NFL Draft Free Agency: Pass Rushers, O-Linemen in Demand

Huge Contracts Doled Out During Signing Period

Free Agency: Top NFL Signings

The quarterbacks on the move have dominated the NFL offseason chatter, and with good reason. Russell Wilson is now in Denver, Matt Ryan is QB1 with Indianapolis, Deshaun Watson’s next snap – whenever that may be – will come with the Cleveland Browns while Carson Wentz is heading to Washington.

However, when it comes to looking at the top players available in free agency since the end of the 2021 season, defense rules the day.

Seven of the top 10 available free agents according to the CBS online database come from the defensive side of the ball.

Here’s a look at where some of the big names landed in a wild offseason, with plenty of moves surprising those who made 2022 NFL free agency predictions.

Edge Rushers in Demand

Von Miller’s stay with the Los Angeles Rams wasn’t a long one, although it did result in the future Hall of Famer picking up his second Super Bowl ring.

Miller, the No. 2 free agent according to CBS, signed a six-year deal with the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo, considered a Super Bowl contender before this signing, becomes all the more dangerous now. However, there will come a time when the salary cap implications will hurt the Bills.

Buffalo saw the last two Super Bowl champions – Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Rams – go all-in as they went after the NFL title and it looks like the Bills NFL free agency plan is trying to follow that script.

While he is not an edge rusher, the Rams did bring in former Seattle Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner for significantly less than what they would have needed to play Miller. The Rams also signed receiver Allen Robinson.

Chandler Jones left the Arizona Cardinals to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders. It’s debatable whether a pass rusher was really the biggest NFL free agency need for the Raiders with Maxx Crosby already there. But, after making a huge splash with the acquisition of all-everything receiver Davante Adams, the Raiders made waves on the other side of the ball.

The Randy Gregory saga felt like a college football power play when an elite program flips a top prospect on national signing day.

Gregory agreed to sign with the Dallas Cowboys before changing his mind and signing for pretty much the same terms with the Denver Broncos. It is an unprecedented move to see a player take a 180-degree turn like that.

Gregory will add a pass-rushing threat to a team with high hopes after trading for Russell Wilson.

Haason Reddick is the youngest of the edge rushers to change teams as the former Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers star returns to Philadelphia, the city where he played his college football.

The 27-year-old Reddick was a first-round pick by Arizona out of Temple in 2017. After recording only 7.5 sacks in his first three seasons, he exploded with 12.5 in 2020. Reddick left to play for his former college coach Matt Rhule at Carolina and had another 11 sacks. Now he joins the Philadelphia Eagles.

We Must Protect the Quarterback

If the edge rusher was No. 1 on the wish list of teams eyeing free agents, the offensive line was 1A.

Four of the top 14 free agents are O-linemen, including the top free agent. Terron Armstead signed a five-year deal with the Miami Dolphins after beginning his career blocking for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

The Dolphins have tried to bolster their offensive line through the draft with marginal results and now turn to the 30-year-old Armstead. Two of the worst teams in the league also turned to free agency to land sought-after interior linemen. Brandon Scherff goes from Washington to Jacksonville while Laken Tomlinson leaves the San Francisco 49ers for the New York Jets.

Perhaps the best move based on age and term could be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to sign James Daniels away from the Chicago Bears. The 25-year-old Daniels signed for three years for millions less per year than either Scherff or Tomlinson.

Chargers Trying to Corner Market

Already having to face Patrick Mahomes twice a year, the Los Angeles Chargers suddenly have to deal with Russell Wilson and Adams, perhaps the best receiver in football, multiple times vs. the Broncos and Raiders in the AFC West.

The Chargers decided to make a move of their own by securing the top-rated free-agent defensive back.

JC Jackson was an interception machine with the New England Patriots, but when Bill Belichick wasn’t going to sign Jackson, the Chargers were more than happy to take the 26-year-old cornerback off New England’s hands.

Another key signing was the Baltimore Ravens picking up former New Orleans safety Marcus Williams, as the Ravens look to reclaim their spot as the class of the AFC North.

Sometimes Best Move is No Move

Not all the top available players went after greener pastures.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a year removed from winning the Super Bowl, brought back cornerback Carlton Davis and center Ryan Jensen.

The Buccaneers already lost key pieces to their offensive line and secondary with the retirement of offensive guard Ali Marpet, guard Alex Cappa heading to Cincinnati and safety Jordan Whitehead signing with the New York Jets.

Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell remained with the Green Bay Packers, safety Quandre Diggs re-signed in Seattle while edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah (Miami Dolphins) and offensive tackle Trent Brown (New England Patriots) also stayed put.

Impact players are still available

While most of the top players in free agency are off the board, there are some players who could be key contributors.

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore is the top unsigned player, although it could be argued that safety Tyrann Mathieu could easily hold down that top spot. Both players are still in their 20s with Super Bowl rings.

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, edge rusher (and former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney), offensive tackle Duane Brown, receiver Odell Beckham Jr. as well as pass rushers Derek Barnett and Melvin Ingram are all available.

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