Patriots

NFL free agents 2022: Ranking the top 10 edge defenders

Patriots

After springing for Matt Judon in free agency last offseason, the New England Patriots may have too many other needs to focus solely on a pass rusher heading in 2022.

That's not to say they should be neglecting the position entirely, however, after ranking 19th in sacks as a team in 2021 with 36, Judon accounting for more than a third of them alone with 12.5.

Top 2022 NFL free agents by position: QB | RB | WR | TEOL | DLLB | CB | S | KTop 25 overall

With help along the edge -- at either outside linebacker or defensive end -- still in need, Patriots fans should familiarize themselves with some of the top players at the position set to become free agents in March, including one who once called Foxboro home.

Here's a look at the top 10 edge defenders set to become free agents this spring.

10. Jason Pierre-Paul

Age: 33

2021 stats: 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 31 tackles

With a pair of Super Bowl rings -- one against Tom Brady, one with Tom Brady -- not to mention more than $100 million in career earnings and a successful comeback from a devastating hand injury suffered in a fireworks incident, Pierre-Paul could decide to call it quits after 12 seasons. But if he does want to keep playing, a pass rusher with his pedigree shouldn't have much trouble finding work.

9. Randy Gregory

Age: 29

2021 stats: 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 19 tackles

Talent has never been the question for Gregory. But with 54 games missed due to suspension for various violations of the league's substance abuse policy, he doesn't come without risks.

 

However, he's coming off his best season for the Dallas Cowboys, making a career-high 11 starts, and is young enough to think that given the relative lack of on-field wear-and-tear he's suffered for someone his age, untapped potential remains in the right system. Dallas employed both 4-3 and 3-4 looks under defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in 2021, which should widen his list of potential suitors.

8. Charles Harris 

Age: 26

2021 stats: 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 65 tackles

Standing out for the Detroit Lions is never easy, but Harris managed to shine for the perpetually underachieving squad in his first season in the Motor City following stops with the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.

Harris had career-highs across the board in 2021 with sacks, tackles, tackles for losses, QB hits and forced fumbles, starting 14 games after starting in only nine over his first four seasons combined.

Signing with the Lions last offseason was the prove-it deal for the 22nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft; now, he can look for a multiyear deal which should provide a little bit more job security.

7. Justin Houston

Age: 33

2021 stats: 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 34 tackles

Having left Kansas City just prior to its Super Bowl LIV win, the only motivation for Houston at this juncture of his career would be getting a ring, one would think.

Since leaving the Chiefs, Houston has played in 47 of a possible 49 games for the Indianapolis Colts and more recently, the Baltimore Ravens, surpassing 100 career sacks in the process. His sack total in 2021 with Baltimore may not wow you, but Pro Football Focus still graded him 18th among 114 qualified pass rushers.

6. Harold Landry III

Age: 25

2021 stats: 12 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 75 tackles

Everything came together for the Boston College alum prior to free agency, with career-best totals in sacks, tackles and QB hits to go along with his first Pro Bowl berth for the Tennessee Titans in 2021.

Best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, Landry is as durable as they come; he's missed only one game in his first four seasons. He's played in at least 90 percent of Tennessee's defensive snaps in each of the last two seasons and given his age, could secure the largest contract of any free agent at the position.

UPDATE (March 8): Landry has signed a five-year, $87.5 million contract extension with Tennessee.

5. Jadeveon Clowney

Age: 28

2021 stats: 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 37 tackles

Clowney has had an interesting career. The top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, he's certainly no bust, and yet there's a good chance he'll be playing for his fifth team in as many seasons when the dust settles in free agency. His career sack total (41) pales in comparison to some players drafted behind him in 2014, namely Aaron Donald (98 sacks, 14th overall) and Khalil Mack (76.5 sacks, fifth overall), but he's been a Pro Bowler three times and has had at least nine sacks on three separate occasions, including this year with the Cleveland Browns.

 

Still on the right side of 30, Clowney waited a month into free agency before signing with the Browns last offseason. Before that, he didn't join the Tennessee Titans until the first week of the regular season in 2020. So long as the production is there, Clowney will have suitors.

4. Haason Reddick

Age: 27

2021 stats: 11 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 68 tackles

With more sacks in 2021 than any other player currently slated for unrestricted free agency, Reddick is set for a nice payday. After recording only 7.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals -- the team declined his fifth-year option -- Reddick responded with 12.5 sacks in his final year in the desert before joining the Panthers in 2021, proving his breakout was no fluke. Now strictly an off-ball edge rusher rather than an outside linebacker, Reddick would seem to fit best in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

UPDATE (March 14): Reddick is signing a three-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, per NFL Media.

3. Emmanuel Ogbah

Age: 28

2021 stats: 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 41 tackles

Originally drafted in the slot the Patriots would have been picking in 2016 if not for DeflateGate penalties, Ogbah has steadily improved over the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins following a so-so start to his career with the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. 

At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he was still agile enough to defend 12 passes this season -- easily tops among non-defensive backs. Still on the right side of 30, there's just enough upside here where Ogbah should be looking at a long-term deal after his previous two-year contract with the Dolphins.

2. Von Miller

Age: 32

2021 stats: 9.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 50 tackles

Following his surprising trade from the Denver Broncos to the Los Angeles Rams midseason, Miller has enjoyed one of the best stretches of his career. The Super Bowl 50 MVP had at least one sack in seven straight games from Week 15 through the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, when he helped the Rams topple Tom Brady.

Miller's production has barely dipped since turning 30. While he never had fewer than 10 sacks in a full season in his 20s, Miller had eight for the Broncos in 2020 before the 9.5 this year. Does it help he lined up alongside Aaron Donald in the latter half of this season? Perhaps, but there's every reason to think the three-time First-Team All-Pro and member of the Hall of Fame All-Decade Team for the 2010s can continue to produce at a level that warrants one more big payday this offseason.

1. Chandler Jones

Age: 31

2021 stats: 10.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 41 tackles

Still the only defensive player drafted by Bill Belichick to leave the Patriots and be named First-Team All-Pro elsewhere, Jones has quietly built a Hall of Fame case after 71.5 sacks over six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, giving him 107.5 for his career. He was named to the Hall of Fame's All-Decade team for the 2010s.

 

Five of Jones' 10.5 sacks in 2021 came in Arizona's first game of the season, but he also had six forced fumbles -- the second-most of his career -- and after recording just a single sack over five games due to injury in 2020, the overall production is still enough for him to sign one more lucrative deal in the NFL.

Jones is versatile enough to fit along the edge in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes, which will give him no shortage of suitors as the top player available at the position.

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Honorable mentions: Jerry Hughes, Derek Barnett, Melvin Ingram III, Dante Fowler Jr., Calais Campbell, Takkarist McKinley.