Having elite pass rushers can carry a franchise to a Super Bowl title. Just ask the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers how that turned out over the last two years, as both franchises had dominant pass rushing units that played a vital role in leading them to championships.
The Rams didn't blink when giving up two Day 2 draft picks for Von Miller, who led the NFL with 18 tackles for loss and tied for third in the league with 52 pressures since joining Los Angeles in Week 10. Miller joined Justin Tuck as the only players in Super Bowl history with multiple sacks in multiple Super Bowls, showcasing the importance of having an elite pass rusher on the edge.
Seven of the top 10 teams in total pressures made the playoffs and six of the top ten teams in total sacks made the postseason in 2021. Having a premier pass pusher is vital, even if this year's free agent class isn't as deep as last year's group. Only one player in this year's edge rusher class finished in the top 10 in sacks and no players finished in the top 10 in total pressures. The top edge rushers are still going to command a high salary on the market, as free agency is set to begin in less than two weeks.
While this class isn't deep, there is some talent to be had that will immediately improve a pass rush for any unit. Teams will have to get creative with some of these edge rushers when the legal tampering period opens March 14. Here are the top edge rushers available this free agent season:
- Free-agent ranking: 1
- Age: 32
- Market Value: $14.6 million
Jones had the bounce-back season in 2021 after playing just five games the previous year with a biceps injury. He still put up double digit sack numbers (10.5) to go with 41 tackles, 26 quarterback hits, and six forced fumbles (the second-highest total of his career).
One of four players with six forced fumbles on the year, Jones also finished ninth in the NFL in quarterback hits. Jones also had 45 pressures and 25 hurries on the year, which aren't among the league leaders -- even though the pass rusher was excellent at getting to the quarterback and creating turnovers.
Jones may not be the player who had 49 sacks from 2017 to 2019, but he's still a difference maker on a defense. He's the most productive edge rusher on the market and should be paid handsomely in free agency.
- Free-agent ranking: 2
- Age: 32
- Market Value: $10.6 million
Miller was dominant once he was traded to Los Angeles at the trade deadline, showcasing he still has the talent to be an impact player and difference maker on a defense. Leading the NFL with 18 tackles for loss since playing his first game with the Rams in Week 10, Miller also racked up 52 pressures (third in NFL) and nine sacks (tied for sixth) with Los Angeles (including postseason).
Making his money in the postseason, Miller finished with 14 tackles, four sacks, six quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. His 22 pressures trailed only Aaron Donald (23) and 16 hurries led all NFL defenders, a critical part in the Rams winning a championship.
Miller finished with 50 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble in the regular season -- along with 55 pressures and 47 hurries (seventh in NFL). A Super Bowl contending team should seriously take a look at adding Miller later this month.
- Free-agent ranking: 3
- Age: 25
- Market Value: $17.1 million
In terms of talent and age, Landry is arguably the best edge rusher on the market. Heading into his second contract, Landry had a breakout season with the Tennessee Titans as he finished with a career-high 75 tackles, 12 sacks, and 22 quarterback hits -- earning his first Pro Bowl appearance after four seasons in the league. Landry also recorded a career-high 57 pressures and finished with 41 hurries.
Landry is the only free agent edge rusher that finished in the top 10 in sacks (10th), as he finished in the top-15 in pressures (15th). Improving in quarterback hits and tackles every season, Landry has become more consistent in getting to the quarterback. His best football is ahead, as Landry should get an impressive deal in free agency -- one he may outplay over the first few years of the contract.
- Free-agent ranking: 4
- Age: 27
- Market Value: $15.7 million
This past season was a prove-it year for Reddick, one which he showed he's one of the top edge rushers in the league. Reddick has 23.5 sacks over the past two seasons (fifth-most in the NFL) and his eight forced fumbles are tied for the third-most in the league during that span.
Reddick finished with 68 tackles, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 18 quarterback hits in 2021 -- proving he was worth more than what he was paid ($6 million). He did have 42 pressures in 2021 (eight fewer than in 2020) and 10 missed tackles, but Reddick demonstrated he can get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
This time around, Reddick should get a multi-year deal in free agency. He'll have a strong market in a weaker free agent class than last year.
- Free-agent ranking: 5
- Age: 28
- Market Value: $10.1 million
Ogbah finally showcased his potential with the Miami Dolphins, recording 83 tackles, 18 sacks, 45 quarterback hits, and 17 passes defensed -- the most for a defensive lineman in that span. Ogbah was the only defensive lineman in the NFL with double-digit passes defensed last year (12), a season in which he finished with 41 tackles, nine sacks, 24 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble.
Finishing with 56 pressures and 41 quarterback hurries, Ogbah had fewer pressures (63) and hurries (45) than his breakout 2020 season. He did finish 16th in the league in pressures, 12th in hits, and 21st in hurries. Ogbah proved 2020 wasn't a one-hit wonder and should have plenty of suitors in free agency, especially with his ability to defended the pass with his 6-4, 275-pound frame.
- Free-agent ranking: 6
- Age: 29
- Market Value: $13.1 million
Where Gregory fits in terms of a long-term deal is uncertain, but there's no denying he was a good pass rusher for the Dallas Cowboys last season. A starting defensive end for the first time in his career, Gregory finished with 19 tackles, six sacks, 17 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles in just 12 games (missed a month in the middle of the regular season with a calf strain).
Gregory showcased he can get to the quarterback as a No. 2 edge rusher, but is young enough to command top dollar in a subpar free agent class. Whether some team will take a chance on Gregory based on his suspension and injury history is up for debate.
Undergoing knee surgery this offseason, it's clear Gregory is productive when he's on the field. Staying on it is his biggest obstacle.
- Free-agent ranking: 7
- Age: 29
- Market Value: $12.7 million
Clowney had a bounce-back season with the Cleveland Browns after finishing the 2020 campaign without a single sack. The former No. 1 overall pick upped his sack total to nine in 2021, finishing with 37 tackles, 19 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles as a reliable option opposite Myles Garrett.
Finishing with 50 pressures and 32 quarterback hurries, Clowney showed flashes of the player who made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2016 through 2018. Clowney had his most pressures and quarterback hits in a season since 2018, so he still possesses the ability to get to the quarterback.
Best suited as a No. 2 defensive end, Clowney should thrive as the second pass rusher in a defense.
- Free-agent ranking: 8
- Age: 32
- Market Value: N/A
Ingram's value lies with the Kansas City Chiefs, as he allowed Chris Jones to slide back to the inside after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Steelers midway through the year. He still can get after the quarterback, finishing with 15 tackles, five quarterback hits, a sack, and a forced fumble in nine games with Kansas City.
The two sacks between Pittsburgh and Kansas City don't tell the whole story, as Ingram finished with 41 pressures and 33 hurries. Proving he can stay healthy for a full season. Ingram is an excellent fit in the right scheme -- a player worth signing to a short-term deal.
- Free-agent ranking: 9
- Age: 27
- Market Value: $8.6 million
A former first-round pick, Harris appeared to have the bust label on him as he played for three different teams in five years. Harris signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Detroit Lions and was the team's best free agent signing -- finishing with a career-high 65 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. He also set career-highs in pressures (48) and hurries (36).
Is Harris a one-year wonder, or did he figure things out in Aaron Glenn's defense with Todd Wash coaching him up on the defensive line? Those questions will be answered in free agency, as he's one of the top edge rushers in the class. Harris will be a coveted free agent heading into the prime of his career, but his best bet may be to stick with Detroit.
- Free-agent ranking: 10
- Age: 24
- Market Value: N/A
Green earned an opportunity to start last year, more of a product of Seattle lacking edge rushers in training camp. The Seahawks may have discovered a gem in the former third-round pick, as Green recorded a career-high 48 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 15 quarterback hits. Green also had 32 pressures and 20 hurries on 67% of the defensive snaps.
While there's room for improvement, Green's age and potential make him one of the hidden gems in free agency. Green will be just 25 years old for the 2022 season, and he's just scratching the surface of how good he can be. Some franchise is going to sign Green to a team-friendly contract he could outplay by the back end of the deal. He's worth taking a flyer on.
Best of the rest
- Jerry Hughes (Buffalo Bills)
- Justin Houston (Baltimore Ravens)
- Arden Key (San Francisco 49ers)
- Jason Pierre-Paul (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
- Derek Barnett (Philadelphia Eagles)
- Al-Quadin Muhammad (Indianapolis Colts)
- Dorance Armstrong (Dallas Cowboys)
- Mario Addison (Buffalo Bills)
- Calais Campbell (Baltimore Ravens)
- Dante Fowler Jr. (Atlanta Falcons)