Let’s take a look at Defensive End as the free agent journey continues.
The Lions need a defensive end or two due to the pending free agency of Jason Jones and back-up Daryl Tapp. Jones was a good run defender and solid pass rusher in his three years in Detroit. Jones is 31 and the Lions could re-sign him at a low rate for DEs (3 per on his last contract). Daryl Tapp would play on a minimum deal again if brought back.
The Bears need two defensive ends as Jarvis Jenkins (FA now), Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson struggled. Backup Mitch Unrein is a free agent as well.
The Packers should be set at defensive end with Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Mike Pennel and the return of Josh Boyd from injury. Letroy Guion was signed but he may play nose tackle with BJ Raji becoming an impending free agent.
The Vikings are pretty much set at defensive end with Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter at end. Justin Trattou is a free agent back-up from the Vikings. The Vikings could use a 4th DE only.
Starting 4-3 DEs
Jason Pierre Paul is a stud defensive end for the Giants for years. He is consistent in pass rush and very good in run defense other than this season. Pierre Paul was franchised last season and had a terrible fireworks accident. This injury may allow Pierre Paul to be available. Despite the injury, JPP had a +13.4 grade with 1 sack, 6 hits and 34 hurries in 511 snaps. JPP is still a very good player. His contract will be less this offseason due to the injury but he is still a good player sans a few fingers.
Olivier Vernon had a monster 2015 season with the Dolphins. Vernon was the top ranked 4-3 DE with a +53.4 grade. Vernon was excellent in run defense and notched 7.5 sacks, 30 hits and 40 hurries. Vernon is a 25 year old beastly pass rusher. The Dolphins are cap strapped and may not be able to re-sign Vernon barring a Suh restructure or cutting Cameron Wake. If the Dolphins let Vernon hit the open market, a bidding war will begin. If Wake hits the market, a bidding war will begin despite his age and injury (Achilles).
William Hayes was the 6th ranked 4-3 DE in the league last season. Hayes is 30 but had 5.5 sacks, 9 hits and 31 hurries for the Rams in 2015. Hayes was very strong against the run earning a +17.8 run defense grade. A team would do well to add the 30 year old left end.
Jason Jones has been solid the last two seasons in Detroit. Jones had 6 sacks and 5.5 sacks in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Jones is good against the run at left end and can play DT in a pinch. Jones is 31 though and has battled knee and neck injuries in his career. Jones will get a lower free agent deal than most DEs but is worth a 2-3 year deal.
Greg Hardy is an off field nightmare. Hardy is a productive player and had 6 sacks, 14 hits and 19 hurries in 2015 with the Cowboys in 610 snaps. Hardy is a very bad teammate and disruptive in the locker room and on the sideline. Some team desperate for a pass rusher will give him a one or two year deal. The Cowboys don’t want him back which says a lot.
Starting 3-4 DEs
Muhammed Wilkerson has been an absolute monster for the Jets since the 2011 season. Wilkerson had a +20.3 grade against the run and notched 12 sacks, 23 hits and 45 hurries from a tough 3-4 position. The Jets are deep at Dline with Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams but they have talked about tagging Wilkerson. If Wilkerson hits the market, some new team will be very happy. Wilkerson can play 4-3 DT or 3-4 DE.
Malik Jackson played well for the Super Bowl Champion Broncos. Jackson had 7 sacks, 8 hits and 44 hurries and marked a +5.7 run defense grade. The Broncos have made Jackson a priority and want to keep their great defense in-tact. If Jackson wants too much, he may hit the market and get a nice deal. Jackson can play 3-4 DE or 4-3 DT too.
Mike Devito is a good run defender for the Chiefs. DeVito plays 3-4 DE and recovered from his 2014 injury. Devito earned a +10.1 grade in run defense and could boost a 3-4 team in the front line.
Jeremy Mincey is a solid DE from the Cowboys. Mincey was good in run defense with a +6.0 grade but average in pass rush. Mincey could fit nicely in a rotation at DE. Mincey is 32 years old which will lower his contract value. Mincey had 0 sacks, 3 hits and 14 hurries in 386 snaps for the Cowboys.
Cedric Thornton is a good run defender (+8.5) but isn’t much of a pass rusher. Thornton is 27 and could get a 3-4 year deal. We’ll see if he earns starter money with his lack of pass rush.
Robert Ayers was a 1st round bust for the Broncos; but a surprisingly good player for the Giants in 2015. Ayers earned a +29.1 grade on the season. Ayers had 9.5 sacks, 13 hits and 25 hurries. It seems Ayers figured out how to use his talent in 581 snaps with the Giants. Ayers is 30 years old and will get a modest deal due to his age and problems with the Broncos.
Cam Thomas, Eugene Sims, Daryl Tapp, Jack Crawford, and Kroy Bierman are other noteworthy backups available. Bierman was good in run defense but struggled in his pass rush. Thomas struggled in 187 snaps for the Steelers. Tapp was a solid back-up for Detroit for the last two seasons. Sim was poor with a -13.9 grade for the Rams. Crawford struggled with the Cowboys in 2015.
JPP, Vernon, Wilkerson and Jackson could change a team’s pass rush for the better. William Hayes, Robert Ayers and Jason Jones could be solid 30 year starting DES for a team. Greg Hardy is talented but a major head ache. The DEs in the league typically get paid. We’ll see how much this offseason.