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Free Agent Primer 2024: Defensive Line

Big change possible with improvement needed, multiple free agents scheduled


After finishing his first season as a head coach with a 4-13 record, Jonathan Gannon said that while he was pleased with the teams’ fight, it simply wasn’t good enough. Now that those in the locker room and throughout the league have an idea how a Gannon-Monti Ossenfort regime operates, they'll look to build a playoff contender through free agency and the draft. The new league year begins on March 13, and with that comes free agency. Here's the first of 11 position breakdowns.

Free Agent primer schedule: DL Feb. 20; OL Feb. 21; QB Feb. 22; ILB Feb. 23; ST Feb. 24; WR Feb. 26; CB March 4; RB March 5; S March 6; TE March 7, OLB March 8

Cap hit of players under contract for 2024 (via DE Dante Stills ($948,333), DT Ben Stille ($985,000), DE Phil Hoskins ($1.05 million), NT Roy Lopez ($1.05 million), DE Naquan Jones ($1.05 million)

Scheduled free agents: DE Carlos Watkins, DE L.J. Collier, DT Leki Fotu, DT Jonathan Ledbetter (RFA)

Need: High

Analysis: The Cardinals finished the season last in run defense, allowing over 143 yards a game. The play on the field wasn't what Gannon had hoped for, but injuries played a factor.

Dante Stills, the Cardinals sixth-round selection in the 2023 draft, was a pleasant surprise for a rookie fighting for a roster spot in training camp. He finished his first season as the defensive line's leading tackler with 47 and in sacks with 3.5.

Six different players missed multiple games this season with L.J. Collier and Carlos Watkins missing nearly the entire season. Both Collier and Watkins landed on injured reserve with a bicep tear. Jonathan Ledbetter missed five games after tearing his ACL. Leki Fotu, Kevin Strong, and Stills all missed games as well.

Prior to his injury, Ledbetter was also having a solid season with 46 tackles and 1.5 sacks. It was his best season on the field, and off the field, the Cardinals nominee for Walter Payton Man of the Year was making a powerful impact in the community.

Shoring up the defense up front will be one of the first boxes that Ossenfort will look to check off.

Notable past free agent defensive lineman signings: Collier (2023), Watkins (2023), J.J. Watt (2021); Jordan Phillips (2020); Darius Philon (2019); Corey Peters (2015); Cory Redding (2015); Frostee Rucker (2013); Bryan Robinson (2008); Kendrick Clancy (2006); Chike Okeafor (2005); Bertrand Berry (2004); Clyde Simmons (1994).

A look at some of the top defensive linemen across the NFL who are scheduled to become free agents in mid-March