Fifteen to know for free agency: Defense

1. S LANDON COLLINS, NEW YORK GIANTS 

How often does a player who is arguably the best at his position hit the market -- and do so as he enters what should be his prime years?

In the 2016 season, buzz circled around Collins as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate as the Giants rolled to their only double-digit-win regular season since 2008. The chatter wasn't idle; it was backed up by five interceptions, 13 passes defensed, four sacks and 125 total tackles. He is the only defensive back in the last 12 years to intercept at least five passes and notch at least four sacks in a single season.

A shoulder injury cost Collins four games late last year, but he's not injury-prone; he played in all but five games during his four seasons with the Giants.

2. LB KWON ALEXANDER, TAMPA BAY

Alexander looked to be headed toward a big payday from the Bucs before he tore an anterior cruciate ligament last October. The injury is the biggest concern about him; his play is not, although he did better in pass coverage in 2017 than he did prior to his injury last fall.

Alexander's value is enhanced by his leadership. He was a Bucs team captain, and could be in the same role with a new team if he departs.

3. S EARL THOMAS, SEATTLE

Lost in the 2018 hubbub of his preseason holdout, his rapid return to the starting lineup for a Week 1 game at Denver and a fractured leg that ended his season after just four games was the fact that he was the NFL's leader in interceptions to that point. He picked off three passes in the first four weeks of the season, including one against the Broncos.

Yes, the team that signs Thomas must accept that he turns 30 in May and has missed 19 games in the last three years. But he remains a potential Hall of Fame safety who appears capable of at least three more outstanding seasons.

4. S ADRIAN AMOS, CHICAGO

Amos could provide similar play to Collins, but for a fraction of the price. He is not to be overlooked, and just like T.J. Ward in 2014, could be the best buy at his position, even with other names attracting more attention in what could be a flooded safety market.

His instincts and study habits allow him to be one step ahead of the offense against the run and in coverage. Few safeties are better all-around than the five-year veteran, whose best days should still be ahead.

5. LB C.J. MOSLEY, BALTIMORE

Mosley should end up being the highest-paid 3-4 inside linebacker on the market because of his good health and aggression against the run. In coverage, he's excellent at limiting the damage, as evidenced by the fact that he ranked third among 50 linebackers with at least 300 coverage snaps in yardage after the catch allowed on a per-reception basis, according to Pro Football Focus.

6. EDGE RUSHER EZEKIEL ANSAH, DETROIT

Ansah hits the market after an injury-shortened season in which he posted four sacks in seven games. His career pattern tends to be one year on, one year off, as his three highest sack totals came in 2013 (8), 2015 (14.5) and 2017 (12), so the team that signs him will count on that trend continuing.

Last year, tight end Eric Ebron left the Lions for the Colts in free agency and immediately played better. It's possible that Ansah could make the same leap; the Colts are flush with cap room and possess a need on the edge. One factor to consider is Ansah's age; he turns 30 in May. He also hasn't played a full 16-game schedule since 2015.

7. CB RONALD DARBY, PHILADELPHIA

A torn anterior cruciate ligament ended his 2018 season in November, but until that moment it was another outstanding campaign for the young cornerback. According to the numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus, Darby allowed just 5.89 yards per attempt on plays targeted toward him, placing him ninth among 84 cornerbacks with at least 350 coverage snaps.

Injury history is the concern with Darby, as he has missed 17 of a possible 37 games (including postseason) the past two seasons.

8. EDGE RUSHER TREY FLOWERS, NEW ENGLAND

Only 12 players have forced more fumbles in the last two seasons than Flowers, who has five. He's consistent at generating pressure, as Pro Football Focus credited him with at least four pressures in 23 of 35 games (including postseason) in which he played during the last two seasons,

9. LB JORDAN HICKS, PHILADELPHIA

Among 53 linebackers credited by Pro Football Focus with at least 50 tackles last season, Hicks' percentage of missed tackles was fourth-best, with just four in 66 opportunities. Hicks was crucial in the Eagles' efforts against the run.

10. LB ANTHONY BARR, MINNESOTA

In 2015, when the Broncos played the Vikings in Week 4, I couldn't have imagined a scenario in which the Vikings let Barr eventually test the market. Then a second-year player, Barr dominated, capping his day with an interception of Peyton Manning, leading to a 32-yard return that set up a Vikings touchdown two plays later.

But despite four consecutive Pro Bowls, Barr's form has yet to return to that 2015 apex. In particular, his work in coverage has struggled; according to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed eight touchdown passes and a 115.3 rating when targeted. The team that signs him must find a way to allow him to recapture his 2014-15 form.

11. DL SHELDON RICHARDSON, MINNESOTA

Richardson recaptured his Jets form after joining the Vikings, posting his highest sack total (4.5) since the 2015 season. His ability to disrupt opposing ground games and provide an interior pass rush should ensure that his next contract is longer than the one-year deal he got from Minnesota in 2018.

12. CB BRYCE CALLAHAN, CHICAGO

Darby was ninth in yardage per attempt last year. Callahan was 11th, giving up 6.13 yards per pass thrown at him, according to Pro Football Focus. He missed the final three games of the 2018 regular season with a broken foot, but he should be at full speed for 2019 and remains an ideal slot cornerback.

13. DL JOHNATHAN HANKINS, OAKLAND

The past two seasons with the Raiders and Colts have not seen Hankins recapture his dominant form with the Giants, particularly in the 2014 season, when he exploded for career highs in sacks (7) and total tackles (51). He's known more as a run defender, but if he's in an environment rich in pass rushers, he can capitalize off one-on-ones against center and provide a punch of pass rushing to go along with his stout work against the run.

14. CB PIERRE DESIR, INDIANAPOLIS

A reliable tackler in the open field, Desir's missed-tackle percentage of 3.2 percent is the lowest for any of the 59 cornerbacks who played at least 700 snaps last year, according to the numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus.

Yet it is interesting that the Colts do not already have Desir re-signed by now. According to overthecap.com, Indianapolis is projected to have over $102 million in salary-cap space, the most of any team in the NFL. With that much room, the Colts can be active, but retaining Desir would seem to be a good place to start.

15. EDGE RUSHER TERRELL SUGGS, BALTIMORE

The team that signs Suggs won't add him for what he was. What he is, even as he prepares for his 17th NFL season, is an efficient and effective pass rusher who has missed just one game in the last three years. In the last eight seasons when he's managed to play at least 15 games, he has never failed to post at least seven sacks, the total he hit in 2018.

Along with Flowers and several others, Suggs has five forced fumbles the last two years, more than all but a dozen NFL defenders. Teams will probably regard the 36-year-old Suggs as situational rusher, but he can be effective, especially for a team that already possesses at least one edge rusher capable of double-digit sacks.

Related Content

Advertising