Putting pressure on the opposing quarterback is critical to a team’s success in today’s NFL, and there are a number of players still languishing on the free-agent market who are capable of doing just that.
While the pandemic has understandably made teams leery of authorizing big-money contracts, some of the available talent can be had for a minimal commitment, and it would not be surprising to see some players come off the board as we get closer (hopefully) to training camp.
So let’s take a look at the best of the unsigned pass-rushers.
Not many players have been in the news more than Clowney this offseason. By now, everyone knows Clowney was seeking a multi-year deal with an AAV of at least $20M when free agency opened, but he has had to modify his demands in a big way.
The Browns reportedly have two offers on the table: A one-year pact worth $15M, and a multi-year contract worth around $12M/year. Cleveland does not seem to be high on Clowney’s list of preferred destinations, but the club does have the makings of a postseason contender. It will be interesting to see if another team tries to top the Browns’ offers to land a potentially game-changing talent.
Back in May, Griffen was rated as our No. 3 best available free agent, and he would be the No. 2 talent on that list today now that QB Cam Newton has signed with the Patriots. Shortly after the list was published, we heard that the Cardinals may be interested in Griffen, but nothing has transpired. The 32-year-old defensive end showed that he still has plenty left in the tank after registering eight sacks last season with the Vikings, and the fact that he is still unsigned may indicate that his contract demands are too high.
The Seahawks paired Clowney with Ansah in 2019 with the hopes of creating a true two-headed pass-rushing monster. That did not exactly work out as planned as Clowney managed just three sacks and Ansah posted 2 1/2 while playing in 11 games. Ansah just couldn’t regain the form he displayed during his best years with the Lions. Still, he is another year removed from the shoulder injury that marred his 2018 season and delayed his 2019 start, so Ansah could be a value pickup for some team.
Bennett, 34, wants to play this season, but thus far has been unable to land a deal. The three-time Pro Bowler enjoyed a nine-sack effort with the Eagles in 2018 but was traded to the Patriots in March 2019 and reportedly clashed with New England brass. Last October, the Pats shipped him to the Cowboys, for whom he posted four sacks in nine games. In total, Bennett collected 6 1/2 sacks last season while playing fewer snaps than he's accustomed to. He may very well start to attract more interest once camp gets underway.
No one other than the incumbent Giants has expressed interest in Golden since free agency began, and it seems like the 29-year-old outside linebacker will be back with Big Blue in 2020. The Giants put the rarely-used UFA tender on Golden, which means he will only be eligible to play for New York if he does not sign another offer prior to the start of training camp (presently scheduled for July 28). Though Golden posted 10 sacks in 2019, he did so off of just 26 pressures, which teams likely see as an unsustainable conversion rate. The UFA tender would pay Golden $4.125M this season.
Sheard has never quite lived up to his potential as a game-changing pass-rusher, and the 8 1/2 sacks he totaled in his rookie season in 2011 remain a career high. But he has averaged more than five sacks per season over the course of a mostly durable nine-year career, and still looks the part of a starting defensive end. Fresh off a reasonably productive three-year stint with the Colts, Sheard has not yet been connected to any club this offseason.
Matthews opened the 2019 season with his hair on fire, posting six sacks in the first five games. It appeared that the two-year, $16.75M contract the Rams gave the longtime Packer was going to pay off in a big way. But Matthews suffered a broken jaw in October that derailed his season. He picked up two more sacks the rest of the way, and L.A. cut ties with him earlier this year. There have been no reports of interest in the 34-year-old Matthews, but he would be a valuable veteran presence if deployed in the right way.
Curry has always been a situational pass-rusher. Even when he started all 16 regular-season games for the Eagles in 2017, he played in just over half of the club’s defensive snaps. His one year in Tampa Bay in 2018 was not a smashing success and he returned to Philadelphia in 2019 to reprise his role as a player who can come in on passing downs and represents a legitimate threat to get to the quarterback. The Jets were said to be interested in Curry in March, and Gang Green could still use pass-rushing help, but the two sides have not yet come together on an agreement.
Suggs’ career accomplishments stand head and shoulders above those of most everyone else on this list. The former Defensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time Pro Bowler has 139 career sacks but finally started to slow down in 2018, his final year in Baltimore. Suggs, 37 looked the part of an aging defender during his 13-game stint with the Cardinals in 2019. Arizona cut him late last season and he was scooped up by the Chiefs, which allowed Suggs to collect his second Super Bowl ring. It’s unclear if T-Sizzle has any interest in continuing his playing career, but he has nothing left to prove.
Another player who would be higher on this list if not for his age, Wake was released by the Titans in March. The 38-year-old has said he wants to keep playing, but after a terrific run with the Dolphins from 2009-18, Wake’s one year with Tennessee did not go according to plan. He registered just two sacks in nine games and missed the final stretch of the season with a back injury. He might well be healthy now, but we are unaware of any teams with interest at this point.