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March 6th, 2017

Hightower, Campbell, Gilmore Headline Top 10 Defensive 2017 NFL Free Agents

Serdar Ismail
2017 NFL Free Agents

Dont’a Hightower is among the many free agents potentially to sign a deal in the upcoming days (Richard Mackson/ USA Today Sports)

The NFL offseason was in full stride during the combine. John Ross made headlines by breaking the 40-yard dash record with a time of 4.22. After the conclusion of the draft combine on March 6th, in a matter of short days ahead lies one of the best moments of the spring, the start of NFL free agency. The negotiations will start on March 7th which will allow teams to be in negotiations with players, and March 9th which officially gives teams the authority to sign players. The free agency period will be a key indicator of the success or downfall of teams leaguewide for the upcoming NFL season, and what battles lie ahead.

Top 10 Defensive 2017 NFL Free Agents

Dont’a Hightower (New England Patriots, Inside Linebacker)
The New England Patriots are not a team who are too fond of overpaying in order to keep a player. However, Hightower may be an exception for the team. At only 26 years old, he has exceeded all expectations and has been the glue of the defense which could potentially hurt the Patriots in the long run. The Patriots would potentially have to break the bank in order to keep Hightower, as he has already declined an offer worth $10 million/year. Talks will continue this offseason with Hightower being in the driver’s seat considering his clutch performance all season, including his strip-sack during the second half of the Super bowl that led to the greatest comeback in NFL history.

Brandon Williams (Baltimore Ravens, Defensive Tackle)
Williams is among the many Ravens players that will be available during free agency. He will be the biggest financial commitment for the organization, perceiving that they have to match Damon Harrison’s $46 million deal. The Ravens have been known to let go of talent during free agency including Kelechi Osemele, and Pernell McPhee who have grown into NFL stars in their respect. The Baltimore defense finished top-10 in the league largely due to the anchor of their run defense Brandon Williams. The variety of nose tackles in this class is a wide selection which can drive the team away from him, and towards other defensive tackles.

Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo Bills, Cornerback)
Free agent Stephon Gilmore is expecting a huge payday just as his other counterparts Janoris Jenkins, Richard Sherman, Josh Norman, etc., who were given $12-15 million dollar contracts. Making a big play for Gilmore could be a better option for the Bills with a rising salary cap. Gilmore stands at 6’1, and 190 pounds and reeled in 5 interceptions this past year. In his 5th season, the cornerback became a fan favorite in Buffalo, and with good reasoning. Gilmore missed a game due to rest earlier this season due to rest, a healthy defensive player is hard to come by in this league especially in his cases as he is a bump and run cover cornerback. If the Bills are willing to fork over the cash, there is almost no reason that Gilmore wouldn’t decide to return for another couple of years.

Nick Perry (Green Bay Packers, Outside Linebacker)
Perry finished the season 8th in sacks leaguewide, and 1st on the Packers with 11. Perry has emerged as a locker room leader in Wisconsin and has quickly lived up to his first round pick expectations. Perry was a great help for the Packers defensive crew due to the highly struggling Packers secondary. If the Packers would like to make another run for the Super bowl, a defensive playmaker in the likes of Micah Hyde, and Nick Perry is needed. The outside linebacker position is a highly sought after need for most teams league-wide and will be a competitive market for any team pursuing this position.

Dontari Poe (Kansas City Chiefs, Defensive Tackle)
It has been made clear that the players and other members of the Kansas City organization would like to have Dontari Poe apart of the organization in the future, but the current financial instability can affect the possibility of this scenario. The signings of Eric Berry and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have left the Chiefs with an approximate of $3.7 million in cap space remaining. If Kansas City is willing to empty the purse for Poe, the fans at Arrowhead will be more than willing to welcome him back. The Chiefs and Poe have had a long line of communication throughout the offseason. The Kansas City defense in the recent seasons have thrived and have been a deciding factor and the importance of keeping the defense is crucial to the success of the team, given their recent offensive struggles.

2017 NFL Free Agents

Lead tackler Dontari Poe ready for a big pay day during NFL free agency (Steve Sanders/Kansas City Chiefs)

Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals, Defensive End)
Campbell will hit free agency this offseason and will likely be looking for a new home. The franchise tag put on Chandler Jones hinders the possibility of re-signing the players whose contracts with the team have expired, like Campbell himself. The Cardinals will be looking to fill any needs with the 13th pick of the draft to fill in the gap of any player departing during the free agency period. The Colorado native is expressing a lot of interest from the Denver Broncos and could add to their already dangerous defense.

Chris Baker (Washington Redskins, Defensive End)
Baker has evidently been the best defensive lineman on the Redskins in recent years, accumulating 5 forced fumbles, and 10.5 sacks over the last 2 seasons. The free agent has been expressed interest from over 6 teams including the Washington Redskins during this offseason. Baker is a guy who has positively influenced the defense and the locker room, but his abilities have been flying under the radar due to the struggling defensive efforts from the rest of the team. The question remains on whether the Redskins will be able to afford Baker in the midst of franchise tagging Kirk Cousins, giving him $24 million annually, and giving Josh Norman an average of $15 million/year all while making him the highest paid cornerback in the NFL.

Tony Jefferson (Arizona Cardinals, Strong Safety)
The Arizona Cardinals have an influx of unrestricted free agents with 16. A handful of the players is bound to be on another team before next season due to the restrictions on the salary cap. Among those 16 players is Tony Jefferson, who is coming off of a career season at the age of 25. Teams can start negotiations with players on March 7th, and on the top of many lists will be Tony Jefferson who is in his early stages of his career and has much room to develop as a player. The Cardinals will have $18 million in cap space to give out to free agents, unfortunately, that is not enough to keep players among the likes of DJ Swearinger, Calais Campbell, and Tony Jefferson to remain in Arizona and happy at a reasonable price who are all expecting huge paydays for their contributions to the team.

AJ Bouye (Houston Texans, Cornerback)
AJ Bouye is coming off of a phenomenal year at the cornerback position with the best defensive team in the NFL, the Houston Texans. After declining to franchise tag the Central Florida man, the Texans are still eager to sign Bouye who set career highs in tackles, passes defended, and two interceptions in the postseason. Bouye received the 2nd highest grade for any cornerback, along with the highest grade for defending the slant routes according to Pro Football Focus. Possible landing spots include the Jacksonville Jaguars with an already dangerous secondary with Jalen Ramsey, and an offense including Bouye’s former teammate at UCF, Blake Bortles.

Johnathan Cyprien (Jacksonville Jaguars, Strong Safety)
It would be really hard for the Jaguars not to improve in what was a disappointing 3-13 season. The second round pick is ready to look for a team that can aid his growth as an NFL player. A return back to Jacksonville could be crucial to his outcome because of the toxic atmosphere, on the flip-side, the continuously growing potential of the secondary can certainly be a positive outlook for the future of Cyprien. His 127 tackles led all defensive backs league-wide, and is an impressive stat to have, regardless of position. Cyprien come March 9th will test the market and see what other teams are willing to pay for talent on the likes of himself. In his 4 seasons in the NFL, Cyprien has showcased his talents and has played in 60/64 games which is a scary healthy rate which emphasizes his durability.

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