You could make the argument a pass rusher led Denver to a championship last year.
Linebacker Von Miller spearheaded Broncos wins in the AFC Championship Game, and the Super Bowl, with 2.5 sacks in each contest. On Sunday, I overheard a Patriots fan say, “Why can’t Von Miller retire instead of Peyton Manning. He single-handedly beat us?”
If quarterback is the #1 key to winning Super Bowls, a great pass rush is 1A. Usually it’s hard to find talented pass rushers on the street, but surprisingly, the 2016 free agent class is loaded with them. Let’s take a closer look.
Mario Williams, Bills 6-6, 292 • 31
Super Mario was miscast in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense last year, being asked to drop into coverage at times, and managed only five sacks. The season before, being used as an end in a 4-3 defensive front, he accumulated 14.5 sacks. In the right system, he can still get to the quarterback with regularity.
Charles Johnson, Panthers 6-2, 282 • 29
He was cut last week in a cost-cutting move. Johnson has 71 career sacks, including 12.5 in 2012. He was on injured reserve for seven games last season, but came back to have a sack in the Super Bowl. He’s a gifted edge-rusher who will be in great demand on the open market.
Chris Long, Rams 6-3, 268 • 30
Long comes off two down years in which injuries plagues him. The previous four seasons, he racked up 41.5 sacks. If he can finally stay healthy, could be a steal for some team. He plays with a relentless motor.
Robert Ayers, Giants 6-3, 275 • 30
Ayers had a career high 9.5 sacks this season, even though he missed four games with an injury. With so many teams looking for pass rushers, he’s going to make some decent money. However, he has had a number of injuries over the years, so teams need to be careful with the contract length.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants 6-5, 278 • 27
A fireworks accident permanently damaged his right hand, and he had surgery after the season to give his right middle finger more flexibility. If it works, he believes he will be able to grip better and wear a glove instead of a club. That should help him to be more productive on the field.
Bruce Irvin, Seahawks 6-3, 260 • 28
Irvin tallied 22 sacks over four years in Seattle. A former safety, he is good in coverage and returned two picks for touchdowns in 2014. He ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at the 2012 combine, and though he played in a 4-3 defense with the Seahawks, he should draw a lot of interest as a 3-4 OLB in free agency.
Tamba Hali, Chiefs 6-3, 275 • 32
Despite an injury-plagued 2015 season, Hali played hurt a lot, and missed just three games. After 154 career starts is he wearing down? Perhaps, but he can still help a team as a situational pass rusher. He has 86 career sacks.
Junior Galette, Redskins 6-2, 258 • 27
A skillful edge pass rusher who had 22 sacks in 2013-14 with the New Orleans Saints, Galette signed with Washington in 2015, but blew his Achilles tendon in training camp and missed the season. He has had some legal issues which might scare some teams.