The defensive tackle pool is pretty shallow this year in free agency, lacking a big-name emerging talent who is primed to get paid. Further depleting the chances of a big payday for these players is the fact that the incoming draft class is loaded with young talented defensive linemen.
I’ve included edge rushers on this list, even though that includes some outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes. It of course, involves 4-3 defensive ends as well. There are some much better options here in free agency for prospective shoppers than at defensive tackle.
Disclaimer: once again cap space and team need have played a part in matching players and teams here. However, for these positions scheme fit is also a consideration. Some players have more flexibility to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3, whereas this is less the case for others.
Ndamukong Suh (defensive tackle)
Best fits: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles
Suh isn’t the disruptive force he once was during his prime in Detroit, but he still has the ability to affect the game from the defensive interior. He’s managed to complete a full regular season slate of games in all but one season (2011) and probably fits best with a team where he won’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Last season for instance he was working alongside All-Pro Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers in LA.
Suh’s already made his money in this league and clearly wants a chance at a ring, meaning he may be inclined to accept a reduced deal to return to the Rams, especially if they are able to increase some cap space by renegotiating some contracts and trading away players deemed surplus to requirements.
There has been mention previously of a fit in Cleveland where he could act as an excellent tutor to up and coming pass rushing defensive tackle Larry Ogonjobi. That would also allow Suh to settle back in as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme, rather than the base 3-4 the Rams utilise. Cleveland also have to be considered in a strong position to be able to claim the AFC North whilst the Ravens and Bengals go through a quarterback and head coaching change respectively, and the Steelers deal with their locker room drama.
I’ve added the Eagles in for two main reasons. The team clearly values depth along the line and is already moving on from Tim Jernigan. Could GM Howie Roseman work his magic with the cap again to fit in Suh to play under his old head coach Jim Schwartz? Suh became a household name in the league under Schwartz, Roseman loves to make a splash, whilst Suh goes from one NFC Super Bowl contender to another.
Sheldon Richardson (defensive tackle)
Best fits: Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans
Former Mizzou player Richardson managed 4.5 sacks from the inside last season, which was his best mark since 2015 with the New York Jets. Despite a breakout season the year before with Gang Green, Richardson never evolved into the player many expected him to be, dogged by strife with teammates and legal issues.
Last year in Minnesota he managed to stay out of the headlines, though wasn’t able to return to the heady play demonstrated in previous years, despite being part of a Vikings D led by mastermind Mike Zimmer and alongside defensive end Danielle Hunter (14.5 sacks). Richardson probably fits best as a rotational piece for any prospective team, but that team would need a strong locker room to help keep Richardson focused on football. Its telling that his most recent teams, the Seahawks and Vikings, have strong personalities at head coach able to manage the defensive tackle.
If Brandon Beane, the Bills GM, is keen to make use of his team’s cap room, whilst not making expensive, high risk additions, Richardson could help fill the gap left by Kyle Williams’ retirement. Sean McDermott is a no-nonsense defensive coach in the mould of Zimmer, who may be unconcerned by Richardson’s past troubles.
The Texans could use some of that cap room to add to an already strong defensive line, whilst upgrading their depth at defensive end. In addition, Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennell would be able to manage a personality like Richardson’s, whilst the team has enough defensive leaders to integrate him into the locker room. Richardson has played as part of a 3-4 defence in New York so a scheme change shouldn’t be a major issue.
Justin Houston (outside linebacker)
Best fits: New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens
Houston weren’t quite the pass rushing force Chiefs Kingdom have known him to be this season, which is a shame given how devastating an impact he could have had alongside Dee Ford, with Ford making the leap to double digit sack artist.
At 30, Houston is unlikely to be getting a long-term deal for a position where productivity inevitably begins to decline at this age. However, he still managed 9 sacks in 12 games. In addition, Houston has already made his money with $52.5 million guaranteed in his new contract agreed in 2015, so could be looking to join a Super Bowl contender. He doesn’t fit the new 4-3 scheme in KC so is likely to be looking for employment at teams that run that.
The Giants, whilst they aren’t necessarily contenders for the Lombardi trophy, have the need and the cap space to make a run at Houston. With the trade of Olivier Vernon to the Browns, the cupboard is bare at pass rusher in New York. Taking Houston (and potentially another younger/cheaper option in free agency) would free Dave Gettleman up to select a successor to Eli Manning in the early rounds of the draft. There may be pause on the Giants end though, given that Houston is probably most likely to be effective when on a snap count or as a situational pass rusher.
Baltimore managed to ride rookie quarterback and a stifling defence to the playoffs last year, and are the sort of team, like New England, who manage to get an extra season’s worth or more of juice out of veteran players. They have the cap space and will have the need if they are unable to agree a deal with Terrell Suggs.
Trey Flowers (defensive end)
Best fits: Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns
Flowers has been touted as one of the free agents this year in line for a big pay day, following a season in which he managed 7.5 sacks, 57 combined tackles and 3 forced fumbles, with an additional 2 sacks in the postseason. There are rumours that Flowers wants to come back to the Patriots, who seem content allowing him to test the market. New England is also adding Michael Bennett via trade from the Eagles, meaning they may expect Flowers to move on, particularly as he is likely to be offered some hefty contracts to choose between.
Teams with pass rushing needs, but flush with cap space, are likely to be the main candidates to sign Flowers, as his cost is likely to be high. The Raiders only managed 13 total sacks last season and have plenty of cap room to sign Flowers. Whilst they have 3 first round picks, and the draft is loaded along the defensive line, picking up Flowers might enable them to utilise those first rounders to move up for a QB they don’t want to miss out on, or to address some of their multiple needs on offense.
Indianapolis and Cleveland also make sense given their relatively low team sack totals (38 and 37 respectively), whilst Flowers fits the profile for those teams as a young player with upside. Combining Flowers with young fellow pass rushers like Denico Autry (in Indy) and Myles Garrett (in Cleveland) may free up for Arkansas product to increase his sack totals. It doesn’t hurt as well that both teams have plenty of greenbacks to throw at free agency too.