Today’s preview focuses on one of the deepest positions in the 2014 Free Agent class in defensive linemen.
Here is a list of select defensive linemen who are slated to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league year. These players can re-sign with their current teams at any time and can begin to negotiate with other teams beginning on Saturday, March 8th.
Jared Allen/DE/Vikings (6’6, 270lbs) - With all the other big names in the free agent market, it seems like a man who’s recorded at least 11 sacks each of the past seven seasons is flying somewhat under the radar. Allen of the Minnesota Vikings is just two seasons removed from an almost record setting year in 2011, where he came within a half of a sack in matching Michael Strahan’s single season sack record of 22.5. While the 31 year-old may be older than most of his competition on the market, he’s still a major threat off the edge and could be looking to move to a contender in what could be his final big contract. Allen had 11.5 sacks last season, and totaled 52 combined tackles. (UPDATE 3/26: Jared Allen has signed with the Chicago Bears.)
Michael Bennett/DE/Seahawks (6’4, 274lbs) - Bennett was in the same exact position last year and with the market down for pass rushers, he signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks. That one year deal for Bennett was an obvious success for the five-year veteran out of Texas A&M, as he racked up 8.5 sacks on a devastating defensive line for the Super Bowl champs. Bennett broke out as a major fixture among pass rushers in 2011, recording nine sacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (UPDATE 3/10: Bennett has re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks)
Red Bryant/DT/Seahawks (6’4, 323lbs) - Also a member of the ferocious Super Bowl winning defense, Bryant served more as a run stuffer compared to his teammate in Bennett. Bryant started 15 games during the regular season for the Seahawks, playing the role of space eater, on his way to a good season in which he recorded 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Bryant was released by Seattle last week after spending six seasons with the team, and is eligible to visit and sign with teams immediately. (UPDATE 3/8: Bryant has agreed to a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars)
Jason Hatcher/DT/Cowboys (6’6, 299lbs) – A late bloomer as a starter for the Cowboys, Hatcher first got his chance to start double digit games in 2011, starting 10. The past two seasons, the eight-year veteran out of Grambling State has played and started in 31 games recording 92 tackles and 15 sacks. He really broke out as a pass rusher last season, when he sacked signal caller 11 times. Hatcher is more of a disruptive defensive tackle, playing the three-technique position in Monte Kiffin‘s defense last year. (UPDATE 3/14: Jason Hatcher has signed with the Washington Redskins.)
Lamarr Houston/DE/Raiders (6’3, 300lbs) - Lamarr Houston has been on the field a lot his four seasons in the NFL, starting in 60 games and playing in all of them since he came onto after being selected by the Raiders in the second round of the 2010 draft. The production has been there as well, racking up 228 tackles and 16 sacks in his four year career. Last season was Houston’s best, as he tied a career high in tackles (69), and set a career high in sacks with six. (UPDATE 3/11: Lamarr Houston has agreed to terms with the Chicago Bears.)
Linval Joseph/DT/Giants (6’4, 323lbs) - A fixture on Big Blue’s defensive line for the past three seasons, only missing two games, Joseph will enter free agency for the first time in his career. Joseph has been a sturdy influence and part of a unit that has historically been one of the best in the league. He’s recorded 167 tackles and 9 sacks from defensive tackle position the past three years. Joseph is very versatile, as his surprising quickness and athleticism has allowed him to be a great disruptor in the middle of the line. (UPDATE 3/12: Linval Joseph has signed with the Minnesota Vikings.)
Michael Johnson/DE/Bengals (6’7, 270lbs) - Labeled as a freak athlete when he first came into the NFL for his dynamic athletic ability paired with his great height, the 6’7 Johnson has become of the league’s scariest defensive threats from the edge. Johnson broke out in 2012, recording his first double digit sacks season of his career (11.5). He then received the franchise tag from the Bengals last season, and struggled from a statistical standpoint, only recording 3.5 sacks. But Johnson’s large frame, great speed, and flashes of brilliance may earn him a pretty penny as possibly the most intriguing defensive end in all of free agency. He was used primarily as a pass rushing end in Mike Zimmer’s defense in Cincy, and had a knack for deflecting a lot of passes thanks to his size and long arms. (UPDATE 3/11: Michael Johson has signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.)
Henry Melton/DT/Bears (6’3, 295lbs) – It looked like it was going to be a breakout season for Melton in 2013, as the four year veteran out of Texas had increased his total tackles numbers by 20 from 2011 to 2012, and sacked quarterbacks six times two years ago. The terrific three technique disruptor looked poised to succeed, but an ACL tear ripped the season away from him, as Melton only played in three games in last year. He’s still recovering from the injury at the moment, and that could possibly hurt his value in a flooded defensive line market. (UPDATE 3/18: Henry Melton has signed with the Dallas Cowboys.)
B.J. Raji/DT/Packers (6’2, 337lbs) – Sometimes, statistics don’t show the whole story. That is most certainly in the case of ginormous Green Bay defensive tackle Raji, as the 330-pound monster of a man served as the central run stopper in Dom Capers’ defense. Raji basically served as a human wall and space eater in the center of the Packers defense, taking on blockers to help fellow defenders to make plays at the line or in opposing backfields. He’s made 129 tackles and recorded 10.5 sacks in his five-year career. (UPDATE 3/14: B.J. Raji has re-signed with the Green Bay Packers.)
Paul Soliai/DT/Dolphins (6’4, 340lbs) – Among the most versatile and deceptively quick 340-pound men playing in the National Football League, Soliai has spent all seven seasons in Miami, playing in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses during his time with the Fins. One of the league’s premier run stuffers, the Dolphins 4th round pick in 2007 has totaled 160 tackles in his career, to go along with 4.5 sacks and 12 pass deflections. Soliai made the Pro Bowl in 2011. (UPDATE 3/11: Soliai has agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons.)
Randy Starks/DT/Dolphins (6’3, 305lbs) - Another long time member of the Dolphins, Starks has spent the last six seasons with the Fins playing a variety of positions in a variety of defenses. Serving more as a three technique in a 4-3 the past two years under defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Starks has been part of the three man tackle rotation that featured fellow free agent Paul Soliai, and Jared Odrick. In his 10 year career, he has 356 combined tackles, 36.5 sacks, four interceptions and one forced fumble. (UPDATE 3/12: Randy Starks has re-signed with the Miami Dolphins.)
Justin Tuck/DE/Giants (6’5, 268lbs) - A two time All-Pro and two time Super Bowl champion, Tuck was rumored to be on the wrong side of his prime before the 2013 season. But then the resilient 2005 3rd round pick out of Notre Dame went out to prove the doubters wrong, and produced one of the best seasons in his career. In 2013, the Giants captain sacked quarterbacks 11 times, just a sack shy of a career high he set in 2012. He played in all 16 games (starting all but one), had 63 total tackles, forced two fumbles, and had two interceptions. (UPDATE 3/13: Justin Tuck has signed with the Oakland Raiders.)
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