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Free Agency: Rebuilding the Defensive Line

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Keim has made it clear that the Arizona Cardinals will be catering to their strengths on defense, moving back to a 3-4 scheme from Steve Wilks’ failed attempt at a 4-3.

The Cardinals have already hired former Broncos head coach Vance Joseph as defensive coordinator. According to ESPN, his 3-4 defense with the Broncos had the seventh-highest blitz rate in the NFL at 31.5 percent.

In order for the Cardinals to make a successful transition back to a 3-4, it starts with building the talent upfront on the defensive line. Yes, they need a good cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson as well.

They have their nose tackle Corey Peters in place but that position can be improved. Chandler Jones will be moving back to outside linebacker. Both 3-4 defensive end positions are open for competition this offseason and there are plenty of options in free agency to fill those vacancies.

Here is a list of free-agent 3-4 defensive lineman the Cardinals could consider:

The 27-year-old defensive end is coming off the best season of his career, setting career-highs in tackles (35) and sacks (7). He was dominant in all phases rushing the passer and stuffing the run, which earned him a PFF grade of 76.5. With his size (6-6 301lbs) and production, he’ll be one of the top 3-4 DE in free agency.

Bailey is another defensive end that is having a career year, setting a career-high in sacks with six. A dominant performance in the AFC Championship game and an appearance in the Super Bowl will only increase his value. But his extensive experience playing as a 3-4 DE is a big plus, especially for the Cardinals.

Covington is just scratching the surface of his potential, sacking the quarterback 3.5 times as a reserve/rotational defensive end. The 25-year-old would like to return to the Texans but teams will be intrigued with how well he can play as a starter.

He still hasn’t returned to his most-dominant form since leaving the Jets. He took a chance with the Vikings on a one-year deal and it paid off. He had a good season, getting 49 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a 4-3 defensive tackle. Will he return to form as a 3-4 defensive end?

He’ll like get paid over $10 million a season, something I can’t imagine the Cardinals doing. The 32-year-old is a force on the defensive line on all phases. He’s a tough player to block. Corey Peters is a solid run stuffer but doesn’t offer much at pressuring the quarterback. Suh can do it all. Plus, his experience with the Rams would give the Cardinals some advantages in playing them next season.

Urban is good at stuffing the run, which was a big weakness for the Cardinals this season. Unfortunately that is his only specialty. He only had half a sack this season and has 3.5 total sacks in his four-year career.

Now it wouldn’t hurt for the Cardinals to sign Wilkerson on a one-year prove-it deal. The soon-to-be 30-year-old has been on a decline since setting a career-high in sacks (12) in 2015. But if he can stay healthy, there might just be some gas left in the tank.

The Cardinals do have Olsen Pierre, scheduled to be a restricted free agent, who struggled to stay healthy this season but performed well as a 3-4 defensive end in 2017. Free-agent-to-be Rodney Gunter has improved year after year. His 2018 season was the best of his career, with 44 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Cardinals have used him as a nose tackle in the past but moving him to 3-4 defensive end could be an option. But coming off such a good season, he’ll definitely have a big market in free agency.

Another option would be to address the defensive line in the NFL Draft. Quinnen Williams is in the mix to be the no. 1 overall pick, although the majority believes Nick Bosa will be the Cardinals’ selection.

Other free agents: Domata Peko (NT), Zach Kerr (DE), Josh Mauro (DE), Angelo Blackson (DE), Mario Edwards (DE)

Who would you want on the defensive line?