2024 NFL Free Agency: Defensive Preview

by Aditya Fuldeore · Featured
2023 Free agents

The NFL regular season is winding down and fantasy seasons are coming to a close. For many NFL teams, that means playoffs. For others, the offseason preparation can begin early. Free Agency is coming, and there are many key defensive players set to hit the market. In this piece, I hit the key defenders set to be 2024 free agents and preview what their free agency could look like.

Chris Jones – Defensive Lineman, 29 years old at time of free agency

As an All-Pro, Pro-Bowler, and Super Bowl champion with the Chiefs, Chris Jones is in line for a big payday. Fresh off a 15.5-sack 2022 season, Jones held out prior to 2023 and agreed to a one-year modified contract, sticking with the Chiefs. He will generate lots of interest from contenders wanting a veteran defensive tackle to rush the passer this offseason. Jones hits 30 years old next summer and likely won’t command as long a deal as some of the younger pass-rushers, but is one of the top defensive linemen available.

Brian Burns – Edge Rusher, 25

The Panthers made the choice to hold on to Brian Burns and now have a decision to make this offseason. The edge rusher explodes off the edge, with Burst and Speed Scores in the 86th-percentile or higher. Burns was a Pro-Bowler in both 2021 and 2022, totaling 21 sacks and 30 tackles for loss over those two seasons. He is a candidate to be franchise-tagged by the Panthers, who are looking for ways to establish franchise cornerstones after a dismal year. Burns will fetch a deal with a price tag of at least Myles Garrett‘s $25 million annual average.

Josh Allen – Edge Rusher, 26

The “other” Josh Allen is an elite edge rusher for the Jaguars. He was selected seventh overall in 2019 and has come along nicely. He had a career-high 13.5 (No. 5) sacks through Week 15 this season. Allen has three straight seasons of at least seven sacks and double-digit tackles for loss. The Jaguars are unlikely to easily let him go, making Allen a candidate to be franchise-tagged and/or extended.

Edge rushers are one of the premier positions in the league, meaning he will sign a hefty deal to be a defensive cornerstone. Allen should also fetch a deal of at least a $25 million AAV on the open market or from Jacksonville.

Danielle Hunter – Edge Rusher, 29

The Vikings gave Danielle Hunter a one-year, $17 million deal that included $3 million more in bonuses that Hunter met, for a total of $20 million this year. The 29-year-old has had a career year, with 15.5 (No. 2) sacks and 21 (No. 1) tackles for loss through his first 14 games of the season. His elite pass-rushing skillset will be coveted by many, with offers likely surpassing the $20 million he saw this year. Contenders will offer Hunter shorter contracts to be a championship piece while rebuilders will give Hunter long-term stability. Either way, Hunter is headed for a nice payday to chase after the quarterback.

Justin Madubuike – Defensive Lineman, 26

Coming off a career season, Justin Madubuike is in line for a massive contract. As a key player in the Ravens’ interior defensive line, he racked up 12 (No. 1) sacks before Week 16. The quick-footed 293-pound defensive tackle has priced himself to the top of the defensive line market with pass rush numbers unique to interior linemen like Chris Jones. The Ravens will try to re-sign him with the franchise tag being an option, but he will have many suitors on the open market. If Baltimore does not get him back, a rebuilding team with lots of money could look to hand Madubuike a bag to anchor its defense.

L’Jarius Sneed – Cornerback, 27

As the Chiefs’ top corner, L’Jarius Sneed has had a breakout season. Sneed has had success following opponents’ top receivers, most recently locking down Davante Adams to one catch for four yards in Week 16. Through his first 14 games of 2023, Sneed has a 55.1-percent (No. 4) Shadow Rate and has not allowed a touchdown. The athletic corner will be 27 when hitting the open market. The Chiefs will likely have to decide on whether to pay Chris Jones or Sneed, if they can sign either. Sneed will be competing with Jaylon Johnson for biggest cornerback contract of the 2023 offseason.

Jaylon Johnson – Cornerback, 24

While he did request a trade from the Bears earlier this season, Jaylon Johnson stuck with the team and is a franchise tag/extension candidate. Johnson was unhappy with low extension offers, and while he has not been extended yet, the Bears are still an option to retain him. He has four interceptions and a touchdown through 13 games played so far in 2023. Johnson operates as the Bears’ top corner and lines up with top opposing receivers each game. He is in line to see a contract around Xavien Howard‘s $18 million per year.

Antoine Winfield Jr. – Safety, 25

The son of three-time Pro Bowl defensive back, Antoine Winfield Jr. has been a Pro Bowler and is an every-game starter for the Buccaneers. He is entering free agency for the first time in his career as the top safety on the market.

Winfield has five sacks and three interceptions through 15 games this season. His skillset looks to fetch a contract similar to what Jessie Bates received from the Falcons last offseason. Whether it’s with the Buccaneers or elsewhere, Winfield is going to start with a nice contract next season.

Christian Wilkins – Defensive Lineman, 28

It is not a surprise that pass rushers are all over the top defensive free agents ranks for the offseason, including interior tackles who pressure the quarterback. Christian Wilkins is a good run stuffer who improved his pass-rushing this season. He has eight (No. 4) sacks through 14 games, and is hitting an upswing at the right time in year five. Teams will be looking to add his abilities to disrupt both passing and rushing lanes in the middle of the trenches. The 28-year-old Wilkins is in line for a three- or four-year deal to anchor a defense.

Leonard Williams – Defensive Lineman, 29

Traded by the Jets to the Seahawks at the 2023 trade deadline, Leonard Williams is entering free agency this offseason. He’s never been a high-volume sack guy, but gets pressures and is a solid run defender. Williams has been an impact player for the Seahawks defensive line and is set to be a valuable add to a front seven this offseason. The Seahawks’ trade for him indicates Seattle will at least make an effort to re-sign him, but Williams will see a nice contract with ample interest in the open market.

Overall Top 10

  1. DL Chris Jones | Chiefs
  2. OLB Brian Burns | Panthers
  3. OLB Josh Allen | Jaguars
  4. OLB Danielle Hunter | Vikings
  5. DL Justin Madubuike | Ravens
  6. CB L’Jarius Sneed | Chiefs
  7. CB Jaylon Johnson | Bears
  8. S Antoine Winfield Jr. | Buccaneers
  9. DL Leonard Williams | Seahawks
  10. DL Christian Wilkins | Dolphins

Other Notable Top Defensive Free Agents

LB Patrick Queen | Ravens

EDGE Jonathan Greenard | Texans

CB Kendall Fuller | Commanders

EDGE Bryce Huff | Jets

S Xavier McKinney | Giants

DL D.J. Reader | Bengals

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