As much as it may pain Rams fans to think about the team having to sign low-priced veterans to fill needs on the defense, conjuring forth memories of Eric Weddle and Clay Matthews underwhelming in their twilight, the fact is that many teams have benefited from adding players thought to be past their prime.
Chris Long was an important and productive veteran piece added to the 2017 Eagles.
Jason McCourty elevated Bill Belichick’s New England defense as a 31-year-old signing in 2018.
Alex Okafor was a low-key addition for the Chiefs in 2019, who ended up with five sacks in 10 games for the champs that season.
Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre-Paul formed a veteran, free agent/trades pass rushing trio that helped the Bucs win the Super Bowl in their second full season together.
The Rams are already 2021 Super Bowl contenders. They do not need “one more missing piece” to be in contention. However, they could absolutely find themselves adding one, two, or more than a couple of veteran defensive players who will end up contributing significant snaps to the mission. Playing alongside Aaron Donald, we also know that playing for the Rams could bring out the best in whichever names the team does sign.
Los Angeles has Donald, Michael Brockers, and A’Shawn Robinson under contract (for now), plus Greg Gaines, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Terrell Lewis, Micah Kiser, Troy Reeder, Kenny Young, Justin Hollins, Travin Howard, plus some deeper cuts when it comes to the front-7.
The free agents of note are Morgan Fox, Leonard Floyd, and Samson Ebukam, giving the Rams two obvious needs to fill, whether that comes internally or externally. The Fox replacement could be internal, while finding a new linebacker to take over for Floyd could be more costly.
The following 35 names are not 35 defensive ends who I think the Rams should sign. They are simply 35 names of defensive ends (and in some cases, maybe defensive tackles) who are supposed to be free agents in 10 days. I have decided to only look at defensive ends who are at least 28 and I’ve grouped them by age.
You know of some of these players, and the names you recognize are not necessarily meant to excite you. That’s a good thing. If these players were thought to tilt the field for a team next season, then they probably wouldn’t be affordable to the Rams.
But it doesn’t mean that one of these players can’t help the Rams win a Super Bowl next year.
Pat O’Connor, Buccaneers, 28
James Vaughters, Bears, 28
Carlos Watkins, Texans, 28
Ronald Blair, 49ers, 28
Jadeveon Clowney, Titans, 28
The 28-year-old defensive ends:
How any fan could be that interested in Clowney anymore, I do not know, but people really loved that tackle he had on a Michigan running back almost a decade ago. Clowney had zero sacks in eight games last season and he’s never been a consistent pass rushing threat. He might actually be a poor team’s Leonard Floyd, except that because he is a former number one pick, he won’t be a poor man.
Blair had 5.5 sacks and 14 QB hits in 2018 but wasn’t as productive and tore his ACL in 2019. He hasn’t played since, spending 2020 on the reserves.
Efe Obada, Panthers, 29 (RFA)
Vic Beasley, Raiders/Titans, 29
Damontre Moore, Seahawks, 29
Angelo Blackson, Cardinals, 29
Adam Gotsis, Jaguars, 29
Branden Jackson, Seahawks, 29
Cassius Marsh, Steelers, 29
The 29-year-old defensive ends:
Obada is an odd case in that he is a 29-year-old restricted free agent, but he had 15 QB hits and 5.5 sacks for the Panthers last season. He is expected to return to Carolina.
Beasley has a connection to Raheem Morris and is recognizable to fans as a former top-10 pick who also led the NFL in sacks in 2016. But Beasley has 18 sacks in the last four years combined and he had zero while splitting time with the Titans and Raiders last season.
Blackson is coming off of his most productive season, getting eight QB hits from the defensive tackle position for the Cardinals.
Brent Urban, Bears, 30
Kerry Hyder, 49ers, 30
Benson Mayowa, Seahawks, 30
Alex Okafor, Chiefs, 30
Henry Anderson, Jets, 30
The 30-year-old defensive ends:
After splitting his first five seasons between the Jets, Lions, and Cowboys, Hyder joined the 49ers in 2020 and went off: 49 tackles, 18 QB hits, 8.5 sacks with Nick Bosa spending the year on IR. How big of a financial risk will teams be willing to take on Hyder? He did have 19 QB hits and eight sacks with Detroit in 2016, so at least he’s proven it in two locations.
Mayowa had six sacks for the Cowboys in 2016, four sacks for the Cardinals in 2018, seven sacks for the Raiders in 2019, and six sacks for the Seahawks in 2020. He could be changing teams again and potentially contributing 4-7 sacks at his next stop.
Another mention for Okafor, who had three sacks and 10 QB hits in 11 games for Kansas City in 2020.
Dion Jordan, 49ers, 31
Steven Means, Falcons, 31
John Simon, Patriots, 31
Derek Wolfe, Ravens, 31
Denico Autry, Colts, 31
Trent Murphy, Bills, 31
The 31-year-old defensive ends:
I am devastated when I think of the amount of time that has now passed since Dion Jordan was drafted. He’s still only been a depth piece throughout his career.
Means has a connection to Morris and had 38 tackles and three sacks in Atlanta last season.
Simon was another low-key veteran signing for the Patriots in 2018. Derek Wolfe’s first season outside of Denver didn’t produce many sacks, but he had seven sacks in 12 games in 2019. Speaking of which, Autry had 7.5 sacks and 10 QB hits in 14 games last season.
Murphy’s dealt with a number of injuries in his career but when he was fully healthy in 2019, he was fairly productive for Buffalo.
Billy Winn, Packers, 32
Jabaal Sheard, Giants, 32
Ezekiel Ansah, 49ers, 32
Allen Bailey, Falcons, 32
Tyrone Crawford, Cowboys, 32
Justin Houston, Colts, 32
The 32-year-old defensive ends:
Houston’s been a solid contributor on his two-year deal with the Colts.
Bailey is another player who has familiarity with Raheem Morris. He has played in all but one game for Atlanta over the last two years.
Ansah seems to be a name only. He has 6.5 sacks over the last three seasons.
Winn is an interesting case in that after playing five years in the league, he missed all of 2017, 2018, and 2019 with injuries. He returned in 2020 to appear in six games for Green Bay, recording six tackles and two batted passes.
Vinny Curry, Eagles, 33
Ryan Kerrigan, Washington, 33
Margus Hunt, Bengals, 34
Tyson Alualu, Steelers, 34
Bruce Irvin, Seahawks, 34
Everson Griffen, Lions, 34
The 33-and-over defensive ends:
I’m not going to drizzle it in honey, this is old for an NFL player.
Curry had three sacks in 11 games last season.
Kerrigan has remained a model of health, at least. He missed his first career games in 2019, but had a full season again in 2020, recording 5.5 sacks for Washington.
Alualu has not only stayed in the league for 11 seasons, but he seems to get better as he ages. Alualu might be the discount-JJ Watt.
Irvin missed all but two games last season. He had 8.5 sacks in 13 games with the Panthers in 2019, however. Griffen split time with the Cowboys and Lions and he was adequately productive at both stops.