You know that Old Spice commercial with all of the clingy, overprotective mothers singing songs of sorrow about losing their teenage sons to young adulthood? That commercial always reminds of NFL free agency a bit. Those advertisement moms can't let go of their boys, while teams do everything in their power to retain elite pass-rushers. The obsession is equal in both cases, though the latter is much, much healthier.
The fact is, you can never have too many quality pass-rushers in the NFL. Three-down players who demand double teams and routinely score double-digit sacks are some of the most valuable and rare commodities in all of football. Those types of players demand annual salaries north of $12 million when they hit the open market.
So who are the top pass-rushers in this year's free agent class?
1. Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs
Since the start of the 2012 season, Houston has averaged a sack a game. That type of consistent production is virtually unheard of. At just 26 years old, Houston is entering free agency at the perfect time. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him get a deal that surpasses Clay Matthews' $13.2 million yearly salary or even Robert Quinn's $14.25 million contract. The Chiefs should do whatever it takes to keep Houston in Kansas City next year.
2. Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants
The Giants may not have enough salary cap space to franchise JPP and they may not want to hand him a max extension either. That means Pierre-Paul will likely reach the open market next month and enter his services in the bidding war.
However, similar to anytime Roger Goodell is asked to make a good decision, there are some concerns when it comes to Pierre-Paul's free agency. One is the nagging back injuries that plagued the 26-year-old throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Two is the inconsistency in his sack numbers during that time (just 8.5). Was that all due to the injury or was it representative of a low motor?
JPP certainly upped his stock this past year with 12.5 sacks and stout run defense. But can a potential suitor count on that type of production after they hand him big bucks?
3. Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers
Hardy appeared in just one game this past season before being placed on the NFL's exempt list after a domestic violence incident. While the charges against Hardy have been dropped, there is still plenty to worry about. Hardy could still face a suspension after the league concludes its own investigation. Plus, any team signing Hardy will have to deal with considerable public backlash.
But there is no denying the 26-year-old defensive end's talent as a pass-rusher. Hardy recorded 26 total sacks from 2012 to 2013 and was a big reason the Panthers finished first in sacks during their recent 12-4 season. Any team considering going after Hardy will have to weigh his on-field production with his off-field concerns.
4. Jerry Hughes, Buffalo Bills
Hughes has fought his way back from the draft bust label that was placed on him after he failed to record more than four sacks in his first three seasons after being selected in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts. In his two years with the Bills, Hughes has gotten to opposing QBs 19.5 times.
Hughes "doesn't have the same upside" as some of the other elite pass-rushers in this group, but he could be an effective addition to several teams. He is likely best suited for a team that is already set along the defensive line, as he did his best work playing with massive defensive tackle Marcell Dareus and defensive end Mario Williams in Buffalo.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see Hughes get a deal in the vicinity of $10 million annually.