Predicting where the NFL's top defensive free agents will sign - and for how much
Guessing the landing spots and contract terms for the NFL's top defensive free agents in 2023.
Javon Hargrave, DT
2022 stats: 11 sacks, 57 pressures
Potential suitors: Seahawks, Bears, Falcons, Cardinals, Browns
The jewel of this defensive free-agent class is Hargrave, a top-level run defender with rare penetrating power. The Eagles would love to bring him back but could be priced out with a costly extension for Jalen Hurts on the horizon. The Bears enter free agency with a staggering $95 million in salary cap room - over $30 million more than any other team - according to Spotrac. The Bears also have, frankly, a terrible defensive line. Adding Hargrave can be one 305-pound step toward fixing that.
🔮 Prediction: Bears on a 3-year, $62M contract ($42M guaranteed)
Dre'Mont Jones, DT
2022 stats: 6.5 sacks, 45 pressures
Potential suitors: Bears, Raiders, Seahawks, Broncos
Jones may not be considered a superstar just yet, but he's quietly established himself as a high-level interior pass-rusher. Still only 26, he'll be a fit for any team with some money to spend. Don't be surprised when he cashes in on the open market as a result. The Seahawks are one of many teams with a glaring need at the position and could justify paying up to bring in a top talent.
🔮 Prediction: Seahawks on a 4-year, $73M contract ($40M guaranteed)
Frank Clark, DE
2022 stats: 5 sacks, 45 pressures
Potential suitors: Bears, Falcons, Texans
Clark's regular-season production has left something to be desired, but he has a knack for turning things on when it matters most. The veteran pass-rusher's 13.5 career playoff sacks rank third all time, trailing only Willie McGinest and Bruce Smith. Teams will pay up for that kind of production in big moments. Look for Clark to land a decent short-term payday from a team that could use a boost up front.
🔮 Prediction: Falcons on a 2-year, $31M contract ($16M guaranteed)
Zach Allen, DE
2022 stats: 5.5 sacks, 35 pressures
Potential suitors: Cardinals, Broncos, Seahawks, Texans
Probably the furthest thing from a household name on this list, Allen made himself some money with something of a breakout season in 2022. Five-and-a-half sacks in 13 games won't knock the socks off anyone, but this is the type of player teams should target in free agency. Allen is just hitting his prime.
🔮 Prediction: Texans on a 3-year, $43.5M contract ($23M guaranteed)
Bobby Wagner, LB
2022 stats: 140 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 2 INT, 5 PD
Potential suitors: Cowboys, Dolphins, Seahawks, Broncos
Wagner proved with a spectacular 2022 season that he still has plenty left in the tank. While there are a number of contenders who would benefit from his All-Pro presence on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos stand out as the most interesting fit. Sean Payton has never let the salary cap get in the way of his teams capitalizing on opportunities to add impact veterans.
🔮 Prediction: Broncos on a 3-year, $36M contract ($25M guaranteed)
Lavonte David, LB
2022 stats: 124 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1 FF, 5 PD
Potential suitors: Eagles, Cowboys, Dolphins, Giants
Don't let the age scare you off here; David is still a baller. The Bucs would presumably love to have him finish his career in Tampa Bay, but a dire salary cap situation means that it's probably not in the cards. David will be a major addition for a contending team on a short-term deal. The Giants should be among the most aggressive in pursuit of a leader in the middle on defense.
🔮 Prediction: Giants on a 2-year, $25M contract ($15M guaranteed)
Jessie Bates, S
2022 stats: 71 tackles, 4 INT, 1 FF, 8 PD
Potential suitors: Browns, Falcons, Raiders
Bates is set to hit free agency after playing on the franchise tag in 2022. While teams may not have to reset the safety market to get him, the price tag won't be far off. Bates is a playmaker on the back end, having recorded 14 interceptions in five seasons, and he'll be paid accordingly on a long-term deal. The Raiders need all the talent they can get in the secondary, and they enter the offseason with plenty of salary cap space to spend.
🔮 Prediction: Raiders on a 4-year, $65M contract ($40M guaranteed)
C.J. Gardner-Johnson, S
2022 stats: 67 tackles, 6 INT*, 8 PD, 1 sack
Potential suitors: Eagles, Dolphins, Falcons, Raiders
Acquired by the Eagles for mere peanuts on the eve of the 2022 season after the Saints gave up hope of reaching a contract extension with him, Gardner-Johnson flourished in Philly. His hybrid safety/slot corner skill set means he won't be a fit in every defensive scheme, but there'll be a least a few coordinators licking their chops at the prospect of adding his grit and skill. The Eagles electing not to use their franchise tag on Gardner-Johnson, combined with him recently tweeting his thanks to the city, make it clear he's moving on.
🔮 Prediction: Falcons on a 5-year, $70M contract ($38M guaranteed)
Jordan Poyer, S
2022 stats: 63 tackles, 4 INT, 8 PD
Potential suitors: Bills, Raiders, Giants, Cowboys
Poyer appears to be on the way out in Buffalo after an incredibly productive six-year run. He turns 32 in April, so it's fair to assume his market will be relatively limited. But he's only one year removed from a career-best 2021 campaign in which he earned first-team All-Pro honors. Contending teams should be lining up for the chance to add a playmaking safety on a short-term deal. The Giants could double down on impact veterans to help a young team take the next step.
🔮 Prediction: Giants on a 2-year, $29M contract ($21M guaranteed)
Jamel Dean, CB
2022 stats: 57 tackles, 2 INT, 8 PD
Potential suitors: Falcons, Patriots, Lions, Raiders
Dean is another player who's going to become a whole lot more well-known when he cashes in on the open market. Talented cover corners rarely become available at this still-early stage of their careers. He should have no problem leveraging the host of suitors to come away with a contract that makes him one of the league's 10 highest-paid players at the position. Might this be a spot where an ascending team like the Lions capitalizes on the rare opportunity to upgrade a premium position with a player who fits their timeline?
🔮 Prediction: Lions on a 4-year, $68M contract ($41M guaranteed)
James Bradberry, CB
2022 stats: 44 tackles, 3 INT, 17 PD
Potential suitors: Cardinals, Patriots, Eagles, Raiders
Don't let his holding penalty in the Super Bowl overshadow what Bradberry can do. He was excellent in 2022 when lined up on the boundary and will be a target for many teams. Jonathan Gannon coached Bradberry in Philly and would surely love to recruit him to his new home in the desert, but don't rule out a reunion with Patrick Graham, Bradberry's defensive coordinator with the Giants from 2020-21, who now holds that same job with the Raiders.
🔮 Prediction: Cardinals on a 2-year, $28M contract ($21M guaranteed)
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