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Some Veteran Edge Rushers Still Have Gas in the Tank

In today’s offensive-driven league, getting after the QB has never been more important. The numbers back this up as well. Edge rushers are usually drafted high and draw some big money in free agency. The free-agency dollars are generally dished out to younger players at the position. This makes sense, as teams are betting on the player’s potential to be a longer-term investment.

While there is no doubt that signing young players to bigger deals is an appropriate strategy, older players who can still contribute often get overlooked. This happens at every position, but is even more common at the edge rusher position. In recent off-season's, there have been aging rushers past their primes that have been relegated to signing smaller deals. These low-risk signings can turn into high rewards. Many veterans at the position have been able to revitalize their careers after a change in scenery. Here are some recent veteran additions that found success on their new teams:

Justin Houston

In 2019, Houston inked a two-year, $24 million deal with the Colts following eight successful seasons with the Chiefs. Houston was still very productive in 2018, but because he was 30 entering free agency, the market wasn't as big as his numbers would suggest. For the Colts, he had 11 sacks and 28 pressures in 2019, followed by 8 sacks with 25 pressures in 2020.

Lorenzo Alexander

In 2016, the 33-year-old signed a one-year, $885,000 deal with the Bills after playing for many different teams in his career. Alexander became a full-time starter for the first time in several seasons and earned a Pro Bowl appearance. He got to the QB 12.5 times and put up a 12 AV season. Alexander enjoyed a breakout year at the age of 33. His case is rare and it should not be expected, but it shows that these guys can be worth taking a chance on.

Michael Bennett

In 2018, Michael Bennett was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons with the Seahawks, so another productive season was not too surprising. Bennett wasn’t a free agent signing but was a veteran acquisition all the same. He had a reasonable contract at just three years, $30 million, yet was traded for next to nothing. With the Eagles, he had another very good season. He continued his disruptiveness with 9 sacks and 46 pressures, helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl.

Julius Peppers

After a long and impressive career, Peppers decided to return to his original team, the Carolina Panthers, in 2017. He signed just a one-year/ $3.5 million deal and the 37-year-old edge rusher looked like he hadn’t lost a step from his original run with the team. He put up 11 sacks despite only starting five games. Peppers may be another rare case because of his age, but many veterans still could have gas left in the tank.

Clay Matthews

Matthews played 10 years with the Packers before signing a reasonable two-year, $9.25 million contract with the Rams. Matthews proved that he could still contribute after a solid season in 2019, where he was able to bring the QB down eight times.

Over the past few years, there have been other examples of veteran success at the position as well. Mario Addison was able to produce a bit in Buffalo at 33 years old. At 27, Terrell Suggs also added some value in 2019 for the Cardinals and Chiefs. Most recently, Carlos Dunlap saw an increase in his play after being traded to Seattle from Cincinnati.

In the 2021 offseason, there have been veteran rushers who have signed, as well as some good ones that are still available.

  1. Melvin Ingram III

After a productive career with the Chargers, specifically three straight Pro Bowl seasons, Ingram is still a free agent. He wanted big money before last season, but only played in seven games due to injury. As a 32-year-old, his market isn’t too big, but he’s a guy that clearly has some talent and juice left to make plays, even in a limited role.

  1. Justin Houston

As mentioned earlier, Houston has still been very productive for the Colts over the past two seasons. He will be 32, but could still provide some rotational flashes of his old self in the pass rush.

  1. Olivier Vernon

Vernon has played consistently over the past few years. He has been disruptive for whichever team he is playing for and did so again last year, when he took down the QB nine times for Cleveland. Vernon will be 31 this season, so that combined with the Achilles injury he suffered at the end of the season makes his market small. If he can get back healthy, he definitely deserves a shot.

  1. Trent Murphy

Murphy’s career isn’t going to blow anybody away, but he has been sneaky solid in his last few years. In 2019, he put together a 12 AV season. However, his play declined after he missed a few games in 2020. He will be 31 this season but can still provide some disruptiveness against both the run and pass.

  1. Adrian Clayborn

Clayborn is another guy that has been around the league for a long time. He doesn’t have the same sort of resume as some of the others on this list, but his ability to stay in the league and make an impact in the pass rush could earn him another job.

Ryan Kerrigan would have been near the top of this list if he hadn’t signed with the Eagles recently. Kerrigan has been consistently productive in his career, even in a very limited role last season. He should still be able to generate pressure in a similar role with his new team. Matthews is also a player that hasn’t drawn much interest but doesn’t seem to be planning to retire just yet. If he could play similar to his 2019 season, he would be a solid addition.