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NFL: 6 Big Holes To Fill On Defense

Sam Spiegelman looks at the NFL teams that lost the most on defense in free agency and who will be expected to replace their departed stars.

Demarcus Lawrence
Demarcus Lawrence

Demarcus Lawrence (90). Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We often talk about free agent winners and losers, but sometimes we forget to address just how the teams go about life after that.

Some of the biggest free-agent departures have set the stage for veterans and rookies to take on bigger roles in their respective offenses and defenses.

Here are the six biggest holes that need to be filled on NFL rosters on the defensive side of the ball.

Demarcus Lawrence for DeMarcus Ware

Jerry Jones‘ prisoner of the moment mentality allowed him to release the franchise’s best all-time pass-rusher. Now leave it to the rookie, Lawrence, to try and replace almost a decade’s worth of elite production.

Ware was coming off a down year, one in which injuries hampered his production and kept him to six sacks. Now Ware proclaims himself healthy, but he’s in Denver competing for a championship. Dallas owns one of the league’s worst defenses, and will rely on Lawrence to try and make fans forget about Ware’s absence.

Da’Norris Searcy for Jairus Byrd

Byrd, the best free-agent safety on the market this offseason, went down to New Orleans to compete for a Super Bowl with a revamped secondary under Rob Ryan. Now Searcy has the task of replacing him.

Over the past five years, Byrd has starred in the Bills’ secondary, though his numbers are not indicative of his impact. Searcy has nine pass defenses in 10 games started over the past three years, and now we’ll have a chance to see what he’s capable of in a 16-game season.

Johnathan Hankins for Linval Joseph

The Giants have a long history of top-caliber defensive tackles, and now the loss of Joseph opens the door for Hankins. Joseph was the second-rated tackle on the free-agent market. He’s strong against the run and can rush the passer from the interior line.

Now Hankins, a 2013 draftee last year out of Ohio State, gets the chance to succeed him. He was highly touted out of college and earned strong reviews as a rookie. The Giants need a younger, more productive defensive line. Here’s the first piece.

Larry Foote, Kevin Minter for Daryl Washington, Karlos Dansby

With Washington suspended for the year and Dansby now in Cleveland, the Cardinals have inserted Foote and Minter into the middle of their defense hoping that it won’t fall off too much.

That might be inevitable. Foote is a declining player, despite some great years of service in Pittsburgh. Minter is a raw talent with a lot of room to grow. Washington and Dansby are two of the premier inside linebackers in the NFL, so you can’t expect two players on the opposite end of the spectrum to replace them with ease.

Mike Adams for Antoine Bethea

It’ll be strange to see Bethea in a jersey other than the Colts’. The heart of the Colts secondary for the past couple of years, he’s now in San Francisco replacing Donte Whitner.

Adams has some big shoes to fill, and the 10-year favorite started a dozen games for Denver last year. But he’s 33 and in a very mediocre defense. Let’s see how much tread he has left on his tires.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson for Alterraun Verner

Verner put together one of the best seasons by a cornerback in the league last year, truly breaking out for Tennessee en route to getting a big-time deal from the Buccaneers.

Now Wreh-Wilson steps in for Verner. He’s got a new defensive coordinator in Ray Horton, who has a track record of getting the most out of his corners. He’s got only 93 snaps to his resume, and in his sophomore season he’s the favorite to start opposite Jason McCourty. The upside: Wreh-Wilson is one of the new-mold corners with great size.

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