The 2019 NFL free agent market is flush with defensive talent. Particularly if a team has holes on the Defensive Line or at Safety. A few of the following players will get slapped with the franchise tag, but as of today, they are free agents.
10.) Brandon Graham – DE
Graham is entering his 10th season in the NFL at 31-years-old. Had he been 3-4 years younger he would be much higher on this list. The Eagles are very unlikely to re-sign Graham as they have very little cap space and depth at the edge rusher position in Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett,
Being 31-years-old is not an ideal age for signing, but his play the last few years likely bought him a final lucrative pay-day. He still impacts the game both against the run and pass. While his sack totals aren’t anything to write home about, he will upgrade almost any defensive line in the league.
9.) Le’Veon Bell – RB
Le’Veon Bell is looking to get paid. Bottom line. He turned down 33 million guaranteed this past off-season and gave up 14.5 million by sitting out. This past summer, Todd Gurley signed a four year – 57.5 million dollar contract with 45 million of that guaranteed. There is little doubt Bell is aiming to receive a similar deal. There is also little doubt Bell deserves it.
While on the field, he is one of the most impressive RBs in the league. Bell is both quick and fast, both patient and decisive. He can be your top RB and your WR2. He is a threat anywhere on the field. However, sitting out did him no favors. It is becoming more and more clear that the RB position is replaceable. With the RB market in flux, it is tough to say how teams will value Bell.
One thing though is for sure; he is a bonafide stud. In his last four years, per game, Bell averages 86.6 yards and .55 TDs on the ground and 5.4 catches and 42.7 yards through the air. Lucky for Bell, there any many teams in need of an RB and have the cap space to pay him.
8.) Landon Collins – S
Collins didn’t have his best year in 2018. He finished the season on IR with a shoulder injury. However, we have seen enough of him over the years to know he can play like an elite safety and stay healthy while delivering those booming hits. The Giants defense has long been underachieving and Collins has consistently been a bright spot.
He has the rare ability to drop in coverage or stack the box and do both at a high level. There is a chance the Giants decide to franchise tag him, but there will be no shortage of suitors come March 13th.
7.) Dee Ford- LB/Edge
Dee Ford is currently infamous for the play that likely costed the Chiefs a shot at the Superbowl, lining up offside on a Tom Brady interception. However, anyone who watched Dee Ford this season know the Chiefs would have likely not been in that position without his elite play this season.
Ford is a bit of risk as he has been mediocre for his first four years before breaking out in a big way this past season. He has one of the quickest first steps in football, and that is something you can’t teach. Ford finished the 2018 season with 15 sacks and over 45 hurries, both career highs. Another candidate for the franchise tag as his 2018 numbers have proven to be an exception, not the rule.
6.) Frank Clark – DE
Frank Clark started his career on an ugly note as he was dismissed from the University of Michigan football team for domestic abuse. Nevertheless, the Seahawks still drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. After a rough rookie campaign, he has posted 32 sacks over the last three seasons.
He finished this year with 13 sacks and over 50 pressures, all before age 26. He had a career year this in 2018 and claimed he was playing at “60%,” due to injury. With his checkered past and injuries behind him, he enters the 2019 season as one of the better free agents. If the Seahawks can’t get a long term deal done, he is a strong candidate for the franchise tag.
5.) Grady Jarrett – DT
Grady Jarrett enters the 2019 off-season as the top defensive tackle available. he is a true game wrecker from the interior position and is only 25 years old. Although he is traditionally undersized for an interior defensive lineman at 300 pounds, the game is clearly changing. Having a 330-340 lb run stuffer is always valuable but if you can get a defensive tackle who can create consistent pressure while also defending the run, you have yourself an elite player.
He was arguably the best player on the Falcon’s defense, and interior pass rushers are a premium in today’s game. With that said, it is hard to see the Falcons let Jarrett slip away. The franchise tag is looming.
4.) Trey Flowers – DE
Trey Flowers isn’t your prototypical pass rusher as his sack totals are above average with 21 sacks over the past three years. Where he makes his money is his versatility. Flowers can do a lot of things well; he can rush from the outside and kick inside. He can also stop the run and the pass at a very high level.
Flowers had his best year in 2018 and has been the Patriot’s best defensive lineman for awhile now. He is perfect for any football team as he can succeed from anywhere along the defensive line. Add in the fact that he just won the Super Bowl and Flowers is likely in for a big payday.
3.) Jadeveon Clowney – LB/Edge
As former #1 overall pick Clowney is in no shortage of talent and physical abilities. However, his play has not matched his draft stock. Clowney hasn’t topped 10 sacks in a season in four relatively healthy years.
Clowney has progressed every year and appears to have put it all together as he enters free agency. He has always been a much better run defender than pass rusher, but playing opposite of JJ Watt has likely made up for some of his shortcomings. As the #1 overall pick who is trending up, he very likely ends up franchise tagged.
2.) Earl Thomas – S
While Earl Thomas is also a candidate for the franchise tag, the Seahawks can’t tag both Thomas and Frank Clark. With the drama brewing between the Seahawks and Thomas, it is more likely Thomas hits free agency. Pete Carroll even admitted he had not spoken to Thomas since he broke his leg in week 4.
It not very often a strong Hall of Fame candidate hits free agency. Even at age 30, teams will be lining up to sign Earl Thomas. He still can be a top 3 safety in the league. He is a rare play-maker at the position and can flip the trajectory of a game with just one play.
1.) Demarcus Lawrence – DE
After his career year in the 2017, Lawrence was franchise tagged. He had done very little from 2014-2016 so the franchise tag going into 2018 was more a “prove this wasn’t a fluke,” deal.
Well, Lawrence spent picked up the 2018 season right where he left off, in elite form. He is a top five pass rusher and the top free agent this off-season. As he was franchised tagged last season, it would be very costly for the Cowboys to do it again. At age 27, Lawrence is likely in for a monster deal.