VON MILLER, DENVER
One way or another, Von Miller was going to get paid. The Denver Broncos put the franchise tag on Miller and he was the only franchise player to receive the “exclusive” tag, meaning he is Denver’s for either one year at the average of the top five salaries of linebackers in 2016 or they will sign him to a long-term deal that will be similarly lucrative. In NFL comparisons, he deserves it as one of the best linebackers in the league with 25 sacks over the last two seasons and he’s only 26 years old. He received Pro Football Focus’ top pass-rushing grade among edge defenders.
MARK BARRON, LOS ANGELES
A former safety, Mark Barron proved to be a better run defender than he was in pass coverage last year for the now-Los Angeles Rams. He should only get better as he continues to learn and improve at the linebacker position and should be considered a starter for anyone looking to sign one with upside. He had 116 tackles last year, but he produced only one sack.
BRUCE IRVIN, SEATTLE
The 28-year-old Bruce Irvin had only 38 tackles last year for the Seattle Seahawks, but he was given good ratings in run and pass defense by PFF and continued to produce as a pass rusher with 5½ sacks. He’s certainly not in the standout category of Von Miller, but he’s a solid starter for a team searching for that in free agency, and there appear to be several interested in his services.
DWIGHT FREENEY, ARIZONA
At 36 years old, there is no doubt Dwight Freeney’s career is coming to a close, but for a team looking for a situational pass rusher he could be worth a one-year deal. He won’t be a full-time player, but he still has a knack for big plays in big spots, getting eight sacks and three forced fumbles with the Arizona Cardinals, despite playing in only 11 games and making no starts. “Situational” is the operative phrase.
If projecting talent is part of free agency, Tahir Whitehead could be paid more on potential than years of producing. He was a full-time starter for the Detroit Lions in 2014 and produced 86 tackles. Last year, he started only eight games but still had 50 tackles. He proved solid in run defense and coverage and is still only 25 years old, despite being in the NFL for four years.