I can’t recall the last time I saw such an enticing group of potential free agent pass rushers. Lucky for the Raiders, it’s the position they have the most dire need, so the odds are fairly good they can reel at least one of them in this offseason.
Certainly franchise tags and re-signings will lop probably about half of this list off, but as of now, take a gander at some of these guys who are as of now headed for free agency.
Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
The can’t-miss number one overall pick in the 2014 draft. His elite prospect status is the main reason why the Raiders were able to get Khalil Mack with the 5th overall pick. After injuries ended his first two seasons early, he has now been to three-straight Pro Bowls including putting up over nine sacks each of the past couple seasons.
Dee Ford, Chiefs
Ford has put up double digit sacks in each of his last two full seasons, including a career-high 13.0 sacks last season, earning him his first Pro Bowl bid. What a coup it would be to pry this pass rusher from their division rival.
Frank Clark, Seahawks
What a steal it would be to get this 25-year-old. Tom Cable probably remembers Clark tearing up his tackles in Seattle his last couple seasons there. Clark has averaged double digit sacks over the past three seasons, including 13.0 sacks last season. And he just went on twitter the other day saying he was playing at 60% last season.
Ezekiel Ansah, Lions
The former 5th overall pick had put up 44.0 sacks over his first five seasons and got the franchise tag slapped on him last offseason. Then his 2018 campaign ended after 7 games. He had put up 4.0 sacks prior to the injury and the season before that he had 12.0 sacks, giving him 16.0 sacks in his last 21 games. He’s be 30 in May.
Trey Flowers, Patriots
Flowers plays his best football in the biggest moments. He burst onto the scene in the Super Bowl against the Falcons in which he had 2.5 sacks, 2.0 tackles for loss and 5 QB hits. He had a sack and two QB hits on Philip Rivers last week as the Patriots beat the Chargers to bring his postseason total over 7 games to 4.5 sacks, 18 QB hits, and 6.0 tackles for loss. The 25-year-old has averaged 7.0 sacks per season the past three seasons.
Preston Smith, Washington
The former second round pick has been up and down over four seasons in Washington. He had 8.0 sacks as a rookie, dropped to 4.5 his second season, back up to 8.0 his third season, and back down to 4.0 last season. Which means, even in his worst season, he would be the best pass rusher on the Raiders.
Za’Darius Smith, Ravens
At 6-4, 272 pounds, he’s on the larger side. He’s shown versatility as the Ravens have moved him between DE, DT, and OLB throughout his career. Last season he put up a career-best 8.5 sacks which could either show he’s entering his prime or the dreaded ‘contract year numbers’.
Chris Long, Eagles
Long is about to hit 34 years old. So what. Jon Gruden doesn’t care about age if he thinks a guy can play. The 11-year veteran defensive end had 6.5 sacks last season for the Eagles at the age of 33. He also was part of the previous two Super Bowl championship teams. How cool would it be to have him finish out his career in Silver & Black just like his dad?
Brandon Graham, Eagles
Maybe another Philly pass rusher. Graham had his best season in 2017, with his 9.5 sacks helping the Eagles on their Super Bowl run, adding another sack on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. He followed it up with a down year, putting up just 4.0 sacks — his lowest total as a full time starter. But he added 1.5 sacks in two playoff games.
Dante Fowler Jr, Rams
Fowler was the third overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Florida and Mike Mayock’s top rated pass rusher. He has yet to live up to that billing, but he did put up 16.0 sacks over three seasons and is just 24 years old. Maybe Mayock thinks he’s still got that top pass rusher in him? Fowler had a sack in the Rams win over the Cowboys. He will have at least one more shot to show his wares this weekend in the NFC Championship against the Saints.
Michael Johnson, Bengals
With Paul Guenther as Defensive Coordinator, the Bengals brought Michael Johnson back in 2015 after one season in Tampa. Johnson started 46 games for Guenther over three seasons, putting up 13.5 sacks. Last season with Guenther gone, the 31-year-old had just a half sack on the season. Maybe reuniting with his old DC would be just what he needs.
Demarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Sure, Lawrence would be at the top of this list for any team. He put up 24.5 sacks the past two seasons and is probably the top free agent on the market at any position. But that’s the problem. Lawrence is going to break the bank. The Raiders were unwilling to pay Khalil Mack what he was worth, so why would they now spend the kind of money it will cost to sign Lawrence? His being on the market would be great news, though, as it will help bring the price down for some of the other great pass rushers out there, perhaps to levels that the Raiders are willing to pay.