The defensive line is one of the most important position groups in the NFL. Teams that control the line of scrimmage usually win the game.
The Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl with the best offensive line and one of the best defensive lines. On the defensive line, they have multiple pass rushers on each end spot. They have a fresh pass rusher on almost every snap and at the end of the game. They also have interior linemen that can stop the run and get penetration up the middle.
NFL teams have been trying to get that model for years. Teams find the right mix of players to accomplish it every once in a while. The majority of the teams in the league will continue looking for the right players in free agency and the draft this offseason.
Here are the best edge defenders scheduled to be free agents on March 14.
#1 - Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Lawrence had a breakout season in 2017. He finished tied for second in the league with 14.5 sacks last season. His previous career-high was eight, which he did in 2015. In 2016, he had only one sack in nine games. He missed seven games due to a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy (four games) and a back injury (three). The Cowboys have already come out and said Lawrence will be a Cowboy next season. In addition to having the suspension history, he recorded just four sacks over the second half of the season. There is some risk to re-signing Lawrence, especially to a lucrative contract, which he will likely command.
#2 - Ezekiel Ansah, Lions
The Lions franchised Ansah and will likely keep him at the franchise number. The Lions drafted him fifth overall in 2013 because of his size and athleticism. He has freakish ability, but has had a roller coaster career in the NFL. His last three seasons included a career-high 14.5 sacks in 2015, followed by a two sack performance in 2016 and got to 12 last year. The Lions are hoping that 2016 was a fluke. It may have been and using the franchise tag is a low-risk way to find out.
#3 - Adrian Clayborn, Falcons
Clayborn entered the league with a lot of hype as a big, pass rusher off the edge. He recorded 7.5 sacks as a rookie in 2011. He played just one season playing more than three games over the next four years. He joined the Falcons in 2015 and gradually increased his sack output from three in 2015 to 9.5 last season. He is not a premier pass rusher. But, as the No. 2 rusher, he is a difference maker.
Wild Card - Julius Peppers, Panthers
What does Peppers want to do this offseason? He is 38-years-old and played a lot of football in his 17 seasons in the league. He hasn’t missed a game since 2007 and may be ready to retire. However, he had 11 sacks last season and has reached double digits in two of the last three. He is still very effective at his craft. Seeing what Peppers wants to do will be as interesting as what happens with the quarterbacks.
Here are the best defensive tackles scheduled to be free agents on March 14.
#1 - Muhammad Wilkerson, Jets
The Jets took a big stand toward rebuilding by beginning the process of stripping the roster down. Monday, they continued the process by releasing Wilkerson. He played an end position in the Jets’ 3-4 base scheme, but has the size and athleticism to be one of the better tackles. He can beat guards and centers as a pass rusher and hold up at the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Reports have already surfaced that his first visit would be to Green Bay. That would be a very good signing for the Packers.
#2 - Sheldon Richardson, Seahawks
The Seahawks acquired Richardson from the Jets last offseason to bolster an already very good defensive line. He missed one game, but had just one sack. He had just one sack last season after recording 1.5 in 2016. He is an athletic interior pass rusher type, but, if he can’t get more than two sacks, he is not going to get the offers he wants. The Seahawks have already said they are not going to franchise him.
#3 - Beau Allen, Eagles
Allen is a bit of an under-the-radar player this summer. He was a big part of the Eagles’ run stopping defense. He is not going to light the boxscore because he is not a quick-twitch pass rusher, but he is able to control the line of scrimmage and take up offensive lineman so linebackers and defensive ends are able to make plays in the backfield. Few players are able to accept and excel in that type of role.