Published On: Sat, Mar 3rd, 2018

Top 10 free-agent defensive linemen

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NFL free agency begins March 14 – the first day of the new league year. Here is our list of the top 10 free-agent defensive linemen, broken down between interior linemen and edge rushers.

Interior Linemen

5. DaQuan Jones

2017 Team: Titans
2017 Salary: $1,797,000
2017 Stats: 31 tackles, 3.5 sacks

Jones doesn’t come with much fanfare, but he appeared to be finding his footing in the NFL before suffering a torn biceps that ended his season in December. Still a developing talent, he should draw plenty of looks if the Titans let him hit the free-agent market.

4. Dontari Poe

2017 Team: Falcons
2017 Salary: $7,500,000
2017 Stats: 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks

Poe acclimated himself well in his only season in Atlanta, but with fewer buzz plays, his reputation took a bit of a hit. He’s still a valuable presence on the inside and should generate a substantial amount of interest.

3. Kyle Williams

2017 Team: Bills
2017 Salary: $6,300,000
2017 Stats: 41 tackles, 3 sacks

It’d be tough to envision Williams in anything other than a Bills uniform. He’s been a mainstay on Buffalo’s D-line for 12 seasons and the organization is giving him time to make a decision on whether he wants to continue his career – and do so with the Bills. He helped end the franchise’s near two-decade-long playoff drought and may have unfinished business.

2. Muhammad Wilkerson

2017 Team: Jets
2017 Salary: $14,750,000
2017 Stats: 46 tackles, 3.5 sacks

Wilkerson just hasn’t performed at the same level since netting a big five-year, $86-million deal in 2016. The Jets determined the headaches (tardiness, inconsistent play) weren’t worth the price tag. Wilkerson would have made north of $15 million in each of the next three seasons. It’s likely that any taker will have him sign a prove-it deal.

1. Sheldon Richardson

2017 Team: Seahawks
2017 Salary: $8,069,000
2017 Stats: 44 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble

Richardson was far and away the top interior defensive lineman available before his former teammate Wilkerson hit the block and narrowed the gap. However, reports have surfaced that the Seahawks intend to sign him to a long-term deal. Seattle isn’t flush with cap space, but the team has identified Richardson as a player worth keeping.

Edge Rushers

5. Junior Galette

2017 Team: Redskins
2017 Salary: $775,000
2017 Stats: 20 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Galette returned from Achilles tears in the previous two seasons to appear in all 16 games in 2017. In a limited role, he managed three sacks. He expects to hit free agency and hopes to have proven to prospective teams that he’s still got it.

4. Adrian Clayborn

2017 Team: Falcons
2017 Salary: $3,750,000
2017 Stats: 21 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

The majority of Clayborn’s sack input came on a six-sack day when the Cowboys were without all-world tackle Tyron Smith. Nonetheless, Clayborn is set to turn his gaudy numbers into a major windfall. Suitors should be wary, however, that his Week 10 performance was merely a mirage.

3. Julius Peppers

2017 Team: Panthers
2017 Salary: $1,000,000
2017 Stats: 33 tackles, 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Peppers continues to escape Father Time’s clutches. In a reduced role, the 16-year veteran managed to rack up 11 sacks in 2017 in his return to Carolina. He played on a one-year, incentive-laden deal and could earn even more than the $3.5 million he brought in last season.

2. Alex Okafor

2017 Team: Saints
2017 Salary: $935,000
2017 Stats: 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

In 10 games, Okafor was a starter on a revitalized Saints defense. He collected 4.5 quarterback sacks before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in November. It’s one of the toughest injuries to return from. If he can make it back, he should draw interest in a market short on effective pass-rushers.

1. Demarcus Lawrence

2017 Team: Cowboys
2017 Salary: $1,170,906
2017 Stats: 58 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles

Ziggy Ansah was the best pass-rusher slated to hit free agency and the Lions made sure to lock him up via the franchise tag. The Cowboys have already stated they’ll do the same with Lawrence if they can’t negotiate a long-term deal. Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the team won’t let Lawrence out of the building, so other teams may be out of luck.

(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
(Contract figures courtesy: Over The Cap)

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