These are the guys to watch. In his postseason presser, Ryan Pace said the team wasn’t going to spent big on one guy, instead spreading their money out. That could mean multiple players from this tier.
Malik Jackson, DL, Denver
Pros: He gained much more recognition in the playoffs as one of the best pass rushing and run-stopping defensive linemen in the league. Jackson constantly drew double teams, freeing others up for sacks.
Cons: The draft figures to be strong along the defensive line this year and Jackson is likely looking for a big pay day — which could explain why the Broncos extended Derek Wolfe instead. With Eddie Golman already in place, the Bears could sign a significantly cheaper veteran and develop linemen behind him.
Jaye Howard, DL, Kansas City
Pros: A good athlete who is really tough against the run. Showed some pass-rush ability. Dominated Vlad Ducasse and Hroniss Grasu. Would immediately be the team’s second best defensive lineman.
Cons: Kind of a one-year wonder. Played less than half of his team’s snaps every other year. Kansas City usually took him off the field in passing situations. Committed eight penalties last year. If Jackson and Wilkerson get huge contracts, Howard’s price could be driven up. The question needs to be asked again: Do you pay for a player, or draft and develop behind him?
Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver
Pros: Instinctive and rangy, Trevathan has been a key to the Broncos defense this year after missing most of the 2014 season. He has excelled in coverage and shows really good instincts. Rated by Pro Football Focus as one of the best tacklers in the league.
Cons: Do we really know how good he is? He has six studs around him in the front seven, so he rarely has to shed blockers. Has a reputation as being good in coverage, but the Patriots were targeting him. How much do you pay for someone who doesn’t have much immediate effect on the quarterback?
Marvin Jones, WR, Cincinnati
Pros: About as sure-handed as they come. Good size, good speed and productive, despite shaky quarterback play. Good after the catch and can get deep. Could be a significantly cheaper alternative if they decided to move on from Alshon Jeffery.
Cons: Not a Number One, which would mean they’d be relying a lot more on Kevin White to develop into one. No way of knowing how much he benefited from playing opposite A.J. Green.
Reggie Nelson, S, Cincinnati
Pros: Has a lot of range and elite ball skills. Had eight interceptions last year and has had 30 in his career. Hasn’t missed a game in two years and is considered a good tackler.
Cons: He’s 32 and will turn 33 early next season. He can still play, but for how much longer? How much of his success was due to playing with a really good defensive line?
Bruce Irvin, LB, Seattle
Pros: A poor man’s Von Miller. Very strong and athletic. Can hold his own at the point of attack and drop back in coverage. Has played in a scheme that may not fit his strengths.
Cons: Why hasn’t Seattle featured him more? The Seahawks tend to know what they have and we’ve seen other players leave and fail. He played just 75 percent of their snaps last year. He hasn’t been the kind of pass-rusher most thought he would be.