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Top 2013 NFL free agents (defense): Even aging, pass rushers get paid

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You can never have too many pass rushers, right? That is what they say.

And, despite it being such a position of need around the league, there are some candidates worthy of free-agent dollars. Many of them are getting a little older -- Dwight Freeney and Richard Seymour come to mind -- but I wouldn't be surprised at all if some of them ended up having another impact season or two left.

Brian Urlacher might be a Hall of Famer, but the Bears aren't making it sound as if he will be back, and I'm not sure others will clamor for him, with linebacker being a position where teams generally won't invest heavily these days. Shaun Phillips showed he could get to the quarterback in years past for the Chargers, though at age 31 some will think twice about giving him a big payday now.

Time will tell that some of these guys are probably done and will falter. That is the nature of this game. But there is still sufficient star power on defense, specifically among the pass rushers, to carry interest on this side of the ball.

Matt Shaughnessy has had some big games for the Raiders, and he is at the other end of the spectrum at 25 years old. But Oakland has had its share of budget and cap issues in recent years. Connor Barwin was an absolute beast in 2011, and his production waned some in 2012; league sources doubt the Texans franchise him, though he could end up staying in Houston after he tests the market.

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There is no way the Lions franchise Cliff Avril for a second straight year, which means he will command plenty of offers come March. He has displayed versatility and an ability to post double-digit sack totals. Anthony Spencer, who had a breakthrough season for the Cowboys, won't be franchised and with Dallas moving to a 4-3, he could end up with another 3-4 team.

Paul Kruger has been a playoff comet, rising to prominence as an edge rusher for the Ravens. With him possibly commanding $9 million a year on the open market, it's hard to see him back in Baltimore. Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is the heir to Ray Lewis, and retaining him will be a top priority for Baltimore, while a third vital starter for the Ravens, corner Cary Williams, could end up making $7 million a year or more, also probably pushing him out of Baltimore's price range given their depth in the secondary.

As for interior players, Casey Hampton is unlikely to be anchoring Pittsburgh's defensive line after an exceptional career at nose tackle for the Steelers. The Jets are prioritizing keeping defensive tackle Mike DeVito, but are by no means certain they'll be able to keep him.

Two younger interior players -- Henry Melton of the Bears and Terrance Knighton of the Jaguars -- will be in demand if they aren't re-signed beforehand (Jacksonville has so much cap space, and so much need on the defensive side, that you think they would make some effort here, even with Knighton's weight an issue in the past). Former top-five pick Glenn Dorsey was a bust in Kansas City, but with a switch to a 4-3, could perhaps flourish as an interior pass rusher.

In the secondary, it is exceptionally rare for young corners to get free, and expect the Dolphins to make every effort to keep Sean Smith. Dallas, however, has cap issues (remember they are facing another $18 million cap penalty this season), so 27-year-old Mike Jenkins might not make sense for them after giving Brandon Carr a monster deal a year ago. Aqib Talib has no shortage of off-field issues, but rejuvenated his career in New England. Tracy Porter has been steady and has shined on the Super Bowl stage in the past as well.

And there is no way we can talk about defensive free agents and not end with Ed Reed, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and maybe the greatest safety ever. Leaving Baltimore would be tough, but the Ravens may not be competitive if someone wants to give him $8 million a year or more, especially teams like New Orleans (where Reed is from), Atlanta (where he lives) or Miami (he played at The U, remember). Dashon Goldson, opposite Reed at safety in the Super Bowl for San Francisco, is playing on the franchise tag and might get a longer deal this time around somewhere. LaRon Landry, who signed a one-year deal with the Jets, will be looking to get paid as well.

Overall, the group of safeties in their mid-20s is pretty impressive, though somewhat injury prone, as our handy-dandy list will attest.

Defensive line

1. Cliff Avril: The Lions can't keep everyone up front and he won't be franchised again.

2. Randy Starks: Been in the league a long time but still a spry 28; tremendous versatility to fit any scheme and Dolphins likely lost their chance to keep him.

3. Henry Melton: Become a force for the Bears and one of the few younger impact players on that D. Would think they do all they can to keep him.

4. Richard Seymour: Dude can play inside and outside and will be refreshed getting out of Oakland.

5. Matt Shaughnessy: Dealt with a lot of coaching upheaval in Oakland in a short period of time. Still very young and talented.

Linebacker

1. Dannell Ellerbe: Even when playing with one hand, he has become the engine of Baltimore's defense and keeping him will be top priority.

2. Anthony Spencer: Some scoffed when Dallas franchised him, but he will have the last laugh in free agency this year.

3. Connor Barwin: The absence of Brian Cushing may have hindered Barwin some this year, but still plenty of ability to get to the QB.

4. Paul Kruger: Took off in the second half of the season and has the entire league watching him in the postseason. Looking to get paid.

5. Shaun Phillips: Getting older, but I would take my chances with him above some of the other aging LBs.

Cornerback

1. Sean Smith: Has the skills and body to be a shutdown guy, and at age 25 is just entering his prime.

2. Cary Williams: Stepped up big time when Lardarius Webb got hurt, and his playoff performances are only helping his cause.

3. Mike Jenkins: Yet to put it all together for the Cowboys but teams were exploring trade options for him last year. Will draw interest.

4. Aqib Talib: If not for his off-field troubles, would be much higher. Staying under the watchful eye of Bill Belichick might be his best move.

5. Tracy Porter: Seems like he has been around longer, but at age 26 well positioned for free agency.

Safety

1. Ed Reed: Maybe the greatest ever, and still has a knack for the huge play at the huge moment.

2. Kenny Phillips: Can't stay healthy enough, but when he does the fellow product of The U flashes some Reed-like qualities.

3. Louis Delmas: Another absolute difference maker ... if he could stay in the lineup. Still, the Lions must make every attempt to keep him.

4. Jairus Byrd: Has tremendous ball skills, just like his daddy, former Chargers corner Gill Byrd.

5. Dashon Goldson: A heavy hitter who will be looking for more long-term security after coming off the franchise tag.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

DEFENSIVE ENDS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Bennett, MichaelTB6-427426
Jamison, TimHOU6-327026
Johnson, MichaelCIN6-726725
Martin, VaughnSD6-430826
Merling, PhillipGB6-429527
Moore, KyleBUF6-527225
Nading, JesseHOU6-526427
Pitoitua, RopatiKC6-831527
Shaughnessy, MattOAK6-527025
Sidbury, LawrenceATL6-326526
Avril, CliffDET6-326026
Dawson, KeyuntaTEN6-325426
Gilberry, WallaceTB6-226827
Jackson, LawrenceDET6-427127
Jones, JasonSEA6-527626
Scott, TrevorNE6-525528
McBride, TurkNO6-227827
Golston, KedricWAS6-431029
Hunter, JasonDEN6-427129
McDaniel, TonyMIA6-731027
Tapp, DarrylPHI6-127027
Ball, DaveTEN6-525531
Geathers, RobertCIN6-328029
Johnson, SpencerBUF6-330530
Starks, RandyMIA6-330528
Idonije, IsraelCHI6-627531
Coleman, KenyonDAL6-529533
Freeney, DwightIND6-126832
Parker, JuquaCLE6-225034
Dorsey, GlennKC6-129727
DEFENSIVE TACKLES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Bryant, DesmondOAK6-529026
Douzable, LegerTEN6-428426
Hill, Sammie LeeDET6-432925
Knighton, TerranceJAX6-333626
Marks, Sen'DerrickTEN6-229425
Melton, HenryCHI6-329525
Miller, RoyTB6-231025
Moala, FiliIND6-430327
Scott, DarellSL6-331526
Walker, VanceATL6-230725
Hayes, WilliamSL6-327227
Laws, TrevorSL6-130427
Sims, PatCIN6-233027
Branch, AlanSEA6-632527
Devito, MikeNYJ6-330528
Johnson, AntonioIND6-331027
Landri, DerekPHI6-229028
Okoye, AmobiCHI6-229225
Vickerson, KevinDEN6-529029
Cody, ShaunHOU6-431029
Edwards, DwanCAR6-330131
Williams, CoreyDET6-432032
Eason, NickARZ6-330532
Bannan, JustinDEN6-331033
Bernard, RockyNYG6-330133
Rogers, ShaunNYG6-435033
Seymour, RichardOAK6-631733
NOSE TACKLES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Brace, RonNE6-333025
Jean Francois, RickySF6-329525
Pryor, MyronNE6-131026
Sopoaga, IsaacSF6-233031
Franklin, AubrayoSD6-131732
Kemoeatu, Ma'akeBLT6-536433
Warren, TyDEN6-530031
Hampton, CaseyPIT6-132535
INSIDE LINEBACKERS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Ellerbe, DannellBLT6-124326
Grant, LarrySF6-125127
Phillips, JasonCAR6-124226
Gooden, TavaresSF6-124227
Mitchell, MarvinMIN6-324927
Siler, BrandonKC6-223926
Dobbins, TimHOU6-124629
McIntosh, RockySL6-224229
Fox, KeyaronHOU6-323530
Williams, DemorrioSD6-123232
James, BradieHOU6-224031
White, TracyNE6-023031
Foote, LarryPIT6-123932
Lenon, ParisARZ6-224034
Brooking, KeithDEN6-224236
MIDDLE LINEBACKERS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Jones, EdgarKC6-326227
Brinkley, JasperMIN6-125227
Maiava, KalukaCLE6-022925
Maualuga, ReyCIN6-226025
Palmer, AshleeDET6-123626
Skuta, DanCIN6-224826
Jordan, AkeemPHI6-123027
Blackburn, ChaseNYG6-324729
Brown, RickyBLT6-223528
Ruud, BarrettNO6-224129
Haggan, MarioSL6-327432
Urlacher, BrianCHI6-425834
OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Barwin, ConnorHOU6-425425
CORNERBACKS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Arrington, KyleNE5-1019626
Barnes, KevinDET6-119025
Biggers, E.J.TB6-018025
Cole, MarquiceNE5-1019228
Cox, DerekJAX6-119025
Fletcher, BradleySL6-019826
Johnson, BruceNYG5-1118225
Lacey, JacobDET5-1017725
Lewis, KeenanPIT6-020826
McCain, BriceHOU5-918525
Middleton, WilliamJAX5-1119426
Moore, D.J.CHI5-918025
Mouton, RyanTEN5-918425
Munnerlyn, CaptainCAR5-818624
Owens, ChristopherATL5-917925
Powers, JerraudIND5-1019225
Smith, SeanMIA6-321425
Toler, GregoryARZ6-019227
Williams, CaryBLT6-118227
Witherspoon, BrianNYG5-1018027
Adams, MichaelARZ5-818127
Ball, AlanHOU6-119527
Cason, AntoineSD6-119526
Corner, ReggieJAX5-918128
Grimes, BrentATL5-1018129
Jenkins, MikeDAL5-1020027
King, JustinIND5-1118825
Lee, PatrickOAK6-019628
Porter, TracyDEN5-1118626
Talib, AqibNE6-120526
Tryon, JustinNYG5-918328
Coe, MichaelNYG6-018728
Houston, ChrisDET5-1117827
Jones, AdamCIN5-1018528
Griffin, CedricWAS6-020329
Reeves, JacquesKC5-1118829
Bartell, RonOAK6-120630
Daniels, TravisKC6-119529
Hanson, JoselioOAK5-918531
Hayden, KelvinCHI6-019529
Spencer, ShawntaeOAK6-119030
Florence, DraytonDET6-019331
Mathis, RasheanJAX6-119332
Newman, TerenceCIN5-1019134
Trufant, MarcusSEA5-1119731
Brown, SheldonCLE5-1020033
Jammer, QuentinSD6-020433
Allen, WillNE5-1019534
Clements, NateCIN6-020532
Barber, RondeTB5-1018437
FREE SAFETIES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Bruton, DavidDEN6-221725
Byrd, JairusBUF5-1020325
Clemons, ChrisMIA6-121026
Delmas, LouisDET5-1120225
Demps, QuintinHOU5-1120627
Martin, SherrodCAR6-119827
Mundy, RyanPIT6-120927
Nolan, TroyMIA6-220625
Goldson, DashonSF6-220027
Ihedigbo, JamesBLT6-121528
Giordano, MattOAK5-1121029
Leonhard, JimDEN5-818829
Williams, MadieuWAS6-120330
Reed, EdBLT5-1120033
STRONG SAFETIES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Chung, PatrickNE5-1121225
Johnson, RashadARZ5-1120426
Mitchell, MichaelOAK6-122025
Moore, WilliamATL6-021827
Quin, GloverHOU6-020326
Sanford, JamarcaMIN5-1020027
Barrett, JoshNE6-222527
Lynch, CoreySD6-020627
Phillips, KennyNYG6-221725
Dahl, CraigSL6-120927
Landry, LaRonNYJ6-022027
Ventrone, RaymondCLE5-1020029
Elam, AbramKC6-020730
Considine, SeanBLT6-021230
Sanders, JamesARZ5-1021028
Allen, WillPIT6-120030
Bell, YeremiahNYJ6-020534
Coleman, ErikDET5-1020730
Scott, BryanBUF6-122031
Hope, ChrisATL6-020431
SPECIAL TEAMS
PosPlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
KHauschka, StevenSEA6-421027
KFolk, NickNYJ6-122227
KBironas, RobTEN6-021034
KCundiff, BillySF6-121232
KNugent, MikeCIN5-1018330
KKaeding, NateSD6-018730
KTynes, LawrenceNYG6-119434
KGraham, ShayneHOU6-021434
KDawson, PhilCLE5-1120037
KHanson, JasonDET6-019042
LSHarris, ClarkCIN6-525228
LSGafford, ThomasKC6-225029
LSGoode, BrettGB6-125527
LSEconomos, AndrewTB6-125030
LSLadouceur, L.P.DAL6-525531
LSWarren, GregPIT6-325230
LSMuhlbach, DonDET6-426531
LSDorenbos, JonPHI6-025032
LSMannelly, PatrickCHI6-526537
PHuber, KevinCIN6-120827
PMcAfee, PatIND6-122025
PHodges, ReggieCLE6-022030
PRocca, SaverioWAS6-526538
PColquitt, DustinKC6-321030
PGraham, BenDET6-523638
PJones, DonnieHOU6-222532
PMoorman, BrianDAL6-017636
PLechler, ShaneOAK6-222536

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

NOSE TACKLES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Baker, ChrisWAS6-232924
STRONG SAFETIES
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Anderson, ColtPHI5-1019426
Church, BarryDAL6-221924
Langford, ReshardDET6-121326
Miles, JeromyCIN6-221025
Spievey, AmariDET5-1119524
Stewart, DarianSL5-1121524
LONG SNAPPERS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Sundberg, NickWAS6-025025
Windt, MikeSD6-125226
PUNTERS
PlayerTeamHeightWeightAge
Colquitt, BrittonDEN6-320527
Kapinos, JeremyPIT6-123328

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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