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We are just a few days from the beginning of the NFL’s legal tampering period. Soon afterwards, the 2023 league year will officially open. The free agent frenzy is always a fresh opportunity for teams to stake their claim and reshape their roster.
Who will make the most surprising splash? What team makes a large gamble with a major payday? Those are just a couple of the big questions surrounding NFL free agency each offseason. Overall, the league has seen many stars switch jerseys recently, when you thought some of those names would never leave their original franchises.
We already listed our top 10 offensive free agents earlier today at Full Press Coverage. To read that, click here. Let’s kick it off.
Note: Players that received the 2023 franchise tag will not be listed.
1) DT Javon Hargrave
Javon Hargrave is likely to take home one of the biggest checks of anyone this offseason. As a defensive tackle, teams may not treat that spot as a premium investment. That is at least compared to the defensive end position. But in recent years, we have seen more and more defensive tackles take over games and become the leaders of their defensive lines.
Hargrave has been consistently producing for the last five years. He has 33.5 sacks in that span, including 18.5 in just the last two seasons. Whether defending the run or the pass, Hargrave offers power at the point of attack, a wicked quick first step and a wide-ranging set of hand counter moves. He will be in high demand and will make his next squad extremely happy.
2) SAF CJ Gardner-Johnson
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Late before the 2022 season began, the Philadelphia Eagles made a shrewd move to acquire CJ Gardner-Johnson from the New Orleans Saints. Gardner-Johnson was superb in New Orleans. But with Philadelphia, he stepped his game even more in the final year of his rookie deal. The Eagles made this trade acquisition look like a fleece, as a result.
Gardner-Johnson led the league with six interceptions last season. He also added 67 tackles, eight pass breakups and five tackles for loss. In today’s pass-happy NFL, the safety position has never been more valuable. If you can find a do-it-all safety that can play all over the defensive formation and change the math, you are playing with house money. Gardner-Johnson can stick his face in the fan and tackle in space. He can win with ball skills. Most of all, he can flash a quick trigger when covering in the deep post.
3) SAF Jordan Poyer
We go from one defensive back with excellent ball skills, to another defensive back with excellent ball skills. Jordan Poyer has been a ballhawk for many years, terrorizing the NFL’s best quarterbacks by lurching and pouncing at the most opportune time. There are very few moments where Poyer makes a misread in coverage.
In six years with Buffalo, he tallied 44 pass breakups, 33 tackles for loss and 22 interceptions. Some people may not think of Poyer as having the versatility like Gardner-Johnson does. But with his instincts and leadership, Poyer can wear many different hats inside of someone’s defense. Overall, the veteran will likely bank one of the biggest safety contracts in recent memory.
4) CB Jamel Dean
Much of the attention in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback room will go to Carlton Davis. And rightfully so. In terms of future outlook, though, Jamel Dean could still hit a much higher ceiling as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Tampa Bay is facing a daunting salary cap situation. Thus, it would be hard to imagine Dean staying with the Bucs.
Dean already has 41 pass breakups, seven interceptions and six tackles for loss in his four professional years so far. His ball skills are fair. Yet, it is the mix of athleticism, change of direction skills and sticky coverage that makes Dean one of the top defensive free agents available. It is just hard to gain much separation against this silky-smooth defensive back. In fact, he ranked fifth in target separation last year, via Pro Football Network.
5) LB Bobby Wagner
It was a shorter stay than expected for Bobby Wagner with the Los Angeles Rams. It was not because of his play, however. The Rams are just stuck between a rock and a hard place, regarding their salary cap situation. Wagner totaled 140 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, six sacks and five pass breakups last year. Impressively, the Utah State product has been an All-Pro for nine(!!) consecutive seasons.
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Consistent and reliable has been the book on Wagner since he entered the league in 2012. In 11 career seasons, the linebacker has not slowed down and has somehow continued to get better. For a player that was not expected to hit the open market originally, Wagner should have many suitors.
6) LB Lavonte David
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From one linebacker to another, Lavonte David has been the heart and soul of the Bucs defense for 11 years. Like Dean, it looks like salary cap implications will end his tenure in Tampa Bay. But by no means is David beginning to slow down. For all of the hype that Devin White gets, David is a more well-rounded linebacker and a more grounded football player. White can become a bit reckless in that Tampa Bay defense.
Lavonte is also a versatile piece for an inside linebacker. He has the range to chase down running backs in space. He has the quickness to cover and drop back against the pass. Elsewhere, David can shoot gaps and muddy up the line of scrimmage.
7) SAF Jessie Bates
Jessie Bates may be best suited as a single high safety most of the time. There are very few players who can fill that role anymore in today’s NFL. Or, teams will look to play it safe and opt for a two high shell. Bates can still rack up ball production, if given the chances.
But largely, this is a player who is more comfortable at taking high risks by waiting on the right moment to flash laterally or downhill. Tackling could be an occasional issue. On top of that, there are times where you are left wondering why Bates took the angle he did to attack a route. The reward that he provides can make you forget about that immediately, nevertheless. In a fun free agent safety class, Bates could still unlock some of his best play down the road.
8) CB James Bradberry
Everyone will remember the tough ending that James Bradberry had in Super Bowl LVII. On the flip side, he has been steady against some of the league’s best wide receivers. Bradberry can press and lockdown opponents quickly in man coverage. Whereas with his length and ball skills, those appear to fly under the radar a bit at times.
Bradberry may be getting older in age. Though, he has proven that he is far from done. Amazingly, Bradberry has registered 34 pass breakups and seven interceptions in the last two years. Any team that gets him will be getting a dependable veteran. Bradberry will rarely get lost in coverage with his man, while also having a constant sharp nose for the football.
9) SAF Vonn Bell
Another safety makes this top 10 defensive free agents list, and another Bengals pending free agent at that. Vonn Bell was always able to provide subtle sparks with New Orleans. Despite that, his impact rose tremendously after joining Cincinnati. If you want a commanding, physical and versatile safety, Bell is for you. And compared to some of these other safeties, he may not break the bank quite as much for possibly just as good of value.
Bell can cover deep or down in the slot. With his landmarks and body positioning, quarterbacks must be airtight when throwing the ball his way. Whether he lands a big hit or makes a vital pass breakup, Bell finishes with tenacity.
10) DE Zach Allen
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Zach Allen may be somewhat of an unknown to the casual audience. Suddenly, this player has become a fine depth piece at defensive end. Given his youth and improving play, Allen is one of the more intriguing options at defensive end in this free agent class. Could that result in him getting more money than some expect? It could all depend on how much demand he receives.
In the last two seasons in Arizona, Allen recorded 95 tackles, 34 quarterback hits, 15 tackles for loss, 12 passes defended and 9.5 sacks. To boot, he added 43 pressures, 22 quarterback knockdowns and 11 hurries as a pass rusher. Allen is unique with his mix of slight bend, dense frame and relentless motor. It is rare that he could be a bargain signing, in terms of money that he signs for, and also may be a top 10 defensive free agent available.
Be on the lookout for more FPC NFL articles and analysis in the coming days. Follow us on Twitter, @FullPressNFL.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.
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