2017 NFL Free Agency: 5 Best Pass Rushers
Pass rushers are always high in demand, but who are the top five that will be available during the 2017 NFL free agency period?
While the draft is the preferred method for building a team, free agency is just as important when trying to fill in a certain missing piece. The only problem is doing so could become rather costly, especially during the first wave of signings. For the 2017 NFL free agency period there will be some big names out there, as always, and the price tags are sure to be as high as ever.
One area of specialty that always generates a lot of money, as well as a lot of discussion, is pass rushing. Last season the New York Giants signed defensive end Olivier Vernon to a huge deal to try and shore up this area. Other teams were more desperate in recent years, like the Dallas Cowboys who gave defensive end Greg Hardy a lucrative deal in 2015 despite his terrible off field issues involving domestic violence.
Truth is, if you can rush the passer you will always be in demand in the NFL. So who are the main guys who thrive at bringing the heat into the backfield? Here are the top five available starting with a defensive tackle.
5. Nick Fairley, DT — New Orleans Saints
Maybe the third time is a charm? The Detroit Lions drafted defensive tackle Nick Fairley out of Auburn with their 13th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He spent the year prior to his selection winning a National Championship, and earning the defensive player of the game award for his efforts which included five tackles and a sack.
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Fairley was part of a stout Detroit defensive line with Ndamukong Suh lining up next to him. He never reached his full potential though and Detroit let him leave via free agency in 2015. He landed with the Rams (of St. Louis then) and spent the whole year in a reserve role. This past season he became a full time starter again and he looked like the guy he was during his time in Detroit again. He now enters his third consecutive offseason in need of a contract.
The 308-pound tackle recorded 43 tackles and 6.4 sacks for New Orleans. Reports suggest both he and the team want to work out a deal, but there’s no guarantee that will happen before free agency opens up. Once it does, Fairley will be a hot commodity if not re-signed by the Saints. If he can stick somewhere, the physical talent and upside are still there for him to be a tremendous force.
4. Nick Perry, OLB — Green Bay Packers
Nick Perry wasn’t a regular starter for the Green Bay Packers until 2016. Before that he served as a rotational pass rusher who never recorded more than four sacks in a single season. He was considered a bit of an under-performer and for that reason the Packers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. The 28th overall pick out of USC in 2012 was then re-signed on a one year “prove-it” deal for $5 million.
Perry bet on himself by staying in the system he knew rather than trying to get more years somewhere else, and that bet paid off. He recorded career highs in tackles with 52, sacks with 11, pass deflections with four and even had his first career interception.
A bright spot in an otherwise meek pass defense, Perry finally fulfilled his immense potential and is set to cash in. The question will be whether he strikes it rich with Green Bay, or with another franchise.
While Perry has been playing outside linebacker in the Packer 3-4 system, there’s no reason to think he has to stay in such a scheme to remain productive. He stands 6-3 and at 265 pounds he has enough size and strength to play with his hand in the dirt and be just as successful as he was standing up and rushing the passer.
3. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE — New York Giants
Once considered one of the focal points of the New York Giants franchise, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul may find himself on the outside looking in during 2017 NFL free agency. Last season the G-Men gave a five-year, $85 million deal to former Dolphins pass rusher Olivier Vernon. The move pretty much signaled the end for JPP, as there really is no way they can afford to give him what he wants after dishing out that kind of money.
Of course, there’s a reason the team felt they had to go that route. Pierre-Paul had a fireworks accident during the 2015 offseason which resulted in him losing part of his right hand. He managed to play just eight games that season and recorded only one sack. He played that year on the franchise tag, and like Perry before, he signed a one-year deal in 2016 to prove he deserved a deal with more years and security.
Pierre-Paul played in 12 games last year and was much more effective than his first season playing after his hand injury. He recorded 53 tackles and seven sacks for the Giants stellar defense. He provided many more quarterback pressure and is now in line to earn a huge deal this offseason.
2. Melvin Ingram, OLB — Los Angeles Chargers
Our No. 2 ranked pass rusher available this offseason is Los Angeles Chargers defensive end/outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. The former South Carolina Gamecock was chosen in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Chargers, who were still in San Diego at the time. Ingram was the big pas rusher prior to Jadeveon Clowney in Carolina during the few years stretch while the Gamecocks were a formidable SEC team under head coach Steve Spurrier.
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Ingram had 18 quarterback pressures as a rookie, but managed just one sack in his reserve role. Hopes were high entering Year 2, but a torn ACL sent him to IR early on. He returned to play in four games, but again recorded just one sack. He continued to struggle with his health in 2014, missing seven games for the Chargers, but he did record four sacks that season.
Finally in 2015, Ingram broke out as he recorded 65 tackles and 10.5 sacks for San Diego. He displayed that same burst he had pre-injury and followed it up with another eight sacks in 2016. Now the question is whether or not L.A. wants to bring him with them to their new home. The team was led in sacks this past season by rookie Joey Bosa.
They could try and keep together a competent dup of pass rushers, or maybe they feel it would be more prudent to let Ingram walk and pair Bosa with a rookie. If Ingram does hit the open market, he could be one of the higher paid pass rushers this offseason.
1. Chandler Jones, DE/OLB — Arizona Cardinals
The New England Patriots know how to find talent, even if they don’t want to keep that talent. In the same 2012 NFL Draft where the Chargers found Ingram, the Pats took Chandler Jones out of Syracuse 21st overall and he quickly became the best pass rusher they had. The brother of fellow NFL player Arthur Jones and UFC fighter Jon Jones, Chandler had 36 sacks in four seasons for New England including a career high 12.5 in 2015.
Then New England traded him away for a second-round pick. The move basically meant that New England was happier to get a prospect than have to pay Jones for his great production. For Arizona, they just wanted to solve their pass rushing woes and hoped to be able to keep Jones beyond this season. To date, they have not worked out a deal, but it’s not likely that he will come cheap. In Jones’ lone season in Arizona he had 49 tackles and 11 sacks. That kind of production warrants some big money.
Currently the Cards and Jones are discussing a long-term deal, so he may not even hit the open market. If he were to sign another player like outside linebacker Erik Walden of Indianapolis, defensive end Jabaal Sheard of New England or outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos could sneak into the top five.