Top Free Agents: Hali, Williams, Vernon headline weak edge-rush class

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With free agency just around the corner, theScore takes a look at the top available players at each position. Unrestricted free agents can officially sign at 4 p.m. ET on March 9.

Top Free Agents By Position

Outside Linebackers

Tamba Hali

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 275 lbs.
Age: 32

2015 stats: 48 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 2 FF

Hali and the Kansas City Chiefs have both stated a desire for their partnership to continue, but with several other high-profile free agents needing to be paid, and Hali's skills diminishing, he could hit the open market. Teams running a 3-4 defense will jump at the chance to add Hali, and he'll likely thrive if he's not asked to shoulder too much of the pass-rushing burden.

Potential landing spots: Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears

Mike Neal

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 262 lbs.
Age: 28

2015 stats: 36 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 1 FF

With Clay Matthews set to play more snaps at outside linebacker next season, there will presumably be fewer opportunities for Neal to cement a starting spot. Neal would likely be retained over Nick Perry, the Packers' other free agent linebacker. However, Neal could benefit from the weak linebacker market, and be offered the type of starting role and money that Green Bay can't match.

Potential landing spots: Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets

Courtney Upshaw

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 272 lbs.
Age: 26

2015 stats: 51 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 FF

Upshaw hasn't developed into the type of player the Ravens hoped he'd be when they drafted him in the second round, and could subsequently be allowed to leave unless he can be retained on a cheap deal. A natural landing spot is the Colts, with Upshaw's former linebackers coach, Ted Monachino, now the team's defensive coordinator.

Potential landing spots: Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets

Defensive Ends

Olivier Vernon

Height: 6'2"
Weight: 275 lbs.
Age: 25

2015 stats: 61 tackles, 7.5 sacks

Vernon was slapped with the transition tag, but he could still be the most in-demand defensive free agent. He had the best year of his career in 2015, and while some teams may be concerned that it came in a contract season, he's undoubtedly one of the most talented young defensive ends in the game. A team with a ton of cap space could offer Vernon a huge contract, and even though the Dolphins can match the deal, they may not have the resources to do so.

Potential landing spots: Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals

Mario Williams

Height: 6'6"
Weight: 292 lbs.
Age: 31

2015 stats: 19 tackles, 5.0 sacks

Williams was once one of the most feared pass-rushers in the league, but his production significantly declined in 2015, leading the Bills to part ways with him. Teams who are in need of a 4-3 defensive end or a rush linebacker in a 3-4 will likely be interested in Williams' services. His messy exit from Buffalo, coupled with his apparent lack of effort last season, could lead him to receive an incentive-laden deal.

Potential landing spots: Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders

Jason Pierre-Paul

Height: 6'5"
Weight: 278 lbs.
Age: 27

2015 stats: 26 tackles, 1.0 sack

Pierre-Paul is a unique case. Before the Fourth of July incident that mangled his right hand, he was considered one of the NFL's best young pass rushers. Upon his return, he struggled to remain productive while wearing a protective club on his hand. He's undergoing more offseason surgeries, and although teams looking for 4-3 defensive ends will still likely be interested in him, it's hard to predict what Pierre-Paul's market will be because of the question marks that remain.

Potential landing spots: New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons

Chris Long

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 268 lbs.
Age: 30

2015 stats: 19 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF

Chris Long has failed to hit double-digit sacks for the past three consecutive seasons, and the Rams parted ways with him due to his unworkable cap number. However, Long's woes have been partly due to injuries, and he could still be a valuable member of a pass-rushing rotation if he can remain healthy. Moving to a third-down specialist might be the best move for Long to maximize his talents and avoid future injuries.

Potential landing spots: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals

Robert Ayers

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 275 lbs.
Age: 30

2015 stats: 41 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 FF

Ayers could be the more attractive option of the two Giants free agent defensive ends. While he started the season slowly, his production picked up towards the end of the year. His age may be a factor in teams not wanting to hand him a large contract, but Ayers has been one of the most under-appreciated edge rushers of the past several seasons.

Potential landing spots: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars

Other notable free-agent edge rushers

  • Charles Johnson
  • Chris Clemons
  • Greg Hardy
  • Nick Perry
  • William Hayes
  • Jason Jones
  • Eugene Sims
  • Adrian Clayborn
  • Anthony Spencer
  • LaMarr Woodley
  • Larry English
  • Dwight Freeney