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Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions
Pass rushers are in demand and Avril has 27 sacks over the last three seasons. He turns only 27 in April, so he’s in the midst of the prime of his career and is among the most valuable defenders on the market.
Possible Destinations: Bills, Browns, Buccaneers, Falcons, & Lions
Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bennett is a complete defender. He managed nine sacks in ‘12, but he’s also able to defend the run. The Bucs have plenty of cap space to re-sign him, but defensive ends in their prime don’t hit free agency often, so they’ll have plenty of competition.
Possible Destinations: Bengals, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Falcons, & Lions
Chris Canty, New York Giants
Last year, injuries slowed Canty down, but he was still a capable player when on the field. He’ll turn 31 during the season, but his experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense makes him a nice second-tier signing.
Possible Destinations: Chiefs, Jaguars, Packers, & Titans
Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
After playing out of position a year ago, Freeney expects to sign as a defensive end this off-season. He’ll likely want to sign with a contender, but he could be in demand if a couple of teams (namely Detroit) need to fill a pass rushing void.
Possible Destinations: Broncos, Dolphins, Falcons, Lions, & Patriots
Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears
Idonije is a steady presence for any 4-3 defense. He defends the run and rushes the passer well, though the presence of Julius Peppers may have aided him in the latter.
Possible Destinations: Bills, Bears, Lions, & Vikings
Ricky Jean-Francois, San Francisco 49ers
A four-year pro, Jean-Francois filled in for Justin Smith admirably near the end of last season. Because of San Francisco’s front seven depth, Jean-Francois has been somewhat of a luxury. They’ll likely have to compete to retain him, as several 3-4 teams may view him as a starter.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Chiefs, Packers, Ravens, & Saints
Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles
Recently released, Jenkins can provide any team an interior pass rushing presence. He also has experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, giving him scheme versatility.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Giants, Packers, Raiders, & Seahawks
Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Johnson has outstanding size (6-7 and 270 pounds), and after a breakout year, the production to compliment his physical talent. The Bengals recognized his potential enough to pay him over 11 million dollars on a one-year franchise tender.
Possible Destination: Bengals
Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders
Despite his age, Seymour offers scheme versatility, as he can play defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4. He’ll bring experience and creditability to any defensive line, as both a run defender and pass rusher.
Possible Destinations: Chiefs, Colts, Panthers, Patriots, & Saints
Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland Raiders
Shaughnessy is a second-tier free agent with the size to play in a 3-4 or a 4-3. He’s a good backup plan for Oakland, who expects to lose two free agent starters from their defensive line.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Giants, Raiders, & Seahawks
Osi Umenyiora, N.Y. Giants
At this stage in his career, Umenyiora is a pass rushing specialist. His days in New York could be ending, as they have salary cap issues and younger players to re-sign or extend.
Possible Destinations: Bills, Falcons, Giants, Lions, & Titans
Alan Branch, Seattle Seahawks
Branch has turned into a quality player since signing with Seattle before the start of the 2011 season. He’s a good run defender and versatile enough to play on the outside or inside. That versatility should appeal to several suitors.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Chiefs, Colts, Panthers, & Seahawks
Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders
One of the top free agents available, Bryant is sure to be a valuable commodity on the market. He’s shown the ability to be dominating as an inside rusher and is equally as effective defending the run.
Possible Destinations: Browns, Panthers, Patriots, Raiders, & Vikings
Mike DeVito, N.Y. Jets
DeVito is a six-year veteran who is coming off 15 starts for the Jets. He’s a nice second-tier target for teams looking to add depth or even a starter to their defensive line.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Chiefs, Colts, Jets, & Saints
Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs
Many consider Dorsey a bust, but he’s been playing out of position for a majority of his career. He’s always been more of a 4-3 defensive tackle (specifically a three technique) than a 3-4 defensive end. Perhaps a 4-3 team (Carolina) could get the most out of him.
Possible Destinations: Broncos, Panthers, Raiders, & Vikings
Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers
Hampton’s still a capable run defender, even at this stage in his career. His ideal landing spot is a contender searching for a two-down run stopper.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Patriots, Saints, & Steelers
Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens (RFA)
The Ravens definitely want to hang onto Jones, but they have bigger priorities (namely Paul Kruger & Ed Reed). The Ravens will give him a second-round tender, and that may make him an intriguing candidate for several teams.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Colts, Eagles, Saints, & Ravens
Jason Jones, Seattle Seahawks
Jones didn’t get the contract he desired last year, so he took a one-year offer from Seattle. He played well enough in 12 games to earn a multi-year contract from Seattle or even rival St. Louis, who tried to sign him last off-season.
Possible Destinations: Dolphins, Rams, & Seahawks
Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit Lions
With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley already locked in, Detroit may find it difficult to keep a luxury like Hill. He’s been a solid player off the bench for the Lions, but he’s ready to start somewhere.
Possible Destinations: Cowboys, Panthers, Patriots, & Vikings
Henry Melton, Chicago Bears
The Bears franchised Melton to give them time, as they try to workout a long-term extension. He’s one of the few young building blocks on an otherwise aging defense.
Possible Destination: Bears
Roy Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Entering the prime of his career, Miller is coming off a career year. He’s not much of a pass rusher, but he continues to defend the run well. He’s among the best second-tier free agents available.
Possible Destinations: Cowboys, Buccaneers, Panthers, & Vikings
Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins
Few players possess the versatility of Starks. He proved his value to 3-4 teams in 2011 and 4-3 teams in 2012. The nine-year pro will play under the franchise tag this season unless Miami is able to workout a long-term contract.
Possible Destination: Dolphins