May 7th is an important day for all remaining NFL free agents. That is the day free-agent acquisitions no longer cost teams compensatory picks, a highly-valued method of acquiring extra draft picks in recent years. Teams will no longer run the risk of losing a fourth- or fifth-round pick for a guy who may not work out; it only costs them money, something many teams have to spend.
There are a few relatively big free agent names left, but none could bring a bigger impact to the table than former top-10 pick Ezekiel Ansah. He notched 12 sacks in 2017 before injuries robbed him of most of his 2018 season. He can get to the QB if he can stay on the field, and will have many suitors who like his ability as a pure pass-rusher. Here are four teams who should have his number on speed dial as the big day approaches.
Even after drafting Clellin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby in the NFL Draft, the Raiders need pass-rushing help desperately. They finished with 13 (!!) sacks on the year, by far the worst mark in the league. It’s almost laughable how much of a hole there was at edge last season. It typically takes a bit of time for rookie sack artists to get up to speed, and Ferrell and Crosby don’t project to be sack artists in the truest of senses. Development should be the name of the game in Oakland right now, but Jon Gruden sure sounds like he plans to compete this year, and Ansah could potentially contribute a handful of sacks to that effort — with room for more, if injury luck falls their way. Oakland doesn’t have a lot of their salary cap tied up, and should think themselves in a position to take fliers on talented players for below market cost.
New York Giants
The Giants are in a similar situation to the Raiders; they had terrible sack numbers last year and seem to want to compete in 2019 despite all signs pointing to a prolonged rebuild. The biggest difference between the two is that the Giants devoted very little draft capital to shoring up their edge defenders. After a paltry 30 sacks as a team in 2018, the Giants needed a true impact player at the edge, and decided to pass on the many candidates from this year’s high-quality crop of pass rushers. With some money to spare, giving Ansah a few million to give the team some semblance of a pass rush might give hope to Giants fans that Dave Gettleman knows what he’s doing.
The Panthers hope to bounce back this year, and their ability to do so will ride almost entirely upon Cam Newton and his health. But their pass rush taking a step forward after a bad year last year will play a role as well. They acquired some young talent at the position after taking Brian Burns in the first round of the draft, but don’t have many legitimate options otherwise. The cap space is tight, but if Ansah wants to have a chance at winning while rebuilding his resume, they can make the money work. He’d instantly be the best pass-rusher on the roster and could help take the heat off Burns while he adjusts to NFL-level blocking.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams obviously don’t necessarily need an influx of talent on their defensive line, but despite the presence of all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald, their team sack total was right around average in comparison to the rest of the league. The money would be tight, but Ansah should be willing to take a bit less in order to play with Donald, who commands double and triple teams on just about every snap. The Rams showed last year they’re willing to take on players who will only be there for a season in order to maximize their Super Bowl window, and this move would fit right in with that agenda. It makes a lot of sense for both sides.