NFL Free-Agent Signings: Breaking Down Top Defensive Players on New Teams

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

Aqib Talib has joined the team that knocked him out of the AFC title game.
Aqib Talib has joined the team that knocked him out of the AFC title game.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

It is not a coincidence that just over one month after the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl behind their superb defense, teams began the free-agency period by snatching up many of the top defenders within the first two days.

Don't be confused by that defensive trend, as it is still a passing league, which is reflected in the rush to grab defensive backs and pass-rushers. 

Below, we break down the eight best defensive players who bolted for a new team.


Jairus Byrd, Safety

Former Team: Buffalo Bills, New Team: New Orleans Saints

Chris Wesseling and Gregg Rosenthal of are pretty high on Jairus Byrd. He was the only player in the top tier of free agents that they labeled "difference-makers." All other free agents in the next tier were grouped under "impact starters."

"A natural playmaker with plus ball skills, Byrd is Earl Thomas' chief rival as the game's top cover safety. Guys this good usually don't make it to free agency," they wrote.

Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

Byrd was a somewhat forgotten playerbecause that's what happens when you play in Buffalobut he's a top-flight talent at the position. The Saints pulled off a coup by acquiring him and the 2009 champs needed help on defense.


T.J. Ward, Safety

Former Team: Cleveland Browns, New Team: Denver Broncos

The Broncos had the best offense in league history last season and then lost in the Super Bowl by 35 points. The front office wasted no time in addressing the team's defensive deficiencies by inking hard-hitting safety T.J. Ward from Cleveland.

Some of you may remember Ward as the guy that took out Rob Gronkowski's knee last season, which should make Broncos-Pats games even more charged.

David Richard/Associated Press

In 2013, Denver gave up the sixth-most passing yards in the league. Bolstering the secondary was something it really should have done prior to last season after botched coverage on a late pass allowed the Baltimore Ravens to escape with a victory and continue their march to the Super Bowl.

File this under "better late than never" for Denver.


Donte Whitner, Safety

Former Team: San Francisco 49ers, New Team: Cleveland Browns

The Niners added Antoine Bethea from the Indianapolis Colts to replace "Hitner" at safety, but his tenacity will be missed on San Fran's defense. Whitner comes to Cleveland as the replacement for Ward shortly after he decided on Denver.

Whitner is primarily known for dishing out brutal hits, but that style of play is increasingly being weeded out of the new-look NFL in the interest of player safety.

He lacks Ward's versatility as a defensive back, though he can hit just as hard if not harder.

Call this a downgrade for the Browns, but only slightly.


Aqib Talib, Cornerback

Former Team: New England Patriots, New Team: Denver Broncos

Aqib Talib received heaps of attention when he got cleaned out by ex-Patriot Wes Welker in the AFC title game on a play that seemed to be possibly a designed pick. The day after the loss, Pats coach Bill Belichick labelled it "one of the worst plays I've seen" in his postseason news conference.

Well, Talib is now a Bronco along with Welker, so they'll have plenty of time to chat about that fateful play.

This is the second top-flight free agent the Broncos added to their secondary and his signing directly addresses a team need which will boost Denver's chances of getting back to the Super Bowl.

By adding Ward and Talib, the Broncos now have one of the better starting secondaries in the league, so it stands to reason that their pass defense will improve as their passing attack remains terrifying to opponents.


Darelle Revis, Cornerback 

Former Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Team: New England Patriots

Incredibly, Revis Island was actually set adrift by the Bucs before reported that he had joined the evil empire up in New England.

All things considered, the New York Jets actually made out pretty well by trading Revis in April of 2013 for a first-round pick. The Bucs got bupkis for him.

Once considered the best cover corner in the league, the title now belongs to brash Super Bowl champ Richard Sherman. However, that puts Revis in a similar spot to Dr. Dre when he lyrically wondered in 2001, "Haters said Dre fell off. How? My last album was The Chronic."

Revis is still an elite cornerback and the Pats snatched him up for a song as they try to scratch out another Super Bowl title for Tom Brady, who turns 37 in August.


Alterraun Verner, Cornerback 

Former Team: Tennessee Titans, New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs decided to part with Revis and it didn't cost them much thanks to his contract having no guaranteed money. They immediately found a replacement by inking Verner.

The Titans apparently felt it was more important to secure the services of Jason McCourty, and their loss is Tampa's gain. Verner made the Pro Bowl last season and is not a significant drop-off from Revis, though those two are not quite in the same class.


Michael Johnson, Defensive End

Former Team: Cincinnati Bengals, New Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Johnson was the best defensive end availablesorry, Jared Allenand will be sorely missed in Cincy. Tampa jumping at him signals that defense will be a focus by the bay.

The Bucs turned in a very sour 2013 season starting with eight losses, but they displayed signs of life down the stretch and won four of five before a swoon in December.

Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

Johnson managed just 3.5 sacks after collecting 11.5 in 2012, but that is largely because opponents knew they had to focus on his end of the line. He still pressured the quarterback with regularity and is a competent presence against the run as well.


Lamarr Houston, Defensive End

Former Team: Oakland Raiders, New Team: Chicago Bears

The Bears desperately needed to upgrade their defensive line and this move addressed it. Not only did the Bears give up more rushing yards than any other team last seasonallowing an incredible 161 yards per gamethey also tied for last in sacks (31) with the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars.

Houston only came up with six sacks for Oakland last year, but turned in 41 quarterback hurries to prove that he gets upfield with regularity.

Don't confuse him with an elite edge-rusher or sack specialist (16 sacks over four seasons), as he's more of a defensive tackle with the quickness and athleticism to play on the end of the line.

Houston is effective against the run and the pass, and Bears fans should be doing the "dance of joy" at this news.


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