10 best defensive players about to hit free agency

Von Miller is set to become a free agent in 2016. Khaled Elsayed names nine other defenders likely to cash in this offseason.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

10 best defensive players about to hit free agency


While the song may say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” right now there are a lot of franchises that want to get through the holiday season and put the year that was 2015 behind them. As their playoff hopes disappear, their attention turns to 2016,—with that in mind, we’re going to sharpen their focus a little.

The 2016 free agent group isn’t the most balanced one, but as we look at the 10 top free agent defenders about to cash in, it’s easy to see where the strength of this “class” lies.

(Editor’s note: Each players’ 2015 overall grade is noted in parenthesis. To see the best 10 offensive players headed for free agency, click here.)

1. Von Miller, OLB, Broncos (92.2)

Miller has taken the NFL by storm since entering the league, so much that it’s hard to imagine the Broncos letting him hit the open market. But with so much money in so much talent, it’s possible that our fourth-ranked edge rusher on the year does just that. This league demands pass rush, and in that regard, Miller, who has a better grade than all other edge defenders doing so, is explosive.

2. Josh Norman, CB, Panthers (91.3)

A year ago, Norman was something of an afterthought, despite finishing the 2014 season strong. Now he’s widely revered, with his play on the field as good as any other cornerback. Quarterbacks have a 39.9 rating throwing at him (worst for them, best for him) and he stands atop our coverage grades with his consistently excellent performances. No player has improved their stock as much as Norman in 2015.

3. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets (89.1)

Drafted a couple of hours after J.J. Watt, you wonder how much more praise Wilkerson would get if the Texan wasn’t around. The Jets’ defensive end has established himself as one of the premier lineman in the league, grading positively in every game in the 2015 season. A true every-down player, he brings with him the ability to wreak havoc against the run and put a hurting on the quarterback.

4. Eric Berry, S, Chiefs (93.6)

Our highest-graded safety on the year, it’s remarkable that Berry has come back from illness, and not just returned to his previous level of play, but surpassed it. One of a new breed of safeties, Berry is a true defensive weapon, one whom you can line up anywhere and ask anything of him. He’s a fantastic cover man who can match tight ends, and a force in the run game who has an instinct for ball carriers. It’s been tremendous to have him back in the league, and he’s earned his upcoming big pay day.

5. Mike Daniels, DE, Packers (92.7)

If you watch a Packers game, there’s one name you tend to hear quite a lot, and that’s Daniels. With the fourth-highest grade of all defensive interior lineman against the run (he’s eighth against the pass), he’s a wrecking ball at the line of scrimmage who makes a fool of offensive coordinators that think he can be single-teamed. He doesn’t get a lot of love when you’re talking about the best linemen in the league, but he’s been making a ton of plays since his breakout sophomore season.

6. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants (82.5)

What to make of JPP? By all accounts, his injury should have seriously derailed his career, but the upshot has seen Pierre-Paul return from injury seemingly determined on proving all the doubters wrong. In just four games, he’s scored a better pass rushing grade than he managed in 2014, with his return really adding a dimension to the Giants’ pass rush. His run defense hasn’t reached the pre-injury levels, but there’s been enough to show so far that he can still expect some big offers come his way in March.

7. Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs (88.1)

The emergence of Justin Houston has put the fantastic Hali into the shadow, somewhat. That, coupled with his age (32), might have people looking past him. Those people need to put on the tape of how well he’s playing right now. Hali has the sixth-highest pass rushing grade of any edge defender, rebounding very nicely from a slightly below par 2014.

8. Eric Weddle, S, Chargers (74.5)

Playing hurt and playing on a bad San Diego team hasn’t inflated Weddle’s stock in a contract year. But there are signs that Weddle is getting back to his best, with a strong performance against Denver; if he can finish the season strong, then the versatile safety is one player who will interest a lot of teams. Between 2010 and 2014, Weddle ranked in the top five of our safeties each season, including twice having the highest grade.

9. Adam Jones, CB, Bengals (86.7)

Would Jones leave Cincinnati? He’s not only found his best form there, but also the kind of structure that has kept his behavior off the field from becoming a headline. A match made in heaven, nobody could have seen him being quite so productive for so long in Bengals’ colors. But he has, and he’s a cornerback you can depend on, who brings the added bonus of being a major weapon in the return game.

10. Bruce Irvin, LB, Seahawks (80.6)

Playing the strong-side linebacker role in Seattle’s defense isn’t an easy one; and with the athleticism of Irvin, it’s no surprise that the team asks so much out of him when he’s on the field. It’s what makes him a slightly enigmatic player, with the question being how he might fare in a more pass-rush focused role (he spends a third of his passing snaps in coverage). 

For the best 10 offensive players hitting the market after this season, click here.

  • derek lundeen

    Bears got to go out and get one of these secondary guys that aren’t franchise tagged.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Having played for John Fox, Von Miller would be the most logical guy for the Bears to chase but there is no way the historically stingy Bears would pay what he’d be asking.

      • Frank

        Von Miller will be tagged or signed by Denver no way he’s leaving.

        • larry mckinney

          Agree. If tagged, he’ll command 13 – 14 Mil per year. If signed, he’ll want more than Justin Houston money. Houston, slightly higher rated than Miller by PFF, was signed last year for slightly less than an ocean liner full of money.

          • Frank

            Yup they currently have $20 million in cap space for next season and if Manning leaves that’s another $20 million off the books. No way they don’t at the very least tag him…I’m not a Denver fan so I’d like to see him hit FA lol.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            cutting clady can add another 9 mil or so in room too. von gets signed to a similar deal as houston got, and brock gets tagged buying time for a true prove it year

          • anon76returns

            I think the tag for Osweiler is a little steep, as in $17M. Not sure the Broncos would be willing to pay that.
            With the 2013 draft class being all but gone, next year should be a bit easier year to handle spending on otherwise departing FAs.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            i agree he’s not worth it, yet, but he has ALL the leverage. i’m sure Elway offers him a contract similar to Alex Smith’s every hour on the hour, and his agent begs him not to accept it every hour as well. we only have one tag and Von’s the more proven of the two, thus more deserving of a longterm deal. i just don’t think it’s wise to give brock a market value long term contract, again, ‘yet’. we can afford to franchise him one year, still cheaper than manning’s 21.5 cap hit for 2016

          • anon76returns

            It was terrible timing for the Broncos. Had they been able to overcome the deficit in Indy, Manning could have set his two records there, and Kubiak MIGHT have been able to talk him into sitting out the KC game. Had that happened, win or lose, Oswieler would be looked at more as a Brister type caretaker, rather than a franchise savior. That would have shifted a lot of the leverage back to Elway (though I’d been saying since the preseason that Elway should lock him up for 2 years, ~$8M, just to get a chance to see what he has before having to commit franchise $).
            The one remaining piece of leverage the Broncos have is Siemian. He had extremely limited opportunities in the preseason, and it was against very low-level competition, but he did (IMO) show better mechanics than Osweiler, better decision making than Osweiler, better deep accuracy, and roughly equivalent mobility, all without being able to fully participate in the offseason program. Given the limited sample size and difference in competition level faced, I wouldn’t say that Siemian is better than Os, but if I were Elway I would possibly allow Brock to leave if I couldn’t sign him for under $12-$14M, and I wouldn’t feel too bad about doing it (he’d almost certainly return a 3rd round comp pick, worth almost the same as what Elway paid for Brock in the first place).

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            well said. any 3rd round compensatory pick would be in 2017 tho, which is equivalent to a 2016 4th. mostly don’t think the fanbase would accept it, to the point i think team pres. Ellis would even step in and force elway’s hand if needed.

          • Cant FixStupid

            Where has Osweiler gained “ALL the leverage”??? He’s got a 85.8 passer rating right now, which would be good for 25th in the NFL. He had just 5 TD passes and 3 picks in 4 games. In 3 of the 4 games he’s played in,this year, he’s had passer ratings of 76.8 or lower. How has he gained any leverage?? He’s not worth near the franchise tag at this point. Unless he starts to look like Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady over the last 4 weeks, which is highly unlikely, he’s not gonna be looking at more than a 1 or 2 year deal, likely worth around 6-7 mil per. He hasn’t done anything to earn 15-17 mil per year yet, and the way he’s currently playing hasn’t earned him anything but a small prove it type contract. Osweiler won’t have much leverage to force Elway into tagging him or offering him a big deal, cause nobody else is gonna throw that kind of money at him until they see he can be a full time starter, so he’s likely gonna be looking at a lot of 1 year, 5-8 million dollar offers this upcoming offseason, so teams can evaluate him and see if he’s worth spending that kind of money on.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            because it only takes one team on the open market to drive up his contract, and he is a free agent to be. contract leverage is basic stuff… the browns for example would gladly overpay him, QBs routinely get overpaid.

          • cyberry

            Tagging a QB would have cost 18.5M this year..be higher in 2016 . Other contracts are Derek Wolf, Malik Jackson, Antioni Smith, C.j. Anderson, R. Hillman, Evan Mathis, J. Norton, McCray, O. Bolden, Caldwell, D. Burton…and couple others. but have to save some for following year because Sanders, S. Williams,D. Ware,L. Vasquez, Colquitt, and many others are due a raise..17

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            such is life in the nfl. wouldn’t expect ware backin 2016, let alone 2017 tho, cutting ware can free up space for malik/wolfe/danny.

          • Will Neal

            Colquitt?? DUE a raise?? How much FB have you been watching?? — he’d be lucky to still be in a Broncos uniform after this season!!
            Agreed – no tag on Brock; Give him 6-8 mill a year on a year three prove it deal with escalators. Resign Wolfe, Malik, CJ, Ronnie (altho he may be a cap casualty — hope not), Norton, McCray – vet minimum: too hurt to even crack the third string roster, Bolden (depending on post season success in limited opps — been kinda meh since drafted), release Caldwell, BRUTON(?) — was resigned last year; could see a raise in the near future. We have to release Mathis (get younger, cheaper)…Antonio (one year rental)…Caldwell (need no analysis)…Ware (would love to keep him but $$ doesn’t = production)….Vasquez (SHOULD take a pay cut after this season — miscast in a motion offense — he’s a bruiser)…Colquitt (no analysis — just rolled eyes)

            You forgot Trevathan and Marshall — who’d I figure may account for the most of our cap space with them BOTH being highly ranked ILBs — my guess is roughly 8-9 a piece altho I HOPE they take slightly team friendly deals similar to CH; good team value and get paid handsomely on play based increases.

            Ware, Manning and some accounting would allow us to resign most and possibly bolster the oline — via draft and one to two stopgap plug-n-play guys.
            Oh and lastly — we should/could let go of Owen, great to have him here but come on VD, OD, Virgil AND Heuerman — that’s a bit redundant;

          • Izach

            Should only be 12.1 mill if tagged I think so Denver will do that because they’d save money that way

          • AC

            The longer you take to sign him, the more it’s going to cost. Best to do it this offseason, there’s no point delaying it. He’s going to end up long term in Denver.

          • Izach

            It’ll cost the same to sign him anyways if he’s a top player, they’ll take the discount for a year

          • AC

            The salary cap goes up every year. With a higher salary cap comes a higher player salary. The longer they delay it, the more it’s going to cost.

          • cyberry

            Von Miller made the comment..”he thought J.J. Watt was underpaid..” he will go to the highest bidder.

          • AC

            It’s too bad that you know, the Broncos could tag him

            He’s staying with Denver. He said Watt is underpaid because for how good he is Watt is underpaid.

          • Brandon

            Houston commanded a large contract because he had a 22 sack season. Something Miller has yet to do. Houston should stay the highest paid OLB in history.no other player since 2011 has more roughing the passer calls then Von Miller that will hurt his contract negotiations. He’s costing his team yards.

          • AC

            Found the KC fan

            Miller has been playing at an elite level longer, has been a more complete player, and sacks are an overrated stat. He’s going to get more than Houston

          • Brandon

            I understand that you will make your defense. Von has 58 sacks in 68 starts and Justin Houston has 56 sacks in 70 starts so they are pretty even in sacks. As for every other aspect Von is less then Houston. Houston has a total of 25 pass deflections. Meaning Houston is better at seeing the ball come out of QB’s hands. Houston also has 3 interceptions to Von’s one. Von was a top tier pick. Houston was a troubled third round pick for dropping dirty for THC. Justin Houston has also been rated higher then Von Miller this season and last.

          • Roc

            too bad Von Miller is a piece of shit. Dirtiest player in the league

        • dd

          absolutely no doubt about this one. Denver is not taking any chances after the Elvis Dumervil affair.

      • lykorian

        What year is this, 1995? The massive contracts offered to Cutler, Peppers, Marshall, et al weren’t spendy enough for you?

        • derek lundeen

          Don’t forget Pernell Mcphee

      • derek lundeen

        Yeah,that would be so sick.. but not gonna happen

      • Mike Riley

        Didn’t they give Cutler $155 million?

        • crosseyedlemon

          I guess paying $155 million for a guy with a career win record of 66-64-0 is considered a bargain.

      • Autocephallus

        Miller is Elway’s baby (first draft pick). They will find a way to keep him.

  • larry mckinney

    Interesting. Berry comes back from cancer, is the highest rated player on this list, and is ranked fourth…

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      you said it yourself, cancer, which is a huge contractual risk in the business world. also safeties don’t get paid as high as pass rushers and corners like those ahead of him. glad he’s ok tho

    • Autocephallus

      Safety is arguably a less valuable position.

  • D$

    Bruce Irvin is better than OV?

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      good point, he’s cleaner off the field too

  • Tim Edell

    Some teams will just never learn when it comes to FA. You don’t build your team through FA you patch holes. Teams that continually build through the draft (Packers and Steelers) are the teams that have sustained success.

    • Brandon

      Not 2 mention the Bengals. I’m a chiefs fan and they said upon playing us that Bengals had 51 out of their 53 players have been drafted by them.

      • Nick Perry

        The Bengals Scouting Department should be given medals for the job they’ve done stocking that roster. Not a fan but have to give Kudos when due!

        • K.K

          My Raiders to they are building throw the draft also and each year we are getting better and better RN4L

    • crosseyedlemon

      Back in the day free agency was strictly for patching holes but it has taken on greater importance now. Building through the draft is not as easy now because the players you bring into the system and develop can jump ship and test the free agent market. Teams that ignore potential value in the free agent market can find themselves losing key components of their team and the resulting lack of depth is sure to cost them over the course of the season as injuries further deplete the ranks.

  • wolejr03

    Hoping my niners make bruce irvin their high priced FA this year.

    • NjDevil526

      He wants to play in Atlanta

  • dd

    How about Gregg Hardy? i expect The Cowboys should be able to sign him long term at a good price. The media has pretty scared away the rest of the league from even having a discussion with Hardy’s agent about him.

    • crosseyedlemon

      So the Cowboys should sign a player long term that everyone else is scared away from? You’ll never get invited to planet Vulcan using that kind of logic.

    • Nick Perry

      Yes Jerry Jones, please sign Hardy to a long term deal. As of today the Cowboys have about $9 million in cap space for 2016, that’s before they sign even one draft pick!

      • K.K

        9 million in cap space is not a lot you guys need a QB nd some holes to fill unless cowboys are going to dump some contracts to add cap idk i got a great friend his a cowboy fan his worried

  • xmikstick

    Where is Damon Harrison?

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      not exactly a 3 down player, but you’re right, he’s a star

  • YouBarkIBite

    I’ll be interested to see whether teams see Irvin as a legit pass rusher, or as a true 4-3 LB. There’s probably a good $3-4m/year difference between the two. Personally, I don’t think Irvin is an every down pass rusher. He came into the league as a one-dimensional speed rusher and that’s still what he is. But he has developed into a very competent and well-rounded OLB capable of defending the run and pass, and his excellent speed and high motor have made him a playmaker even when he’s not rushing the passer. I think Seattle will offer him a similar contract to KJ Wright (~$7m a year) but some other team will come along thinking he’s a full-time pass rusher and offer $10+m, and then wonder why he’s still not getting double digit sacks.

  • Brandon

    Berry without a doubt would get the franchise tag. As for Hali he has already reconstructed his contract once to stay for the team because he loves the chiefs and enjoys playing for Reid. We do have D ford in the wings getting ready but he has struggles ALOT I see Dorsey finding a way to sign him to a team friendly contract.

  • Troy A Jerelds Jr.

    Look for my Buccaneers to go after Weddle, Wilkerson and PacMan

    • Teddy Ritz

      Wilkerson isn’t going anywhere

      • Josh Knepshield

        Except somewhere other than New York. They are not going to re-sign him.

  • Mike Riley

    If the Raiders could go after Irvin, Trevathan, Berry & any of the Stl CB’s or Jerraud Powers or draft a stud LB like Jack or Jaylon Smith look out.

    • Kelly Lord

      Dream Teams don’t work. Chemistry makes players great. That’s why you build through the draft. As an Eagles fan I could list at least a dozen examples.

      • Kelvin Johnson

        I would agree dream team’

        • Kelvin Johnson

          …doesn’t work but free agency does allow teams to supplement their roster and can help strengthen their team (I.e Avril and Bennett w/Seattle, Mathis, Ware and Talib w/Denver, etc.). Oakland’s at the stage where a pickup or two such as Irvin and maybe a Patrick Robinson (young and strong year) could make a huge impact

      • Mike Riley

        You’re correct but we have so much $$ we need to spend in order to comply w/ the cap I’m just hoping they’re using it on players that are proven that can make an impact in areas that need to be addressed.

        • Kurt Carlson

          I love the Raiders becoming a contender in a few years if they use their money right. Another solid lineman would help, other than that offense is fine. Great young QB, great young receivers, great young RB, and IMO a very underrated athletic TE with Clive Walford.

          On defense, another fast OLB/DE to combine with Mack and Mario Edwards Jr, another underrated rookie on your team, like Bruce Irvin would be great. They need a young versatile safety like Woodson, because even though his number will show he’s elite, he truly has lost a step. Berry is a perfect fit, and Raiders could offer him a bit of money and would work well. Maybe adding another solid CB, like Grimes (bound to leave the Dolphins this year) or Prince Amukamara would be great. Love this team’s chances of being a contender soon, coming from a Lions fan.

          • Mike Riley

            You all have pieces in place yourselves. Slay & Ansah have potential to be top 3 players at their positions very soon.

          • X-raiderd 1

            Grimes is told old and had lost a step I don’t see him as an option for the raiders. Prince and Janoris Jenkins would b good upgrades.

          • K.K

            Your correct there also wondering if we are going to keep Penn or go after some one else are team is on the rite road RN4L

    • VAChiefin

      I pray Berry doesn’t go to the Raiders lol

      • cyberry

        After the Team and Kansas City rallied behind Berry, I don’t see him going anywhere . Tamba took a pay cut because he wants to retire a Chief. Same with Derrick Johnson.. a bunch of contracts end but a bunch of dead money ends next year. The Chiefs will have the cash.. the Chiefs (Dorsey and Reid take care of their core players)..

    • eric

      I agree but Jaylon Smith got hurt with a pretty serious knee injury, so that might drop his stock, I think we need to cut Lofton and sign Reggie Ragland mlb from Bama, and I would go nuts if signed Josh Norman, but I think Carolina will do everything they can to keep him.

    • Dirk Dillinger

      You’re thinkin EXACTLY how I been thinkin. Irvin can get back wit Ken Norton. Trevathan gives us hella speed and ONE of those CBs for st.Louis are leavin. Top linebacker available with the 14th pick. Jayron Kearse with the 2nd even if we do get a great safety in free agency

  • Stunt Man Mike

    I would like the Giants to take a run @ Irvin. They have been void of solid LBs for a long time. My gut says Irvin will get paid but not an astronomical contract.

  • NotSoGood

    Norman, could be the biggest bust if anyone sign him to a big contract? Many CB’s sign big contract and tank the next year… Just look at the many cbs from the Seahawks.

    • Ashy Larry….

      I see that a norman after that deal hes going to decline hes never been consistent

      • Rick Kennedy

        He is improving. He was solid, if a little unrefined, last year. He came on strong in the final 4 games (mostly under the radar), and has had a break out season this year. There is no reason to expect that he will regress. He has been a little over inflated this year, but he has also played extremely well, having only given up one TD all year, and he has consistently shut down the WRs he covers

    • Stunt Man Mike

      Maxwell comes to mind, Browner as well. 2 of the worst DBs in the league for the $ they make.

  • Cant FixStupid

    Packers need to hurry up and get Mike Daniels off of this list!!

  • Ashy Larry….

    Janoris jenkins??? Top 5 corner in the league and what about his opposite Trumaine johnson their one of the best duos in the league wbs havent done much to them on the outside..

  • Atlanta vs the World

    Irvin said he already coming too Atlanta so that’s locked up, now cut William Moore sorry ass and get kam too.

  • Stunt Man Mike

    I would like the Giants to make a run @ Irvin. They have been void of decent LB corps for a while. Also draft a solid MLB. Irvin will get paid but I don’t see him getting astronomical $.

  • Haywoode Jeblomie

    Are you sure that everyone wouldn’t be better off if these apes weren’t still picking cotton?

    • Will Neal

      Go k1ll yourself and any chance of pro-creation that you & your cousin may have.

      • Haywoode Jeblomie

        You forgot the rest of your name. Will neal and bob. I’m sure you do. Your boyfriend would be proud, faggot.

        • Will Neal

          I’M the faggot yet historically KKK, NAZIs and others with that hate doctrine you display often practiced bi-sexual experimentation — LMAO — be careful what you call another when you clearly need a good look in the mirror. BTW — did you know while you call our PRESIDENT a monkey, that 60% of whites are born with long tail bones which equates to having a tail…i.e a monkey like trait….yet, you call another monkey??? You bigots are so stupid that we “normal” can’t help but laugh and feel sorry for you…….like the big kid in the corner of the class who wont stop eating the lead in his pencils. LLS

  • Jmac823200

    If the Jags pick up Irvin or Miller and Berry… Look out!

  • eric

    Raiders need to draft either Ragland or Mackenzie Alexander in the first, we definitely need a RG too. I like that RM drafts the bpa when we’re on the clock, and he’s great at drafting good players in the later drafts. L. Murray was a 6th rounder, Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball were 5th rounders and they both had solid rookie seasons and they’re only gonna get better. I’m excited about the directing we’re headed. I think we need to sign 2 huge FAs and RM has another good draft, we’re taking the Afc West next season. I also wouldn’t mind signing or drafting another wr, one that is also a dangerous return man. We haven’t had one of those in years….#RaiderNation

    • Will Neal

      WHOA now — I, like any AFC West fan, are happy to see the Raiders alive again — but TAKING the AFC West, dude stop TAKING those drugs. You’ve gotten more competitive — just hope for continued progression, remember those ole ‘blanket statements’ is what had Raiders fans on suicide watch for a decade. Calm down — key to the West still lies with the Orange.n.Blue

  • Tired of Your Shit

    Adam Jones ain’t coming back to Cinci. Watch.

  • Fairfield

    Is there a need for a safety in the NFL right now????

  • LaMonte Simmons

    Chicago Bears can get Eric Berry strongly needed in Chitown.