5 best EDGE defenders still remaining in 2nd wave of 2021 NFL free agency

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Matthew Stevens
·6 min read
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The Baltimore Ravens watched outside linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue leave this offseason, heading to greener pastures through free agency. While Baltimore was expected to lose both, their production has to be replaced, if not grown upon. Though the Ravens have been quiet to start free agency, as is typical, the second wave has some intriguing options still available.

As defensive end Derek Wolfe noted on The Lounge podcast, the losses of Judon and Ngakoue might not be as bad as expected. Baltimore’s defense relies more on an aggressive scheme through blitzes to get pressure and create havoc. That’s seen on the stat sheet as no Ravens player reached above six sacks last season though 16 different players had at least one sack. If Baltimore can manage to get good all-around players, they could fill the void left by Judon and Ngakoue at a far better value.

The word value should really stick out since it’s been a key part of the Ravens’ strategy over the last few decades. Baltimore typically builds up through the NFL draft, doing very well at scouting and developing star talent. With a solid core, the front office has often gone digging through the bargain bin in free agency to find role players for cheap, creating a consistently competitive team vying for a championship.

With the second wave of free agency starting ahead of the 2021 NFL draft, here are the best remaining EDGE options for the Ravens.

Jadeveon Clowney

© George Walker IV / The Tennessean

The Ravens were interested enough in Clowney last season to try to pull off a sign-and-trade deal. The NFL denied the request, seeing Clowney sign with the Tennessee Titans instead. However, things could have changed this offseason. Clowney didn't live up to his contract, failing to get a single sack before heading to injured reserve after just eight games. Even if Clowney's knee completely checks out, his three combined sacks over the last two seasons is concerning. I think it's fair to assume Clowney isn't going to be a double-digit sack guy in the NFL at any point. After seven years and three different teams, he's yet to hit the mark. But, much like Judon, Clowney's biggest asset is his versatility, which could draw Baltimore's interest. The true question is just how interested the Ravens really are and whether Clowney's asking price goes over what his actual value is.

Aldon Smith

Smith has had a very troubled last few years that involved several separate legal issues and even a domestic violence arrest. However, a trip to rehab, a quiet few years out of the league, and a solid return to the NFL could forgive his past indiscretions. Much like I noted with Antonio Brown in our look at the best WRs still available, this would be a pretty big stretch for Baltimore, who has been far more careful in recent years with the type of characters they bring in. Still, Smith wasn't a distraction last season for the Dallas Cowboys, managing to keep his nose clean throughout the year. He also produced big for a guy who was out of the league for four years, notching two passes defensed, two fumble recoveries including one for a touchdown, five sacks, and 14 quarterback hits. He was one of just 20 defenders to have 50-plus pressures in the regular season last year, according to PFF. Smith is a versatile player who can be moved all over the field and he's clearly an effective pass rusher still. While I can't imagine he's much more than a stop-gap solution at this point in his career, he was the most productive player among the lot of stop-gap solutions still remaining in free agency.

Melvin Ingram

Ingram has been an effective pass rusher for most of his career. While he hasn't gotten a ton of sacks, he's managed to consistently create pressure and is versatile enough to fit into Baltimore's scheme. Unfortunately, Ingram will be 32 years old before the 2021 season starts, and after heading to injured reserve twice with the same knee injury last season, he could be starting a serious downswing. However, if Ingram's knee checks out, he's an intriguing option for Baltimore, who has been unafraid to get older at a position if they find the right player for the right price. Though he definitely shouldn't be the top option in the Ravens' defense, Ingram could prove valuable both for his production in a rotational role, his leadership in the locker room, and as an on-field coach and mentor.

Carlos Dunlap

Much like Ingram, Dunlap's best years are behind him but that doesn't mean he doesn't have value in the right role and at the right price. Even with acknowledging Dunlap isn't in his prime, he's been an effective pass rusher in recent years, as Baltimore has seen up close, having to play against him twice a season inside the division. Dunlap is a year removed from a nine-sack, 32-pressure season, doing so over 14 games with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019. Even at 31 years old and split between two teams, Dunlap managed to put up six sacks over 15 games last season. Now hitting free agency at 32 years old, Dunlap is more of a rotational pass rusher who can be maximized by being asked to do little more than get the quarterback. The Ravens could be a little extra attractive to Dunlap, even potentially enticing him to sign a below-market deal. After having played nearly his entire career in Cincinnati, he wasn't quiet about his displeasure playing with the Bengals toward the end of his tenure there, eventually getting traded to the Seattle Seahawks last season. If Dunlap wants to compete for a Super Bowl and a chance to embarrass his former team, Baltimore is the perfect landing spot.

Justin Houston

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

You're probably noticing a trend at this point. It's slim pickings out there among EDGE defenders, with the best of the bunch being guys at the end of their careers. But in the case of Houston, a former legend is still pretty good. Houston was once one of the league's best pass rushers, leading the NFL with 22 sacks in 2014. While he's unlikely to come anywhere close to that level at 32 years old, he was surprisingly productive over the last two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. In a smaller role focused on attacking the quarterback, Houston combined for 19 sacks, 30 quarterback hits, and 53 pressures over the last two seasons. Much like all the aging guys on this list, Houston isn't an every-down starter any longer. However, his production can be maximized in a rotational role where he'll have a better chance to stay fresh and healthy over the course of a season while still being an effective weapon. For a Ravens team that didn't have a single player post above six sacks last season, Houston's eight would be a massive bump and at a potential steal of a price.

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