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Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Allen turns 32 before the 2014 season begins, but he’ll still warrant heavy consideration from any 4-3 team looking to upgrade their pass rush. His 11.5 sacks a year ago was his seventh consecutive season with double-digit sacks. Tampa Bay and Oakland are ideal fits, but Allen may want to play for a contender instead. Rumors swirled during last season’s trade deadline that Denver and Seattle were interested in trading for the all-pro defensive end. Perhaps they’ll explore signing Allen this off-season.
Possible Destinations: Buccaneers, Broncos, Raiders, Seahawks, & Vikings
Michael Bennett, Seattle Seahawks
Many were expecting Bennett to land a long-term contract last off-season, but he ended up in Seattle with a one-year deal. Maybe teams were reluctant to sign him or perhaps he just wanted to play in Seattle. Regardless, it worked out well for him, as he’s coming off a strong 2013 season and a Super Bowl title. He’ll get a long-term deal this off-season, especially with the Seahawks pushing hard to re-sign him.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Bears, Jaguars, Raiders, & Seahawks
Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks
The decision by Seattle to release Bryant has more to do with the realities of today’s NFL than it does Bryant himself. The Seahawks are a young team and several of their key players are due a pay raise. Cutting Bryant (and a few others) gives them enough cap room to re-sign several young players. Bryant tested free agency in 2012 before returning to Seattle. The Patriots -- who were close to signing him in 2012 -- are an ideal fit given their need at defensive tackle. Kansas City is also interested.
Possible Destinations: Chiefs, Falcons, Packers, Patriots, & Raiders
Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
A good (not great) pass-rushing defensive end, most teams will value Griffen as a second-tier free agent. The Vikings are thin at defensive end, however, so they may value Griffen more than an outside party. This increases the odds of Griffen remaining in purple.
Possible Destinations: Buccaneers, Falcons, Jaguars, & Vikings
Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders don’t have many quality players, which makes it all the more important for them to retain the ones they have. Oakland has over $65 million in salary cap space, so it was somewhat surprising to see them not use their franchise tag. They now run the risk of losing Houston, who’ll generate substantial interest from several teams.
Possible Destinations: Bears, Chiefs, Raiders, Titans, & Vikings
Tyson Jackson, Kansas City Chiefs
A disappointing start to his NFL career had many labeling Jackson a bust. However, over the course of the last two seasons, he's developed into a solid 3-4 defensive end.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Chiefs, Colts, Packers, & Titans
Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Chances are slim Johnson, who is coming off a disappointing season, returns to Cincinnati. In 2012, he notched 11.5 sacks, but he finished with just 3.5 in 2013. Still, his combination of athleticism and size is sure to entice plenty of suitors this off-season. In fact, rumors link Atlanta and New England to him. A reunion with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota also makes sense.
Possible Destinations: Falcons, Jaguars, Patriots, & Vikings
Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens
Versatile enough to play in a 3-4 or 4-3, Jones is a great run defender and capable of providing the occasional rush. Baltimore will try to lure him back, but re-signing Eugene Monroe seems to take priority over anyone else. This could open the door for Jones to depart. Perhaps playing with his brother Chandler in New England is in the cards.
Possible Destinations: Bears, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, & Titans
Justin Tuck, N.Y. Giants
Tuck turns 31 later this month, but he’s one of the more complete defensive lineman available. He’s versatile enough to kick inside and play tackle during passing situations. The Giants want him back, but Tuck and his agent haven’t been shy about their intentions to gauge interest on the open market. It sounds as if Tuck may go where the money is.
Possible Destinations: Bengals, Cowboys, Giants, Patriots, & Vikings
Corey Wootton, Chicago Bears
While Wooten is coming off January hip surgery, don‘t expect his value to drop. He’s a versatile (can play inside or outside) mid-tier free agent. Returning to Chicago is possible, as is a reunion with his former coach Lovie Smith. He’d also be a good fit in Dallas should they decide to part ways with DeMarcus Ware.
Possible Destinations: Bengals, Cowboys, Buccaneers, Bears, & Vikings
Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons
Even though Babineaux has expressed a desire to remain in Atlanta, the Falcons may not want him back. They’re looking to get younger along the defensive line and Babineaux turns 33 this season.
Possible Destinations: Cowboys, Falcons, Raiders, & Vikings
Alex Carrington, Buffalo Bills
Carrington played well in 2012, but an injury prevented him from elevating his game to the next level. He may opt to sign a one-year deal with a contender in order to rebuild his reputation. Look for 3-4 and 4-3 teams to value him as an end.
Possible Destinations: Browns, Colts, Packers, & Raiders
Jason Hatcher, Dallas Cowboys
One of the few bright spots on an otherwise awful Dallas defense, Hatcher is likely to play elsewhere in 2014. The Cowboys would love him back, but they don’t have enough money to re-sign him. Hatcher proved himself in a 4-3 last year, after already playing well in a 3-4. His age (turns 32 in July) could prevent him from getting a lot of guaranteed money.
Possible Destinations: Bears, Buccaneers, Chiefs, Colts, & Packers
Linval Joseph, N.Y. Giants
Joseph is one of the few interior defenders capable of playing in both a 3-4 and 4-3. He wants to return to the Giants, but they may invest their money on signing offensive lineman. Will they have enough left to keep Joseph in the fold? We’ll soon have our answer.
Possible Destinations: Colts, Giants, Patriots, & Vikings
Henry Melton, Chicago Bears
Timing matters. Had Melton became a free agent last off-season, he would’ve been one of the most sought after players on the market. However, after playing in only three games in 2013, he’s relatively under the radar. Returning to Chicago makes sense, but probably at a smaller price than he envisioned a year ago. He’s also apparently smitten with Dallas.
Possible Destinations: Cowboys, Bears, & Vikings
B.J. Raji, Green Bay Packers
A couple of years ago, Raji looked to be emerging as one of the premiere defensive tackles in football. Over the last three seasons, however, he’s been inconsistent at best. The Packers did offer him nearly $8 million at one point, but Raji walked away from it. His stock as fallen considerably, as Green Bay is now offering $4 million on a one-year deal.
Possible Destinations: Dolphins, Packers, Raiders, Seahawks & Vikings
Paul Soliai, Miami Dolphins
Re-signing Soliai makes sense for the Dolphins and he has a desire to return. Why would he leave then? Well, Randy Starks is also a free agent, and Miami might want him back a little more. Soliai is a pure 3-4 nose guard. His lack of versatility limits his market, but the teams that need him are likely to pursue him aggressively.
Possible Destinations: 49ers, Colts, Dolphins, Packers, & Titans
Pat Sims, Oakland Raiders
Formerly a Cincinnati Bengal, Sims didn’t receive much hype last off-season. As a result, he settled for a one-year contract with Oakland. The Raiders weren’t expecting much, but he performed very well for them, positioning himself for a long-term contract.
Possible Destinations: Cowboys, Raiders, & Vikings
Randy Starks, Miami Dolphins
The market for Starks should be large, assuming the Dolphins don’t re-sign him prior to the start of free agency. He’s a dominating run defender, who is also a good pass rusher. In addition, he’s had success in both a 3-4 and 4-3.
Possible Destinations: Colts, Dolphins, Falcons, Titans, & Vikings
Kevin Williams, Minnesota Vikings
Williams is a good player, but he turns 34 in August. Returning to Minnesota might be his best option, but at what price? Is he willing to wait until the summer to make his decision? There are many unanswered questions regarding his options, but if he’s willing to sign for a reasonable price, he can be a major asset to a 4-3 team looking for depth.
Possible Destinations: Bears, Buccaneers, Cowboys, & Vikings
Best of the Rest
Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh Steelers
Clinton McDonald, Seattle Seahawks
Earl Mitchell, Houston Texans
Ryan Pickett, Green Bay Packers
Matt Shaughnessy, Arizona Cardinals
Update: Jacksonville signed Red Bryant to a four-year deal worth $17 million. Everson Griffen re-signed with Minnesota. The deal is worth $42.5 million over five years. It reportedly guarantees $20 million.