NFL teams that need edge rushers: Here’s how Giants, Patriots and other teams can address issue

In the modern NFL, passing is king. Which means pass defense also needs to be king, assuming you want your defense to get off the field at some point. If you can’t stop the pass, you simply are not going to win many football games. 

Generally speaking, there are two ways to disrupt an opponent’s passing game. You can contest the point of the catch, or you can make throwing the actual pass as difficult as possible for the opposing quarterback. There is a bit of a debate these days regarding which of those things is more important, but traditionally, NFL teams have viewed the pass rush as the key to a successful pass defense. 

You need to generate push on the interior to have a full-throated pass rush, but for the most part, the league’s best pressure players operate on the edge. From Bruce Smith and Reggie White to Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers, from Von Miller and Justin Houston to Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, we have been shown over and over again the importance of being able to turn the corner and get into the quarterback’s face, loop around on a stunt and obstruct his vision, or wrap around from the weak side and take him to the ground. 

Elsewhere on the site today, we explored exactly why this year’s class of draft-eligible edge rushers is superior to their interior defensive line counterparts. (In short, they are simply more athletic and more productive, even after adjusting for positional averages.) In the space below, we’re going to dig into the list of teams that could most use extra help up front, as well as brainstorm some ways they could get that help, whether it be in the draft, from the remaining free agents, or via trade. 

The way I see it, there’s a group of four teams absolutely starved for edge talent, and then another group after that which has one strong rusher but nobody to supplement him. 

New York Giants

The Giants are actually pretty strong up the middle. They drafted Dexter Lawrence last year and saw him have a strong rookie campaign. They traded for Leonard Williams midway through the year and franchise-tagged him earlier this offseason. And they already had Dalvin Tomlinson in house, and he’s a pretty solid player as well. 

New York has next to nothing coming off the edge, though. Signing Kyler Fackrell was a decent enough move, but there’s a reason he never became anything more than a rotational contributor in Green Bay, and why the Packers felt the need to bring in three edge guys ahead of him last offseason. He’s fine, but nothing to write home about. 

The Giants have just south of $16 million in cap room remaining, per Spotrac, which means they’re probably not going to be landing a big fish like Jadeveon Clowney. But they should be trying to bring Markus Golden back into the fold, and trying to land second-wave discounts on players like Michael Bennett, Jabaal Sheard, Terrell Suggs, Ezekiel Ansah, and more. 

I’m sure Dave Gettleman would also love nothing more than for Washington to trade down out of the No. 2 overall pick in favor of a team coming up to land Tua Tagovailoa, which would thus push Chase Young one spot down the board and possibly into the Giants’ laps, depending on what the Lions do. Barring that, New York has to be taking a look at some of the second-round edge guys, since it seems unlikely they’ll be taking a non-Young edge rusher with the No. 4 pick. 

New York Jets

The Jets might have even less in the way of pass-rush talent than do the Giants. New York has spent almost all of its free-agent money this offseason on upgrading the infrastructure around Sam Darnold so that he can take the next step forward, but the result of years neglecting the outside rush in favor of splash signings at cornerback (Trumaine Johnson) and linebacker (C.J. Mosley), plus a wave of early draft picks used on interior linemen (Quinnen Williams, Leonard Williams, Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson) mean that the Jets have been working with one of the weakest edge groups in the league. 

Do you know who this team’s leader in quarterback hits was last season? Jamal Adams. That’s a safety! Jordan Jenkins led the team with eight sacks, but nobody else aside from Adams had more than three. And they haven’t added anybody of consequence yet this offseason. 

The Jets have $17 million in cap room at the moment, though they can create more with extensions and/or restructures if they want to try to land Clowney. With nobody all that threatening off the edge right now, though, they might need to prioritize volume and try to land multiple late-career veterans who can work as rotational rushers. It seems likely they’ll go for a receiver or a tackle with the No. 11 overall pick, but they absolutely have to be looking at the edge in the second and third rounds. 

Seattle Seahawks

We’ve mentioned Jadeveon Clowney twice already, so it makes sense that his most recent team is on this list. The Seahawks have also hemorrhaged edge rushers over the past several seasons, with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, and more all being traded or released due to injuries. They tried to supplement their edge group last year by selecting L.J. Collier in the first round, but he already looks like a probable bust after playing only 14 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season. 

The team has not re-signed Clowney and does not seem to have the requisite cap room to do so. Perhaps they could bring Bennett back for a late-career reunion, or take another shot with Ezekiel Ansah. What the Seahawks might need more than anything else, though, is an injection of youth up front. With three picks in the first two rounds, it seems likely that one of them will be used on an edge defender — probably the SPARQ-iest one available whenever they decide the time is right. 

New England Patriots

The Patriots have long been a team that prioritizes the secondary ahead of the pass rush, in keeping with Bill Belichick’s philosophy. They have never really paid a premium for edge rush guys, and we shouldn’t expect them to do so this offseason, either. 

But after losing Trey Flowers last year and Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins this year, they’re left without much of anything on the edges up front, which means there needs to be a replenishing of the talent base at the very least. A player like A.J. Epenesa or Zack Baun would make a ton of sense in the first round, as each has the kind of flexibility Belichick prioritizes in front seven players. Later in the draft, flexible athletes with good size like Jabari Zuniga, Nick Coe, Jason Strowbridge, and Jonathan Garvin stand out as the type of players Belichick could be interested in.

Beyond this group of teams, we have to look at the Texans (Whitney Mercilus), Vikings (Danielle Hunter), Panthers (Brian Burns), Cardinals (Chandler Jones), Colts (Justin Houston, kind of), and Jaguars (Josh Allen, assuming Yannick Ngakoue is traded) as teams with one strong pass rusher but not much beyond them. Then you’re getting into teams like the Cowboys (Demarcus Lawrence), Lions (Trey Flowers), Ravens (Matthew Judon), Raiders (Maxx Crosby) who have one very good edge guy and a bunch of bodies to throw at the problem on the other side, but none that stand out as particularly reliable, for one reason or another.

Any and all of those teams could and should be interested in picking over the veteran free agent market for edge talent, as well as adding an edge rusher at pretty much any point in the draft. 

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