Jared Allen, Henry Melton headline best remaining 2014 NFL defensive free agents
The chaotic start to free agency has given way to a much more controlled setting around the NFL. The goal for teams now: find a few bargains who can help fill out a roster and, if luck should have it, a starting lineup.
What’s left on the defensive side of the ball?
1. Henry Melton
2. Pat Sims
Melton is recovering from ACL surgery, but he's still an appealing player to a number of teams, primarily because he can stop the run and bring pressure from the tackle and end spots, which helps in today's hybrid defenses. The Vikings, Cowboys and Seahawks have a bead on him. Sims had a career year in Oakland after five seasons in Cincinnati, and he'll fit in any scheme where a slightly undersized tackle (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) can make plays. Williams played at a Hall of Fame level for a number of years -- all for the Vikings -- but at 34 years old when the 2014 season starts, he's bound to get a shorter contract. He still put up 3.5 sacks in 2013.
1. Jared Allen
2. Robert Ayers
Allen has received serious interest from the Seahawks, Bears and Cowboys, and even at age 32 when the 2014 season starts, he's clearly still got a lot left in the tank -- as his 11.5-sack season in 2013 showed. He'd be a perfect rotational pass-rusher in a 4-3 defense; the question is whether any team will meet Allen's demands (said by some to be over $10 million per year) even in the short term. Ayers is a sneaky-good end who improved in Jack Del Rio's scheme in Denver over the last couple of seasons. He's best suited as an end in a 3-4 front, though he can also bring pressure inside when playing nickel and dime packages. Wootton had a down season in 2013 due to hip issues, but like Ayers, he's got the size (6-6, 270) and skill to fill more than one position.
1. Arthur Moats
2. Akeem Jordan
3. Pat Angerer
This was a relatively shallow pool before free agency even started -- only Karlos Dansby, who went to the Cleveland Browns, was what could be considered a franchise-level player. However, there are some relatively inexpensive players left for teams in need. Moats can play inside in hybrid roles -- he's done time in 3-4 and 4-3 units in Buffalo. Jordan is a two-down thumper who followed Andy Reid from Philadelphia to Kansas City last season because Reid appreciated his in-game intelligence. He had 67 tackles and a career-high two forced fumbles in 2013 under defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. Angerer was once a star in Indy's defense, but injuries -- and the ascent of Jerrell Freeman -- made him a second-tier option.
3. Rob Jackson
Spencer missed most of the 2013 season after undergoing microfracture surgery, and he'll be best suited to the outside linebacker position from now on -- the Cowboys tried him at end last year, and that went about as well as everything else Monte Kiffin did. He's got some nice upside as an edge rusher in a straight 3-4. Phillips impressed and surprised by putting up 10 sacks for the Broncos on a one-year deal. He can still get pressure with schematic help and inside stunts, and he can flip inside to end if he has to. Jackson has worked well in reserve of the Redskins' injured outside linebackers over the last couple of seasons, and he could be a bargain in that secondary role.
Cromartie was a Jets' cap casualty, and he's expressed interest in re-signing with Rex Ryan. As always, he'll provide a head-scratching combination of amazing plays and coverage blunders -- and closing in on the wrong side of 30, he might have to settle for a "prove-it" deal. Patterson played in just six games last season before a groin injury got in the way, and he'll be 31 in June, but he had four picks in just 241 coverage snaps. (Caveat: Two came against Brandon Weeden.) Rogers will be 33 when the new season starts, but he still has value as a slot corner, where he allowed a 73.9 opponent passer rating and picked off two passes for the 49ers last season.
3. James Ihedigbo Clemons was a do-it-all guy for the Dolphins last season, putting up 62 solo tackles, a handful of quarterback hurries and an interception. He'd be a fine fit for any team looking to add a deep safety who can also fly around against the run a bit. Gregory had a career season for the Patriots in 2012 after several years in San Diego, but he trailed off last year, and was one of New England's salary cap cuts. He might be best-suited for a reserve role at this point. Ihedigbo could very well sign with Detroit as Louis Delmas' replacement -- former Ravens defensive backs coach Teryl Austin, now Detroit's defensive coordinator, has praised his leadership and playmaking.