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Free Agency Preview: Defense

Posted Mar 10, 2014

With the opening of the free agent signing period less than 24 hours away, the Rams could figure to be among many teams looking to act quickly to build off their success on the defensive side of the ball a year ago.

Coming off a season in which they finished 15th in overall, the Rams could look to bolster what was the league’s youngest defensive unit. With a defensive line that ranked among the league’s most productive, and also features a balance of youth and experience, the Rams’ focuses could instead focus around the corner, safety, and outside linebacker positions. Here is a look at the top candidates at each position along the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Backs

For many St. Louis fans, it wouldn’t take a long glance at this year’s crop of free agent defenders to find a familiar name. Clayton High School graduate-turned-Pro Bowler Jairus Byrd heads this year’s list of options for teams in need of an upgrade at secondary. Byrd led the NFL with nine interceptions in just 14 games as a rookie in 2009, and has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons.

Also likely to command significant attention this offseason is Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner. Verner was originally part of Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s final draft class while with Tennessee, and has put together a Pro Bowl season in 2013, in which he intercepted five passes and broke up 23 others.

T.J. Ward, who is entering free agency following four years with Cleveland and is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, presents a hard-hitting option from the strong safety position. In addition to his seven passes defensed and two interceptions, Ward was a factor against the run, evidenced by 112 total tackles, the second time he’s eclipsed the 100-tackle plateau in his four NFL seasons.

Best of the Rest: CB Aquib Talib, CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Captain Munnerlyn, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Linebackers

For a team in search of a boost at linebacker, the availability at the position through free agency is comparatively scant in light of the considerable depth at defensive back. At 32 years of age, Karlos Dansby likely heads this year’s free agent class, but may not represent a long-term option at the position.  Dansby did make a triumphant return in his second tour with the Arizona Cardinals last year, piling up 113 solo tackles in addition to totaling 6.5 sacks, the second most of his career. He also displayed an ability to make a play on the football, registering a career-high four interceptions and 19 passes defended.

Best of the rest: Brandon Spikes, Jon Beason, Daryl Smith

Defensive Line

Among pass-rushing defensive ends, Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson, stands at the top of this year’s free agent class. Johnson saw his production totals take a precipitous slide in 2013, but still represents a player capable of amassing double-digit sack totals, as he did in 2012, with 11.5.

Among defensive tackles, Chicago’s Henry Melton looks to make a triumphant return after playing in just three games during the 2013 season. Melton made his first Pro Bowl appearance in just his third NFL season, in 2012.

Best of the rest: DT Randy Starks, DE Arthur Jones, DT Jason Hatcher

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