During the 2020 season, the Titans only recorded 19 sacks and 117 total pressures, which ranked third and fifth worst respectively in the entire NFL. You can point to the lack of a true defensive coordinator, the scheme, injuries, or even the coverage as a culprit for this lack of pressure, but ultimately, the edge rushing position group as a whole simply needed more pass rushing talent.
This lack of an edge presence — among many other issues — crippled the Titans’ defense, especially on third downs. Tennessee finished the season ranking dead last in third-down conversions allowed, with opposing offenses converting nearly 52% of tries, the worst mark since Pro Football Reference began tracking the metric in 1991.
Depressing, I know.
This leads me to the purpose of this article: looking at the available edge rushers in free agency. Regardless of whether the Titans draft an edge player, they need to sign an established pass rusher in free agency. Luckily for the Titans, this free agent class could end up being a pretty solid group, especially with the expected lower salary cap.
I ranked these edge rushers according to personal preference from most to least impactful, taking into account their abilities, production, age, fit and potential price tag. Also, some of the contract numbers may be skewed given the question marks with the salary cap, so these are estimates from Spotrac and Over The Cap.
Potential Contract: 4 years, $45M
|5.5 (48th)||64 (4th)||24 (2nd)||22 (42nd)||6 (130th)|
Lawson posted a PFF pass rushing grade of 84.9 this past season, which ranked 10th among all edge defenders. He was also fourth in total pressures and second in QB hits. Although Lawson has been mostly average against the run, he wins as a pass rusher with his well-placed hand usage, burst off the edge, and powerful bull rush/long arm move. This is exactly the skillset the Titans need to compliment Harold Landry’s speed and bend.
While the Bengals do have about $35M in cap space this offseason, does Lawson even want to return? Will the Bengals prioritize re-signing the 25-year-old? Cincinnati also has two starting cornerbacks, as well as A.J. Green, set to hit free agency. On top of that, the Bengals desperately need to upgrade their offensive line to protect Joe Burrow. If Lawson wants to make a bit more money and play for a true contender, he could easily hit the market.
If he does, the Titans need to come out of free agency with Carl Lawson. He is hands down my favorite edge rusher who could be on the market. Lawson is just now entering his prime and is coming off his best season as a pass rusher. In my opinion, Lawson presents the most cost-effective option for an immediate fix to the Titans’ pass rush.
Potential Contract: 3 years, $51M
|8.0 (21st)||76 (1st)||8 (30th)||60 (1st)||13 (26th)|
Shaquil Barrett is the most unlikely option on this list, as he is expected to re-sign with the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians even stated, “We don’t plan on Shaq getting going anywhere. I don’t think he wants to go anywhere,” when asked about Barrett. He clearly likes it in Tampa Bay and they want him back.
However, if he does hit the market, Barrett is probably the best pure pass rusher and overall edge rusher available. He is an absolute technician who utilizes a wide variety of different moves and rushes with a plan in mind.
After leading the NFL in sacks in 2019, Barrett came back with another strong eight-sack season and led the NFL in hurries in 2020. Barrett is probably not going to hit to market and would be very expensive if he did, but he certainly would help the Titans’ pass rush in a big way.
Market Valuation (per year): $15.5M (per Spotrac)
Potential Contract: 4 year, $62M
|8.0 (21st)||42 (31st)||6 (51st)||29 (25th)||11 (37th)|
During the middle of the 2020 season, the Baltimore Ravens traded a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Vikings for Yannick Ngakoue, just weeks after Minnesota gave up a second-round pick and conditional fifth to acquire Ngakoue from Jacksonville.
Now the Ravens face the decision of whether to re-sign Ngakoue or long-time veteran Matthew Judon, as it would be difficult to bring back both given their projected market value.
In my opinion, Ngakoue is clearly the better of the two as a pass rusher. In fact, Ngakoue has had at least eight sacks in each of his first five seasons in the NFL — especially impressive considering most of those seasons in Jacksonville were spent on a team rarely playing with a lead (which naturally gives the pass rushers more chances to get after the quarterback as the opponent tries to catch up). Ngakoue has great burst of the edge and effective inside counter moves to keep offensive tackles guessing.
Ultimately, I think Ngakoue re-signs with the Ravens while they let Judon walk. They wouldn’t have given up that amount of draft capital for a one-year rental.
Potential Contract: 3 years, $30M
|13.5 (2nd)||49 (21st)||11 (12th)||24 (37th)||14 (20th)|
Trey Hendrickson had a breakout 2020 season, ranking second in the NFL in sacks with 13.5. This is even more impressive because he only played 53% of the snaps in New Orleans, which means he more than doubled Harold Landry’s 2020 sack total while playing about half the amount of snaps. That is extremely efficient and productive pass rushing.
Hendrickson also has a very intriguing physical profile; he is listed at 6’4″ and 270 lbs, but he ranked in the 86th percentile for the 40-yard dash, 85th for the broad jump, 80th for the 3-cone, 89th for the 20-yard shuttle and 94th for the 60-yard shuttle. Basically, he is big, fast, and can move fluidly.
Hendrickson is a bit of a riskier option because of his small sample size of elite production, but one that I would be interested in giving a shot due to his unique blend of size, strength, athletic ability, and potential modest price tag. This is another realistic option because the Saints are currently projected to have -$105M in available cap space (that’s negative $105M).
Potential Contract: 4 years, $64M
|6.0 (41st)||39 (35th)||15 (4th)||18 (61st)||10 (53rd)|
With the Ravens, Matthew Judon has quietly had a very productive career. However, it is difficult to project Judon away from this favorable environment, where his production can be inflated by the system and scheme. Judon is a good-not-great pass rusher, but he is getting older and still has yet to reach a double-digit sack season.
Judon played this past season under the franchise tag after failing to agree on a long-term deal. However, with the new addition of Ngakoue, who is younger and better, Judon is likely to find a new team this year. He would be a nice rotational piece for the right price (he’s already denied reports of him seeking $20M+ per year), but he doesn’t seem like a player who can solely elevate a weak unit.
Market Valuation (per year): $11.5M (per Over the Cap)
Potential Contract: 1 year, $10M
|8.0 (21st)||20 (49th)||3 (90th)||20 (49th)||10 (49th)|
I honestly wish that the Titans would have signed Justin Houston two years ago instead of Cameron Wake, but now they have another opportunity. While Houston is getting a bit older, he has maintained a steady level of pass rushing production for the Colts over the past two seasons.
Houston could be a cheaper one-year option for the Titans to serve as a veteran presence — similar to Wake before, but hopefully healthier and more productive. If they were to go this route, they would have to supplement it with a day-one or two edge rusher.
Market Valuation (per year): $6.5M (per Spotrac)
Potential Contract: 1 year, $7M
|0.0||28 (58th)||6 (51st)||22 (42nd)||4 (209th)|
#DownToClown seems like such a long time ago now. At the time, Titans’ fans thought Clowney was the finishing piece to an elite defense. Fast forward to the end of the year, and Clowney has been placed on IR to finish the season after only playing eight games and recording no sacks while the defense, well, sucked.
Say what you want about Clowney’s lack of sacks, he is still a good player overall. He’s a great run defender, an above-average pass rusher, and a freakish athlete when healthy.
However, the durability issues are a real concern for Clowney. In his seven-year career in the NFL, he has only played a full 16-game season once. Since his days at South Carolina, Clowney has undergone seven different surgeries, including five on just his knees alone. His most recent surgery, which ended his 2020 season, was his third meniscus-related procedure.
Now, I would be in favor of the Titans re-signing Clowney, but only at a significantly reduced price tag. I love the skill set and athleticism he brings to the field, but his health is just too much of a risk to invest a heavy contract.
Potential Contract: 1 year, $15M
|8.0 (21st)||43 (29th)||9 (25th)||25 (34th)||11 (37th)|
Skill-wise, Bud Dupree is basically just a worse version of Jadeveon Clowney to me. He has great straight-line burst and plays with a terrific motor, but he lacks the pass rushing nuance to win consistently one-on-one. Also, Dupree seems to get a lot of his production from coverage and clean-up sacks and is a major beneficiary of playing alongside Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and 2020 defensive-player-of-the-year favorite T.J. Watt.
Despite all of that, he is still a very good pass rusher and would be valuable to a lot of teams. However, I don’t think he would be a good fit for the Titans, especially if you consider his price tag. He just feels more like a sidekick than the main producer, and the Titans already have a player in that mold in Harold Landry. For what you might have to pay Dupree coming off an ACL injury, I would just want more bang for my buck.
Market Valuation (per year): $11.6M (per Spotrac)
Potential Contract: 4 years, $46M
|12.5 (4th)||55 (13th)||8 (30th)||34 (14th)||20 (2nd)|
Haason Reddick also had a breakout season after finally getting to play most of his snaps at edge, which is where he thrived in college. He looked much more natural rushing the passer while also showing the versatility to cover running backs out of the backfield. He finished fourth in sacks, 13th in total pressures and second in tackles for loss in 2020. However, paying Reddick seems a bit risky after just one year of production and his relatively smaller size (6’1″, 235 lbs.) to play full time at edge.
I think the most likely scenario is that Reddick gets franchise tagged by the Cardinals to “prove it” one more year before they look to sign him to a long-term extension. If he does hit the market, he would be a risky but interesting option.
Market Valuation (per year): $11.5M (per Over the Cap)
Potential Contract: 1 year, $5M
|5.5 (48th)||16 (94th)||0||10 (87th)||6 (130th)|
Ryan Kerrigan is another aging, veteran presence type of signing. In recent years, Kerrigan has seen a pretty significant drop in total production mostly due to the additions of Chase Young and Montez Sweat. This is reasonable and expected. However, despite this decrease in snaps, Kerrigan has maintained a very solid level of efficiency rushing the passer.
Kerrigan is now set to hit the market, and there were rumors the Titans may be interested in trading for him at the deadline. This could be a more affordable option for Tennessee, but if they go this route, they would also need to supplement Kerrigan with a high draft pick at edge, likely on day one.
Which free agent pass rushers are you most interested in? Let us know in the comments below!