2013 NFL Free Agent Defensive Linemen
By: Roshan Bhagat
Michael Johnson (CIN) - DE - The Bengals have done of terrific job of scooping up draft day sliders on defense, accepting the risk, and trusting the coach staff to squeeze every ounce of talent from their young players. As 6'7, 270 pounds with terrific athleticism, the first round talent fell to the 3rd round due to rawness and questions about his motor, but has developed into one of the finer all- around ends in the league, making improvements each season. With Geno Atkins playing at an All- Pro level, Johnson was overshadowed, but his 11.5 sacks and strong run defense will put him atop the team's priority list this offseason.
Henry Melton (CHI) - DT - Melton has taken a long journey and added nearly 50 pounds since his days as a back- up running back at the University of Texas through his sophomore season. Now using his strength and quickness, Melton has come into his own as one of the top interior pass rushers in the NFL. With 6 sacks and a number of additional hits and pressures up the middle, Melton has quickly become one of the Bears most important defensive players. Though the Bears will definitely make a big push to re- sign Melton, it won't come cheap and a new defensive scheme may re- value his importance to the team without Lovie Smith's signature Tampa 2.
Randy Starks (MIA) - DT - Starks has played everywhere from DE to NT for the Dolphins effectively over the past few seasons. Even at 29, Miami will approach Randy Starks about signing an extension and keeping their run- stopping base of Starks and Paul Soliai together. Impeding negotiations may be the status of the 6 other starters set to hit unrestricted free agency including Jake Long, Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, and Sean Smith. Prioritizing will be crucial as will re- signing a couple before the start of the new league year.
Cliff Avril (DET) - DE - With a 9.5 sack season, Avril has proven worthy of a long- term extension. Though he has said he'd love to return to the Lions next year, an unreasonable $12.7 million franchise tag number gives Avril all the leverage to test the market and find the best fit/offer. Avril is a strong pass rusher that will help a team get to the quarterback—there are always teams willing to overpay for that skillset, which makes Detroit unlikely to re- sign him.
Michael Bennett (TB) - DE - Working up from an undrafted free agent to a 9- sack balanced defensive end, Michael Bennett's due for a big pay increase even from his $2.7 million tender a year ago. On a defensive line with talent and depth, it's possible the Buccaneers may be outbid on his contract, but for a team with so much cap room, it would be surprising to see Michael Bennett play in a different uniform next year.
Richard Seymour (OAK) - DE/DT - With Seymour's deal voided, one of the league's most scheme- diverse defensive linemen will become available. Even at 33 and coming off an injury that sidelined him for nearly half of the 2012 season, there will be a strong market for Seymour, a rare bright spot on the Raiders over the past few seasons. With leadership and experience, Seymour improved a young defensive line and built the unit into something which the rest of the defense could be built around. Though he'll be staring almost exclusively at short- term deal, expect him to sign one with a playoff contender.
Dwight Freeney (IND) - DE - Battling injury and a positional switch to stand- up outside linebacker in Chuck Pagano's 3- 4 scheme, Freeney is as strong a lock to change colors this offseason as any player with an expiring contract. 33 years old and coming off a 5- sack season, it'll be interesting to see how much the market pays him. The strong free agent class of defensive linemen doesn't play to his favor either.
Osi Umenyiora (NYG) - DE - After signing a short- term deal with New York a year ago, Umenyiora will again be a free agent. Tallying only 6 sacks and on the wrong side of 30, Umenyiora, like Freeney, will struggle to find a final mega- contract. The premium on pass rushers will nudge his value a bit in the right direction, but if the market shows him soft offers, there's a decent chance he returns to New York to keep the threatening Giants pass rush stocked with depth.
Desmond Bryant (OAK) - DT - Receiving more playing time as the season went on, Bryant was an impressive under- the- radar player for the Raiders who will definitely be one of the higher priorities for Oakland this offseason. Though his statistics and highlight reel don't jump off the page, his solid run defense and pass- rushing ability will be rewarded this offseason by Oakland as the team looks to shed veterans (and more importantly, their salaries) and retain young players with starter potential.
Jason Jones (SEA) - DT - With a season cut short to injury, Jason Jones' 1- year prove- myself- to- the- league contract didn't work out as well as he'd anticipated. However, in the early portion of the year, he did a fine job coming off the bench and rushing the passer—his specialty. Whether or not the Seahawks re- sign him, a healthy Jason Jones can become a valuable part of a rotation on the defensive line and a closer in the 4th quarter.
Cullen Jenkins (PHI) - DT - Cullen Jenkins was a victim of the Eagles' purge of their failed free agency class of two years back. Notching 9.5 sacks and starting all 32 games as an Eagle, he continues to hold value as an interior pass rusher. He'll generate little interest for most 3-4 fronts, but should have a small secondary market among 1-gapping teams once the key pieces of free agency fall into place.
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