Top 5 Defensive Ends to Watch in Free Agency

Story posted March 13, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Emma Holtz

As the Mar. 17 free agency deadline inches closer, organizational decisions are heating up in the final stages. NFL analysts and fans alike are about to see teams shake up their rosters in major ways this offseason.

The defensive end position is poised to peak fans’ interest as many teams are readjusting their defensive talent amidst a choked 2021 salary cap of $182.5 million, down 8% from last season according to ESPN. If it is any indication, defensive end J.J. Watt’s surprising commitment to the Arizona Cardinals despite rumors of him making his home in the AFC proves that athletes and organizations alike are capitalizing on the unpredictability of the times.

Here are five defensive ends to keep an eye on leading up to the big day on Mar. 17.

1. Trey Hendrickson, DE, NO - Since being drafted 103rd overall in 2017 by the New Orleans Saints, Hendrickson made major strides in his professional career during the 2020 regular season. Tied for second-most sacks in the league with LA Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald at 13.5, Hendrickson has caught the attention of various teams around the league.

According to Pro Football Reference, Hendrickson had 25 quarterback hits with the Saints defense, which would instill fear in any opposing quarterback on the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, a neck injury prevented Hendrickson from starting several games.

In terms of where Hendrickson could land, the Cleveland Browns are frontrunners since J.J. Watt is no longer available.

2. Yannick Ngakoue, DE, BAL - The Baltimore Ravens decided against using the franchise tag on Ngakoue, who had 23 total solo tackles and 8 sacks during the 2020 season. Ngakoue has been a dominant pass-rushing force in the NFL and is poised to land with his fourth team in two years.

The 2016 third-round pick has major potential in terms of production.. A potential landing spot would be the Indianapolis Colts, who are looking to boost their defensive roster.

3. Melvin Ingram, DE, LAC - After spending a total of nine seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bolts are looking to part from Ingram, whose 2020 season declined steadily. Ingram recorded 0 sacks or forced fumbles and only 5 solo tackles.

Ingram rose quickly on the Chargers roster after being drafted 18th overall in the 2012 draft. He recorded 27 solo tackles in his rookie season with a peak of 52 solo tackles and 20 quarterback hits in 2015 according to Pro Football Reference.

The primary team to receive Ingram would be the Las Vegas Raiders, who have a mutual connection in defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Bradley served as the Chargers’ defensive coordinator from 2017-2020 and worked closely with Ingram.

4. Romeo Okwara, DE, DET - The powerhouse edge from Notre Dame recorded a substantial 18 quarterback hits and ten sacks in the 2020 season, which enriches Okwara’s value as a defensive end in free agency. Okwara’s dominance on the line will benefit practically any team looking at him.

The Buffalo Bills are a possible landing spot, but the possibilities are vast for a player of his caliber.

5. Carl Lawson, DE, CIN - Lawson had a breakout year for quarterback hits during the 2020 season, a personal record of 32 to be exact. The 25-year-old product of Auburn had an impressive 36 combined tackles, which puts him on the cusp of a stellar season run. Lawson’s salary could depend on which team is willing to take a chance on his potential.

The Minnesota Vikings and Las Vegas Raiders have been rumored to put their hats in the ring, but there are no confirmed offers as of late.

Emma Holtz is a freshman majoring in public relations. To contact her, email exh5337@psu.edu