Previously, we looked at potential nose tackle free agents. But Washington needs more than just a new nose tackle on its defensive line. The team needs to address the defensive end spot, too.
The role of the 3-4 defensive end is slightly different than the nose tackle. They have to be versatile enough to line up in different gaps, with the ability to take on both guards and tackles in the run game. They also have to be able to kick inside in four-man fronts in nickel and dime sub-packages. With that in mind, here are some potential fits for Washington.
Big name: Kawann Short, age 27
Short is one of the biggest names in this class of free agents. The Carolina Panthers veteran is a one-gap penetrative type of defensive lineman. He typically lined up as a three-technique defensive tackle in the Panthers’ 4-3, but would have to shift to defensive end in Washington’s base 3-4 scheme. Short offers great quickness that allows him to be an effective pass rusher, something Washington has lacked from its defensive linemen.
Here against the San Diego Chargers, Short lines up in his usual three-technique spot, on the outside shoulder of the left guard.
Short’s quickness off the snap gives him an advantage against guards. It can make them panicked and exposes any flaws in the blocker’s technique. On this occasion, his quickness allows him to get the guard turned around before the quarterback has even reaches the top of his drop.
The guard simply can’t handle the speed rush. Short rips through the left arm of the guard, but can’t quite close on the quarterback before he’s able to check it down.
That quickness can be just as effective in the run game.
This time, the Chargers look to run the ball inside. The left guard and center attempt to work together in combination to block Short.
But Short displays his quickness again, slipping past the guard to his outside shoulder before using a swim move to get past.
Short skipped by the guard so quickly that he began to close on the running back before the hand off had been secured. Short made up the gap and registered a tackle for loss.
In terms of production, Short actually dropped off in 2016 from his 2015 performance. He had six sacks in 2016, which is still good for an interior defensive lineman, but it’s down from the 11 he had in 2015. At 27 though, Short is entering his peak and should be an effective pass rusher for the life of his contract. However, his skill set doesn’t come around all that often, meaning he will be in high demand. Spotrac projects him to receive a contract with an average annual salary of more than $17 million, putting him up there with the best defensive tackles in the league. That price may be too much for Washington GM Scot McCloughan, who is known to favor a more-cautious approach in free agency. But there are rare occasions McCloughan has splashed for the right player, such as last year when did that for cornerback Josh Norman. He also made a big move during his spell as GM of the San Francisco 49ers, signing defensive lineman Justin Smith to a big contract, so he’s willing to spend money on the right type of player.
Good value: Bennie Logan, age 27
Logan is different type of player than Short. He doesn’t offer the same quickness or pass-rushing ability. Instead, he’s more of a stout run defender who can provide some push in pass-rushing situations with power rushes. He typically played the one-technique in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 4-3 defense, which means for Washington he could offer some flexibility by being able to switch between nose tackle and defensive end in the 3-4.
On this play, Logan lines up slightly outside of the A gap between center and left guard. Instead, he’s more head-up on the guard. The Baltimore Ravens call an outside run to their left.
Left guard Marshal Yanda, one of the top guards in the league, wins the block initially. He gets solid positioning while attempting to seal Logan inside. But Logan subtly wins hand placement, getting his hands inside on to the chest of Yanda. Logan recognizes what Yanda is trying to do, sealing him off inside.
So Logan goes under the block, tossing Yanda to the side and peeling off to make the tackle on the running back for a loss.
Part of being a strong run defender is being able to recognize how the offense is trying to block. Logan displayed good awareness on that play, but it shows up consistently when watching him.
Here, the Detroit Lions look to surprise the Eagles with a draw play. Logan lines up on the outside shoulder of the left guard.
Straight off the snap, Logan wins his block. He gets under the guard, landing his hands inside to give himself leverage to control the blocker. Logan gets his eyes in the backfield, noticing the ball being handed off. He than positions himself with a two-way-go, giving himself the ability to go either side of the blocker depending on what the running back does. Logan squeezes the hole inside, driving his blocker inside to close the running lane and force the running back to cut back toward him.
The back does exactly that. Logan easily peels off the block and makes the tackle for no gain.
Logan is a very stout run defender who plays with good awareness and understanding of what the opposing offense is trying to do. While he’s not a particularly flashy pass rusher, he’s not a terrible one either. He’s not someone who has to be taken off the field in obvious passing situations. His versatility should be appealing as well, given his ability to line up in multiple spots along the defensive line.
Under the radar: Nick Fairley, age 29
The talented but inconsistent Fairley has become somewhat of an NFL journeyman over the past few seasons. The 13th overall pick of the 2011 draft played out his four-year rookie contract with the Lions before leaving to join the St. Louis Rams in 2015. After an unsuccessful year there, Fairley landed with the New Orleans Saints for the 2016 season, where he had a career year. He played in all 16 games, making 43 tackles and 6.5 sacks, all career highs. Fairley, like Short, is more of a pass rusher than run defender.
On this play, Fairley lines up on the outside shoulder of the right guard.
Fairley does a great job with his hands. He gets the initial placement correct, inside on the chest of the guard, which enables to him to gain control of the block. Fairley stays low and extends his arms, standing up the guard.
After standing up the guard, Fairley drops his hands, pulling the guard down. He uses a swim move with his right arm to slip past the guard.
Fairley then closes quickly on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, getting the sack before Rivers could escape the pocket.
Being experienced, Fairley knows he has to have a backup plan when rushing. He’s not someone who will only have a plan A and then give up on the play if that fails.
Like before, Fairley lines up on the outside shoulder of the right guard.
Fairley initially attempts to swat away the hands of the guard and work inside, but the guard reacts well and cuts him off.
Fairley then improvises well. With his left hand on the back of the guard, he uses that to shove the guard off balance before using his swim move to get past.
Fairley then closes quickly on the quarterback, who does a good job getting away a hurried throw instead of taking a sack.
Fairly could be a solid, affordable, alternative option to some of the more-expensive defensive linemen on the market. He might not be as consistent or as good, but he would offer more upside as a pass rusher than most of Washington’s current defensive linemen.
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