not to live up to big money contracts that they’re given this time of year. So, keep that in mind when perusing the following and before you come at me with DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers. If your favorite team needs some help in the front seven, they’d be wise to give the following guys a look.
Dont’a Hightower ILB, Former Team: New England Patriots, 26 years old
Hightower is surprisingly able to test the market despite being one of the Patriots best defensive players this past season and arguably one of the biggest game changers in their Super Bowl LI win. Hightower has been a model of consistency in New England playing in 12 games or more in every one of his five seasons.
Hightower wasn’t asked to rush the passer much in the Patriots scheme, but as we saw in the Super Bowl, he can make an impact play when needed. He’s collected 17 sacks in his five seasons playing mostly from the inside linebacker spot. He’s shown himself to be very capable in coverage with 13 passes defended in his career. That kind of versatility and ability to be on the field for three downs should command a good sized payday, especially considering his youth.
Calais Campbell DE, Former Team: Arizona Cardinals, 30 years old
Campbell’s the oldest player that you will find on this list, but by no means does that mean he’s not in line for a nice payday. Campbell has been a consistent pass rushing threat in the Cardinals scheme over the last eight years totaling 56.5 sacks for an average of about seven per season.
The biggest thing to like about Campbell is well, his size. Listed at 6’8″ and around 280 pounds, Campbell is an ideal 3-4 end/4-3 tackle. He’s moved all over the line in his time in Arizona and his size and long arms allow him to bat down passes at a pretty high rate. He’s had 42 passes defended over his career, which is a pretty astonishing number for a defensive lineman. The added veteran presence that he gives will make him valuable for any team looking to bring in an impact player who can also mentor younger defensive linemen. He’s also durable, having missed a total of six games in his nine year career.
Dontari Poe, Former Team: Kansas City Chiefs, 26 years old
Now we get to a trio of defensive tackles that could help any team’s run defense while providing some push in the middle to put pressure on the quarterback. We start with Poe, who has been a stalwart in the middle of the Chiefs defensive line since being selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 draft. It’s a little surprising to see him hit the open market, but the Chiefs have their money tied up elsewhere and Poe will surely cost some team a pretty penny.
He’s recorded 13 sacks in his five year career, with his high being six in 2014. He’s played nose tackle mostly in the Chiefs 3-4 scheme, so the numbers don’t jump off the page at you, but that shouldn’t stop you from wanting Poe on your team. At 6’3″ 346, Poe commands a double team on pretty much every play and that allows plenty of opportunities for edge rushers on the outside to get after the QB. Reports have him asking for somewhere in the $10 million per year range, so as we mentioned before, it’ll cost you, but Poe’s youth and durability should make that contract worthwhile.
Sylvester Williams DT, Former Team: Denver Broncos, 28 years old
Williams is the latest Broncos defensive lineman to hit the free agent market, following Malik Jackson last season. Jackson found a large payday in Jacksonville, but Williams isn’t likely to command that kind of money. Jackson had 14 sacks to his name and was coming off a dominant run in the Broncos top ranked defense in 2015 when he hit the market last year. Williams has just 5.5 sacks to his name and he’s coming off a season in which the Broncos defense regressed, particularly against the run.
Now, that’s not all on Williams, and he still offers some upside for any team that’s running a 3-4 scheme. He’s durable as well having missed just four games in his four year career thus far.
Bennie Logan DT, Former Team: Philadelphia Eagles, 27 years old
Logan is the less heralded of the Eagles two defensive tackles alongside Fletcher Cox, which is understandable given that Cox has proved to be more of a pass-rushing threat generating 28.5 sacks in his five seasons to Logan’s 5.5 in four. However, Logan has been one of the best defensive tackles in the league against the run and that’s where his biggest value lies.
Logan is better suited to be a 4-3 defensive tackle than he is to a 3-4 scheme, however he has played in both during his time in Philadelphia. He’s been hampered slightly the past two years with injuries, missing two games in 2015 and three this past season, but that shouldn’t scare teams away. Logan is young, dominant against the run and able to put some pressure on the quarterback from the middle of the line.