6 BEST EDGE RUSHERS STILL AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY

BY ADAM GREENE

Edge rushers are at such a premium in the NFL, it should come as no surprise that most of the men on this list  have some kind of caveat or “buyer beware” sticker plastered on their windshield.

Some of these guys have been around a while, many of them are coming off injuries and one of them was kind of a head case last season, but if there was ever an excuse to lean into some head case-ery, it was the COVID-19 global pandemic.

6. ADRIAN CLAYBORN (Formerly of the Cleveland Browns)

2020: 12 tackles, 3.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, seven QB hits, one forced fumble, one pass defended

Clayborn never lived up to his first round billing as the No. 20 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2011 NFL Draft, but that’s hardly his fault. The guy has kept a job in the NFL for 10 seasons as a situational pass rusher and collected $30.4 million in the process. As loaded as Cleveland was on the defensive line, Clayborn still got solid production coming off the bench and is just four seasons removed from a 9.5 sack campaign with the Atlanta Falcons.

Perfect fit: Tennessee Titans

As a team, the Titans recorded 19 tacks total last season, which is a disaster for a franchise that most thought was in the Super Bowl conversation. Needless to say, they spent much of free agency addressing that, adding defensive end Denico Autry (33 tackles, 7.5 sacks) from the Indianapolis Colts and Bud Dupree (31 tackles, eight sacks) the second they stepped on the streets. They had chances at multiple guys in April’s draft, but didn’t take a shot at an edge until the fourth round when they selected Pitt’s Rashad Weaver. Clayborn would add short term, inexpensive depth on the outside for Tennessee, a club currently with all of $3.5 million available in cap space after signing five of their draft picks.

5. EZEKIEL ANSAH (formerly of the San Francisco 49ers)

2020: Two games active, no stats

Four years ago Ansah was one of the best pass rushers in the league. He’s not been healthy since. From 2013 to 2015, Ansah recorded 30 sacks. After a year lost to injury, he bounced back for 12 in 2017 which is why Detroit hit him with the franchise tag. The next year, he was hurt again, playing in just seven games and making two starts. He’s yet to post another full season on the active roster. Last year with the 49ers he appeared in just two games as a situational rusher before tearing his bicep and sitting out the rest of the year.

Perfect fit: Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs weren’t as bad as the Titans in rushing the passer, but  were in the bottom half of the NFL in getting after the quarterback. Considering they were playing ahead most of the year and teams had to throw it to have a chance against them, 32 sacks in 16 games isn’t going to cut it. KC did grab Joshua Kaindoh out of Florida State in the third round, but he looks like a project at best after missing most of the last two seasons himself. Ansah should come relatively cheap, especially with the opportunity to join a former Super Bowl winning team and be a low risk, high reward addition to the pass rush.

4. VIC BEASLEY (formerly of the Las Vegas Raiders)

2020: four tackles, one for a loss, one forced fumble

The COVID-19 pandemic did a number on all of us, so Beasley’s waffling on playing was understandable. He was late reporting to Titans camp after the team signed him to a one-year deal and then was cut after a lackluster seven games, finishing up with the Raiders over the last few weeks of the regular season.

Perfect fit: New England Patriots

It’s been a while since Beasley led the NFL in sacks, five years to be exact, which is also the last time he was on Bill Belichick’s radar when the Pats and Falcons played in the Super Bowl. We all remember how that turned out. While dealing with injuries, he was still productive from 2017-2019, recording 18 sacks over 30 starts. It’s not what you want from a starting edge, but in a guy coming off the sidelines, he could re-energize his career in a more sealed off, disciplined environment.

3. MELVIN INGRAM (formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers)

2020: 10 tackles, five QB hits, two passes defended

Ingram had his career derailed early due to injuries, but enjoyed a solid renaissance in the back end until last season, when he managed to play in just seven games. When he’s healthy, as he was in 2019, he’s one of the better and most consistent pass rushers in the game, adding some juice on the outside, especially if you have a strong defensive line presence to go with him. He’s hit double digit sack totals twice and, before last year, hadn’t recorded less than seven in a season in five straight years.

Perfect fit: Jacksonville Jaguars

While the guys listed above are probably all third/passing down players, Ingram is a starter and would likely be for any team that signs him. News broke this week that he was taking a visit with the Miami Dolphins, but after selecting Jaelan Phillips out of Miami in the second round, I don’t see how that makes sense for either side. The Jags need Ingram, not just for his pass rush and every down play ability, but for his leadership on a team that’s being rebuilt from the ground up.

2. JUSTIN HOUSTON (formerly of the Indianapolis Colts)

2020: 25 tackles, eight for a loss, eight sacks, 12 QB hits, two safeties, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries

Houston will be entering his 11th year in the league after crushing quarterbacks for pretty much all the last decade. While he’s not what he was at the beginning of his career, he can still put a signal caller into the turf. With the exception of 2016, where he played in just five games due to injury, he’s recorded at least 7.5 sacks every year since 2012.

Perfect fit: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams split Justin Hollins (28 tackles, three sacks) and Samson Ebukam (31 tackles, 4.5 sacks) opposite Leonard Floyd last season, but Ebukam has jumped ship to the 49ers. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Terrell Lewis could be factors there, but Houston would be a guaranteed upgrade over both based on recent years alone. Plus, for a team that wants to play for a ring now, adding another seven-plus sacks to the defense on a one-year mercenary contract makes a lot of sense.

1. OLIVIER VERNON (formerly of the Cleveland Browns)

2020: 36 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, nine sacks, 16 QB hits, one safety, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three passes defended

Vernon is the one guy on this list that’s a real mystery as to why he’s still napping on his La-Z-Boy. Vernon was a star pass rusher with the Miami Dolphins, kept it up with the New York Giants and after an off year in Cleveland, bounced back with the second best season of his career. Vernon won’t be looking for a one-year deal, but he might have to take one with the salary cap lower than it should be this season. As such, if he’s taking a pay cut, he might as well do it for a contender.

Perfect fit: Buffalo Bills

Buffalo has a dynamic offense and one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the game in Josh Allen. Their defense is tough, but didn’t have a single player register more than five sacks last season. Safety Quinton Jefferson, with three sacks, was officially tied with defensive tackle Ed Oliver for fifth on the team in QB takedowns. They added Carlos Basham Jr. out of Wake Forest in the second round of the draft and re-signed Mario Addison in free agency, but Vernon would be an upgrade over Addison and offer Basham time to develop. And, again, how many shots will a team like the Bills have at getting a player like Vernon for a season? Especially with Allen’s monster second contract on the horizon?

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