2013 NFL Free Agents: Power Ranking Top 5 Defenders Set to Hit the Market

Jonathan IrwinContributor IIFebruary 5, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 23:  Henry Melton #69 of the Chicago Bears rushes past Harvey Dahl #62 (L) and Barry Richardson #79 of the St. Louis Rams at Soldier Field on September 23, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Rams 23-6.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While the NFL continues to be more and more offensive-oriented, one thing remains the same: Defense wins championships.

Which is why—despite the shootout style of the game—two of the NFL's best defensive teams were playing in this year's Super Bowl.

This is a great year for teams looking to improve their defense. The draft is deep in defensive prospects, and there's a lot of free-agent talent as well.

We're sorting through that pile of names and power ranking the top five defensive free agents set to hit the market this offseason.

While age and stats were obvious components in the rankings, reputation and stability—on and off the field—were factors as well.

Honorable Mentions

Jairus Byrd, FS, Buffalo Bills

After two somewhat down seasons, Byrd has reestablished himself as one of the best turnover machines in the NFL.

The 26-year-old had five interceptions and four forced fumbles, while notching 53 tackles and six pass deflections in 14 starts last season.

But with plenty of cap space to play with, there's almost no chance Byrd hits the open market. That, combined with his inconsistencies, squeeze him just out of the top five.

Ed Reed, FS, Baltimore Ravens

Perhaps the best to ever play the safety position, 34-year-old Ed Reed is set to hit the free-agent market now that he's helped bring another Super Bowl win to Baltimore.

Even with father time creeping in, Reed posted 49 tackles, four interceptions (including a pick-six) and 15 pass deflections in 2012. He also tied the record for total postseason interceptions with nine.

Despite his stellar play, age and injury concerns will make teams hesitant before committing to Reed. That's why he sits just outside of the top five.

Top Five

5. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas Cowboys

After amassing 21.5 sacks in his first five seasons, it seemed a little odd when the Cowboys nailed Spencer with a franchise tag in 2012.

Now they look like geniuses, as Spencer came alive as a dominate pass-rusher in 2012.

The linebacker registered season highs in sacks (11.0) and tackles (55), while forcing two fumbles and deflecting three passes—all in just 14 games.

With names like Von Miller and Aldon Smith constantly making headlines, the edge rusher is becoming a popular component to many an NFL team's pass-rush.

While Dallas would probably love to retain Spencer, issues with the team's cap space will make it a challenge. If he hits the open market, the 29-year-old is sure to have plenty of suitors.

4. Michael Johnson, DE, Cincinnati

The Bengals like to rotate their defensive lineman throughout games. That, and due to the emergence of Geno Atkins, has overshadowed Michael Johnson's overall body of work in Cincy.

But the athletic defensive end had a breakout campaign last season, registering a career-high 11.5 sacks and 35 tackles in 15 starts. He also had an interception and two pass deflections.

Johnson has continued to improve each year he's been in the NFL. He's not only a solid pass-rusher, but also a great defender against the run.

At 25 years old, it would make perfect sense for the Bengals to try and tag Johnson and bring him back.

However, Cincinnati is known to be stingy with its money. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if the team let Johnson go, in which case he's sure to find a big payday on the market.

3. Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears

For a player who was once a backup running back at the University of Texas, Melton has made huge strides to become the all-around defender he is today.

Now at 6'3", 280 pounds, Melton has become one of the best interior pass-rushers in the NFL.

He posted 6.0 sacks in 2012 (giving him 13.0 over the last two seasons) with 31 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.

Melton is excellent at finding his way to the quarterback and bringing the pressure. He's the best defensive tackle set to hit the market, and would do fine anchoring any team's defense.

There's very little chance Melton makes it to the market, but you never know with coaching changes. If he does, the 26-year-old will be making some lucky team very happy.

2. William Moore, SS, Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta's defense was as inconsistent as they come this season, but some players still managed to do great things.

After putting up stellar numbers in his first two years in the league, William Moore's third season as a starter really helped establish him as an elite player at the safety position.

The 27-year-old had a career year, posting a career-high 60 tackles while registering four interceptions and eight pass deflections—each one short of tying his career highs.

Just for good measure, Moore notched a sack and two forced fumbles as well.

Moore is a solid all-around player in the secondary, and can do a lot of things to help a team. The Falcons will be looking to keep him, but will have to work against the cap to do so.

With his age and growing reputation, hitting the market would be a very good thing.

1. Dashon Goldson, FS, San Francisco 49ers

Dashon Goldson has earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league, and it's that physical style of play that makes him such a force on the field.

The 28-year-old registered 53 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble in 2012, while tying his career-high 10 pass deflections.

While the Niners would be smart to retain Goldson, they're pushing the cap limit as is. San Francisco will have to work hard to find the money, and that gives Goldson a very good chance of hitting the market.

He's not the biggest ball hawk out there, but he'll make the plays when they count. Not to mention his reputation keeps receivers looking over their shoulders.

Goldon's age, stats and competitive mentality make him by far the best defensive free agent on the market. And it helps him that he's an elite talent at one of the NFL's thinnest positions. 

If San Francisco can't find the room to make a deal work, Goldson's going to be in for a fat new contract this summer.


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