The opening waves of 2023 NFL free agency felt like they happened a lifetime ago, but there’s still one position group that has starting-caliber players available on the open market: EDGE. It’s rare to see an elite pass rusher in free agency, but veteran contributors — especially those on the wrong side of 30 — often remain on the market even as the calendar approaches June.
Let’s run through the best free agent EDGEs available and identify their best landing spots as teams begin to finalize their rosters before training camp.
Best Fits for the Top Free Agent EDGEs
For whatever reason, the EDGE market didn’t pop this offseason. Charles Omenihu (Chiefs) and Samson Ebukam (Colts) paced the group with $8 million-per-year salaries. The free agents on our list should come in well below that figure.
Leonard Floyd | Los Angeles Chargers
Coaching connections often play a significant role in free agent signings, especially at this late stage of the game. Leonard Floyd already has a relationship with Chargers head coach Brandon Staley, who worked with Floyd in both of their previous stops with the Rams and Bears.
When Floyd signed with the Rams in 2020, he said, “It’s going to be great playing for (Staley) again,” noting Staley’s preparation and communication skills. Networking aside, the Chargers have a need for another pass rusher behind Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack.
Bosa has only stayed healthy for a full campaign in two of his five NFL seasons, while Mack played 921 defensive snaps at age 31 (which Los Angeles might want to prevent next season). Chris Rumph hasn’t developed into a reliable third option, while second-round rookie Tuli Tuipulotu might profile as more of a three-technique than a pure edge rusher.
Floyd is an incredibly durable player who hasn’t missed a game since 2017 and regularly sees action on 80-90% of his team’s defensive snaps. He’d be ready to step in if the Chargers suffer an injury, but he’d also be an overqualified reserve if everyone stays healthy.
Jadeveon Clowney | Kansas City Chiefs
Jadeveon Clowney talked his way out of Cleveland this offseason, blaming the Browns coaches for failing to put him in a position to succeed. Clowney’s persona — and the fact that he’s posted three or fewer sacks in three of the last four seasons — might make it difficult for him to find a new NFL home.
But the Chiefs are used to bringing in talented malcontents. Kansas City has a veteran roster in place to handle a personality like Clowney, and they could use another edge rusher even after signing Omenihu and using back-to-back first-round picks on George Karlaftis and Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
Steve Spagnuolo likes to deploy pass-rushing rotations, as no Chiefs defensive end played more than 64% of the club’s snaps in 2022. Omenihu has always been a part-time player, and Anudike-Uzomah will be adjusting to life in the NFL — there’s room for a player like Clowney on Kansas City’s roster.
Justin Houston | Chicago Bears
After adding contributors at seemingly every position on their defense except EDGE, the Bears have made it known that they’re not done bringing in veteran players.
“A lot of times, these guys want to see the landscape,” head coach Matt Eberflus said in March. “Sometimes it’s after the draft. They want to see the landscape of where teams are and what they look like. That’s certainly an option. Again, we’re always trying to add players all the way through, even up to training camp. We’re always going to do that.”
Eberflus was the Colts’ head coach when Indy signed Justin Houston in 2019. Given that the Bears still need defensive end help, Houston could be an option for the Bears, who didn’t use any draft capital on the EDGE and project to start Trevis Gipson and free agent acquisition DeMarcus Walker.
At age 34, Houston might prefer to land with a contender. But Chicago has the most cap space and could probably make a trek to the Windy City worth his while. Houston might not be able to convert 15 pressures into 9.5 sacks again, but he’d be a valuable veteran presence for a young Bears defense.
Frank Clark | Jacksonville Jaguars
Josh Allen ranked third among NFL edge defenders with 1,005 snaps in 2023. Travon Walker finished 16th with 897. If the Jaguars want to practice load management next season, they could stand to sign a veteran pass rusher, especially after losing Arden Key to the division-rival Titans.
Jacksonville can’t rely on former first-round pick K’Lavon Chaisson, who has already had his fifth-year option and could be traded before the season gets underway. The Jaguars used a fifth-round pick on pass rusher Yasir Abdullah in April, but he’s undersized and is unlikely to make an impact in 2023.
With their sights set on more than simply winning the AFC South, Jacksonville could consider someone like Frank Clark, who was released by the Chiefs earlier this year. Clark, viewed as a leader within the Chiefs’ locker room and served as a regular tutor for Karlaftis during his rookie year, could become a mentor for Walker while providing stout run defense as a rotational player.
Yannick Ngakoue | Carolina Panthers
Now that free agent signings like Vonn Bell and Shy Tuttle are joining impact players like Brian Burns and Jaycee Horn in Carolina, the Panthers’ defense has the makings of a potential top-10 unit, especially with Ejiro Evero in place as defensive coordinator.
The most obvious hole remaining on the depth chart is at defensive end opposite Burns, where Carolina is still waiting on former second-round pick Yetur Gross-Matos to deliver.
Yannick Ngakoue has serious issues as a run defender, and he was lucky to generate 19.5 sacks over the past two years, given that he ranked 91st and 60th in pass-rush win rate in those respective seasons, per PFF. But he’s still an NFL-caliber defensive end, and he played under Panthers head coach Frank Reich in Indianapolis.
“He’s got such good get-off. He’s explosive,” Reich said when the Colts traded for Ngakoue in March 2022. “He’s just really smart. He understands the game, he understands what offenses are trying to do. He’s good situationally, and more than that, what I’m coming to appreciate about Yannick more and more is really what a leader this guy is.”
Melvin Ingram | Washington Commanders
Although the Commanders declined Chase Young’s fifth-year option for 2024, they’re clearly hoping he has a standout year in 2023 and forces the team to regret their decision. Hope isn’t a strategy, though, and Washington needs to build more defensive end depth in the event that Young misses more time with injuries.
With Young sidelined last season, the Commanders were forced to give more than 300 snaps each to James Smith-Williams, Efe Obada, and Casey Toohill. Melvin Ingram is 34 years old, but he proved he was still capable of making the occasional splash play with the Dolphins last season. The Browns reportedly targeted Ingram before acquiring fellow pass rusher Za’Darius Smith from the Vikings earlier this month.
Kyle Van Noy | New York Giants
The Giants could use a veteran to compete with Jihad Ward and Oshane Ximines for the team’s EDGE3 role behind Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari. Meanwhile, New York also needs more bodies at linebacker, where Jarrad Davis — who was bouncing on and off practice squads in 2022 — is projected to start next to free agent addition Bobby Okereke.
Why not kill two birds with one stone? Kyle Van Noy spent most of his time rushing the passer for the Chargers in 2022 after Bosa went down, but he also has plenty of reps as an off-ball linebacker with coverage responsibilities. He should come cheap (which is important for the cap-strapped Giants) and is the sort of experienced veteran that Wink Martindale likes as depth on his defense.
Dawuane Smoot | San Francisco 49ers
Let’s finish up with Smoot, who may not have the name value of the other available edge rushers but has been a quietly consistent force for the Jaguars since 2019, posting at least five sacks in all five seasons.
Smoot tore his Achilles in December, which could put his availability for Week 1 in question. But that might not matter for a contending team like the 49ers, who could stash Smoot on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list for at least six weeks before inserting him into their pass-rushing equation.