2020 Free Agency Positional Preview – Defensive Tackles
Leading up to the beginning of free agency (3/18 at 4pmET), we’ll be looking position by position at the available free agent pool and discussing the state of the pool (for gems, sleepers, busts) and making some throwaway predictions on the landing spots of the top free agents.
Today, we look at: Defensive Tackles
There is a surprising amount of competent/solid defensive tackles available in free agency. I am also chuckling at home many past ‘sure fire #1 rated’ top DT prospects from recent drafts there are…guys who quickly fizzled out into ‘who cares?’ status – but ALL the experts were telling us they were future awesome – and I’m going to give you a walk down memory lane on a devastatingly wrong one the experts had a few years ago.
This year, Buffalo’s Jordan Phillips, Pittsburgh’s Javon Hargrave, Seattle’s Jarran Reed are some of the top names but there are many other competent DTs and former highly drafted ones crowding a big list of options.
*I’m assuming Chris Jones is going to be franchised tagged by KC, or he’d be the top name out there BY FAR.
In general, I’m left wondering why NFL teams are going to spend the going/growing rate on any free agent defensive tackles. We just saw the fastest DT group in history at the NFL Combine. Every year, the 300+ pounders get bigger and faster. We’ve got all these DTs hitting free agency – we’ve got a glut of DT options in the NFL. There’s no reason to pay up for a decent one in this DT economy. Values will be had for the patient.
NFL teams are rarely patient. Bill Belichick will be, but rare few others.
Let’s look at the Best, the Bust, the Sleeper and Deep Sleeper of the DT group and then we’ll make some predictions on the bigger names and their landing spots…
BEST = Two to consider…
I think Javon Hargrave/PIT has the most attention on him and could be the highest paid of the 2020 group. The Steelers are pinched in the cap, so they should let him go. Hargrave might be even better in a 4-3 defensive scheme for his new team.
Jordan Phillips/BUF is an interesting case – waived by the brilliant Adam Gase regime in 2018, despite being a former 2nd-round pick talent. Buffalo claims him in 2018 and works with him/grooms him and then in 2019 he racks up 9.5 sacks, 13 TFLs, with 16 QB hits. Sean McDermott > Adam Gase. Phillips popped just in time to hit free agency. He shows flashes of brilliance…and there will be many who will want to pay for that.
BUST = Tim Jernigan…former 2nd-round pick who was ‘meh’ in Baltimore, traded to the Eagles who then signed him to a $48M deal and has been a big nothing for Philly. He’s available, and a sucker will chase him.
Note two key things on Jernigan.
In 2014, Jernigan was EVERYONE’S top-rated DT prospect for the draft. Why? Because he went to Florida State, who was the top college team at the time – so why wouldn’t he be great, per warped NFL scouting logic? Jernigan was all football people’s top guy for Jan.-Mar. of his draft year, and then Aaron Donald had his Combine…and some football minds switched to Donald over Jernigan, but most analysts lazily stuck with Timmy as their top guy…as they do.
I mean, you can’t make this stuff up how bad football evaluators are at evaluating football talent. Could you argue Tom Brady and Aaron Donald are the two best players of this generation for their respected sides of the ball? They all missed on Brady, and they mostly all wanted Jernigan over Donald in the 2014 draft.
Also note, the Eagles have a major front office problem with GM Howie Roseman…and he’s the mastermind behind the trade/contract for Jernigan. The Eagles 2020 team is littered with bad contracts and have had multiple bad/underwhelming drafts the past few years…and, yet, this management team spawned the new Jets’ GM in 2019 and the new Browns GM in 2020. How is this possible? Because Nick Foles, who the Eagles’ brass never wanted, won them a Super Bowl single handedly once (and then they ditched him for it) – and now they all ride the coattails of that moment.
SLEEPER = Nick Williams/CHI…a 7th-round pick in 2013, he’s gone from KC to Miami to Chicago, and has barely played until an injury sprung him to the starting rotation in 2019 and he posted 6.0 sacks his first 7 games and put up a decent season for the Bears in a pinch. An athletic 300+ pounder who could be a nice, cheaper option to fill gaps at DT.
Maliek Collins/DAL is also a nice option lurking in the weeds of DT free agency.
DEEP SLEEPER = Adam Butler/NE…6.0 sacks, 8 TFLs, 9 QB hits, 5 PDs as a rotational player for Bill Belichick. He’s a restricted free agent, and I bet Bill doesn’t think anyone will notice…and if a decent offer was made, it’s not like Belichick to pay fair or over price for a DT (or anyone).
Jordan Phillips/BUF = Likely to stay in Buffalo, even if a franchise tag is needed. He’s someone you’d like to see if 2019 was a fluke or not, rather than pay huge for the future just yet.
Jarran Reed/SEA = Seattle really wants to keep him, and they have the space so he should stay there.
Shelby Harris/DEN = I think Vic Fangio lets him walk, because he could be expensive, and you’ll see cheaper options in a few names he can get to replace easily.
Javon Hargrave/PIT = I don’t think it will be Pittsburgh. It’s too expensive to tag him and the Steelers have little salary cap. The Steelers are usually smart, and thus they will let him walk. He will wind up in Carolina, potentially.
Michael Brockers/LAR = Might go back to the Rams for one more year…as the Rams have one more year before they have to rebuild everything.
Timmy Jernigan/PHI = What’s a really dumb team that lives in the past and would make a play for a guy who was graded highly by them because they followed the media in 2014? Smells like a Charger or a Giant.
A’Shawn Robinson/DET = Was once considered the top DL in his class for a bit, now forgotten and free. He’s another guy GMs who follow the media (many) will love/think they’re getting a bargain on. LAC or Houston here.
Nick Williams/CHI = Goes cheaply to Denver to be back with Vic Fangio.
Maliek Collins/DAL = Dallas might cheaply re-sign him, but he might price himself out…to like the Colts or Giants (where there are Dallas connections).
David Onyemata/NO = Re-signs with the Saints.
Roy Robertson-Harris/DEN = Goes cheaply to Denver to be back with Vic Fangio.
Adam Butler/NE = The Patriots are likely to cheaply keep him, but Miami or NYG could play the ex-Patriots card here and steal him away.
Andrew Billings/CIN = A very underrated DT…one of the strongest DT’s in the NFL. He creates opportunity for the rest of the D-Line. A smart team makes this move…this has New England or Carolina or Las Vegas all over it. I’ll bet Las Vegas pulls the trigger, smartly.
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