NFL Free Agency Begins on March 12th, so let’s look at the best available players and which teams are rumored to be interested in them, we brought you the offensive side of the ball earlier this week so let’s get to the defense:
Defensive Ends: The defensive end free agent crop was once viewed as strong, but has grown weaker with the Bengals placing the franchise tag on Michael Johnson and the Cowboys doing the same on Anthony Spencer, however there is still a lot of value here. The two teams that I hear the most about, when it comes to upgrading their pass rush this offseason are the Atlanta Falcons and the Cleveland Browns, however every team in the league is always looking to upgrade this crucial area of their defense.
1 ) Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions, Age 27 – An excellent pass rusher who played last season under the franchise tag, Avril is looking for a big payday, he rejected a three year $30 million extension from the Lions. I have heard Avril’s name recently linked to the Browns, as new GM Mike Lombardi has clearly made upgrading the pass rush a priority, but also have heard whispers that the Jacksonville Jaguars have interest.
2 ) Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 27 – One of the more underrated players in the NFL, Bennett is not just a good pass rusher, but is one of the better run defenders at the position in the league. There are rumors that he wants to play with his brother Martellus, who played tight end for the Giants last season and is also a free agent, and the two may take less as a package deal.
3 ) Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants, Age 31 – The longtime Giants pass rusher and two-time Super Bowl champion does not play the run, but is still one of the most effective pass rushers in the league, at this stage of his career it is probably better to use him as a situational pass rusher. I have heard that there is mutual interest between the Atlanta Falcons and Osi, who makes his offseason home in Georgia, and would like to continue playing for a contender.
4 ) Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts, Age 33 – One of the greatest sack artists of All-Time, Freeney was out of place in Colts coach Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense last season, and is much better suited for the 4-3. Freeney is from Connecticut, and as a Giants fan growing up, recently called playing for the Giants “A Dream”. Considering they are losing Osi Umenyiora, the fit makes sense. The Atlanta Falcons are known to also have interest, especially if they do not land Umenyiora.
5 ) William Hayes, St. Louis Rams, Age 28 – We have not seen a lot of William Hayes, because he was playing behind Robert Quinn and Chris Long in St. Louis, but from what we have seen he is capable of starting for many teams. He is stronger against the run than he is a pass rusher. Underrated player.
6 ) Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears, Age 32 – Coming off of his best season, Idonije notched 7.5 sacks and got steady pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Age is a concern. We know for a fact that the Bears will push hard to bring him back.
7 ) John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons, Age 35 – Another All-Time great, when he is healthy, John Abraham still gets the job done. If he could play with a contender as part of a rotation, instead of beong leaned on heavily to provide a constant pass rush, like he was in Atlanta over recent seasons he can still be valuable.
8 ) Junior Galette, New Orleans Saints, Age 25 (RFA) – A situational pass rusher with talent, the Saints would like to keep him, however this will be difficult to do if a team makes him a large contract offer.
9 ) Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland Raiders, Age 26 – I may be in the minority here, but I think Shaughnessy still has talent, and just needs to be put in a better situation. He had a big year in 2010, he missed 2011 with a knee injury and struggled in 2012. He is still young, and the talent is there, could be a major bargain.
Best of the Rest: Juqua Parker-Thomas, Cleveland Browns, Age 35 – Wallace Gilberry, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 28 – Robert Geathers, Cincinnati Bengals, age 30 – Kyle Vanden Bosch, Detroit Lions, Age 34 – Trevor Scott, New England Patriots, Age 29 – Kyle Moore, Buffalo Bills, Age 26
Defensive Tackles: Another position that once looked strong, but was weakened drastically when the Miami Dolphins put the franchise tag on Randy Starks and the Chicago Bears put the franchise tag on Henry Melton, defensive tackle is a position now full of question marks. There is no longer a lot of talent at the top, but there are some players available who could be considered a bargain.
1 ) Jason Jones, Seattle Seahawks, Age 27 – Jones has been solid for the Seahawks over recent years, and he is coming off of a late season injury, but he should come at a fair price and is a good interior pass rusher. The Seahawks have expressed interest in bringing him back.
2 ) Desmond Bryant, Oakland Raiders, Age 27 – Bryant was probably the best player on the Raiders defensive line last season, and the Harvard grad needs to hope that his recent arrest in Miami (and ensuing hilarious mugshot) do not shrink his payday.
3 ) Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders, Age 33 – He is past his prime and has been dealing with injuries recently, but the once great Seymour is still a valuable player if healthy and if used as part of a rotation. I have been told to not rule out a return to his former team the Patriots.
4 ) Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit Lions, Age 26 – An underrated player who has been buried on the Lions depth chart, Sammie Lee Hill may actually be a very good player, we just have a small sample size to work with. His biggest strength is as an interior pass rusher, and he really only fits in a 4-3 defense. I have heard his name linked to the Cowboys, but they are capped out, and it will be tough for Dallas to sign any free agents.
5 ) Glenn Dorsey, Kansas City Chiefs, Age 28 – The one time top five pick has been playing out of place his entire career in Kansas City’s 3-4 defense, and he may be capable of a career renaissance if he signs with a team with a 3-4 front. I would save time if I told you teams I haven’t heard Dorsey linked to, it seems that everyone wants to give him a second chance. I’ve heard Vikings, Cowboys, Giants, Buccaneers, Seahawks and others.
6 ) Chris Canty, New York Giants, Age 30 – Just a solid interior defender, who performed excellent for the New York Giants during his stay there, and is a true leader. He can play tackle in the 3-4 or end in the 4-3 and there is a lot of interest in him. Age and a lingering knee injury are concerns. The Titans and Chiefs are among the known interested, but Canty wants to play for a contender, have heard whispers about the Seahawks and Packers.
7 ) Cullen Jenkins, Green Bay Packers, Age 32 – Versatile big man Cullen Jenkins was released by the Eagles, and although he is getting older and has some injury concerns, he could still help many teams in a limited role. We know the Giants and Packers have shown interest.
8 ) Arthur Jones, Baltimore Ravens, Age 27 (RFA) – The brother of UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, Arthur had an excellent Super Bowl run with the Ravens, who want to keep him. The Ravens have a lot of roster decisions to make following their Super Bowl win, and although restricted free agents rarely move in the NFL, he could be had if you are willing to pay.
Best of the Rest: Roy Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 26 – Steve McLendon, Pittsburgh Steelers, Age 27 (RFA) – Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers, Age 35 – Mike DeVito, New York Jets, Age 29 – Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints, Age 28 – Terrance Knighton, Jacksonville Jaguars, Age 27 – Alan Branch, Seattle Seahawks, Age 28 – Ricky Jean-Francois, San Francisco 49ers, Age 26
Outside Linebackers: A fairly weak position in free agency this year, except for the top player on the board, who is in line for a huge payday. There is some value available, but not a lot of top prospects, so teams are lucky the draft is strong here.
1 ) Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens, Age 27 – One of the keys to the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion winning defense, Kruger is an excellent pass rusher who can play defensive end in the 4-3 or outside linebacker in the 3-4 defensive scheme. Kruger is going to get a huge payday, and Baltimore is going to be forced to let him walk. I have heard that the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles are both very interested.
2 ) Phillip Wheeler, Oakland Raiders, Age 28 – Quietly had an excellent season for the Oakland Raiders in 2012, he was signed to a one year $700k contract, and was one of the more productive linebackers in the NFL. Earned himself a big payday with his play.
3 ) Daryl Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars, Age 31 – Missed most of the 2012 season with a groin injury, but has been one of the most underappreciated players in the NFL for a few years now when he is healthy, not a big name but big numbers. The New York Giants have shown interest.
4 ) Connor Barwin, Houston Texans, Age 26 – He had 11.5 sacks in 2011, and turned down a massive contract extension with the Texans, which he clearly regrets now. Barwin is coming off of a very disappointing 2012 campaign, but clearly has talent. The Philadelphia Eagles are interested.
5 ) Shaun Phillips, San Diego Chargers, Age 32 – Had another strong year with the Chargers as a pass rusher, but at 32 years old, how much does he still have left in the tank? Is not a lot more than a pass rusher, struggles against the run, and is worse in coverage.
6 ) Victor Butler, Dallas Cowboys, Age 26 – Has flashed ability as a pass rusher in limited playing time with the Cowboys, however is no longer a fit in Dallas, since they are switching to the 4-3 defense. Could be a under the radar nice pickup for a 3-4 defensive team.
7 ) Manny Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 29 – If you ask him to provide a pass rush, and just use him on passing downs, he can be effective in a 3-4 defense coming off of the edge, but that is about all he does well.
Best of the Rest: Nick Barnett, Buffalo Bills, Age 32 – Thomas Howard, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 30 – Justin Durant, Detroit Lions, Age 27 – Michael Boley, New York Giants, Age 31 – Nick Roach, Chicago Bears, Age 28 – Keith Rivers, New York Giants, Age 27 – Calvin Pace, New York Jets, Age 33
Inside Linebackers: Other than two impressive young players, the inside linebacker free agent rankings are littered with aged veterans, whose best years are now in the past.
1 ) Dannell Ellerbe, Baltimore Ravens, Age 27 – Entered the 2012 season as Ray Lewis’ backup, and was excellent for the Ravens when Ray Lewis went down with a triceps tear, which mysteriously healed in time for the Super Bowl. Ellerbe is a promising young player, and the Ravens would love to keep him, but he will likely be priced out of their range. I hear the Buffalo Bills are the early favorites to sign him.
2 ) Brad Jones, Green Bay Packers, Age 27 – Was not expected to play much for the Packers last season, but when Desmond Bishop’s season ended, Jones was called upon and played excellent football. You may not know his name, but if you watch the tape, he stands out. He will get paid and he deserves it.
3 ) Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears, Age 35 – The future Hall-of-Famer is deteriorating, and his best days are long behind him, but he wants to continue playing. It would be a shame if he finished his career with any team than the Chicago Bears, the only team he has ever known.
4 ) Larry Grant, San Francisco 49ers, Age 28 – When they needed Grant to play two years ago for an injured Patrick Willis he was solid, but he barely saw the field in 2012, and deserves another shot at some playing time.
Best of the Rest: Chase Blackburn, New York Giants, Age 30 – Bradie James, Houston Texans, Age 32 – Takeo Spikes, San Diego Chargers, Age 36 – Bart Scott, New York Jets, Age 33
Cornerbacks: The cornerback free agent group is solid, and has some reliable players and some depth available, plus the draft is deep at the position. Although there will not be a lot of cornerbacks drafted in the first round expect a ton to be selected in round two. This coupled with a solid free agent class should allow teams to improve greatly in the secondary this offseason.
1 ) Sam Shields, Green Bay Packers, Age 25 (RFA) – The Packers are taking the steps necessary to be sure that they keep Shields, who is a shutdown NFL corner, and word out of Green Bay is that he is not going anywhere. Don’t even try.
2 ) Aqib Talib, New England Patriots, Age 27 – A great talent, who happens to be a major head case, who is loaded with off-the-field concerns. He was excellent for the Patriots last season, and word is, they want him back. I hear the Giants are interested. He needs to go to an organization that is strong internally and will not allow him to lack discipline.
3 ) Sean Smith, Miami Dolphins, Age 26 – The big cornerback can be a very good player, he does have his lapses at times, but is very talented with rare size for the position. He is not going back to the Dolphins, and the rumor is the Chiefs are very interested.
4 ) Keenan Lewis, Pittsburgh Steelers, Age 27 – Excellent year for Lewis in 2012, based on last year’s performance, he should probably be second on this board. I have heard that the Steelers are scrambling to keep him, and have made him a priority, but others are circling.
5 ) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Philadelphia Eagles, Age 27 – Just a terrible 2012 season for the once talented corner, he seems to play well in good situations, but when things start going bad he checks out. Way out. Still has talent, but needs to sign with a good team, or he will not play hard.
6 ) Derek Cox, Jacksonville Jaguars, Age 26 – Very talented and underrated cornerback, the problem is he cannot stay healthy, or he would be ranked much higher on the list. Missed 14 games over the past two seasons, but is excellent when he is healthy, and could be a bargain if he can stay on the field.
7 ) Chris Houston, Detroit Lions, Age 28 – Once considered a draft bust, Houston has really turned his career around, and turned himself into a quality cornerback. He will get torched every once and a while, but is good enough to be a starter, and you can do a lot worse.
8 ) Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles, Age 32 – Once considered one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, Asomugha was absolutely atrocious in 2012, and probably deserves to be ranked lower on this list. Was afraid of contact, would not tackle, barely covered. Maybe age has caught up to him, in the right situation, does he still have the talent to succeed?
9 ) Cary Williams, Baltimore Ravens, Age 28 – The Super Bowl winning cornerback is solid in coverage, and although he had some down games in 2012, he is normally a good player. Worthy of starting, and will probably get a nice contract, which he deserves.
10 ) Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills, Age 28 – Probably not a starting corner anymore, but is an admirable fill in and nickelback, who can help a team as a return man. Has value, and can help a team in many ways, which adds to his value.
11 ) Tony Carter, Denver Broncos, Age 27 – I had not heard of Carter until this season, but he was excellent across from Champ Bailey in Denver’s secondary last season, and deserves a payday. The Broncos would like to keep him, but what are they willing to pay?
12 ) Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons, Age 30 – Once a Pro Bowl caliber cornerback, he is coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, and will have to prove he is healthy. Achilles tendon injuries can be tough for cornerbacks to come back from.
Best of the Rest: Chris Gamble, Carolina Panthers, Age 29 – E.J. Biggers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 26 – Dunta Robinson, Atlanta Falcons, Age 31 – Aaron Ross, Jacksonville Jaguars, Age 30 – Jerraud Powers, Indianapolis Colts, Age 26 – Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina Panthers, Age 25 – Kyle Arrington, New England Patriots, Age 27 – Greg Toler, Arizona Cardinals, Age 28 – Antoine Cason, San Diego Chargers, Age 27 – Pacman Jones, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 30 – Quentin Jammer, San Diego Chargers, Age 34
Safeties: Many teams should be able to improve at the safety position this offseason, because there is a deep draft class, and also a strong group of free agents.
1 ) Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers, Age 28 – He was franchised by the 49ers last season, and he was worth it, The Pro Bowler was excellent in 2012. The 49ers would love to work out a long term contract with Goldson, and he would like to stay, but he could get a huge payday elsewhere.
2 ) Glover Quin, Houston Texans, Age 27 – Was once a pretty bad cornerback, who was moved to safety, and excelled at his new position. Great in coverage, but also a solid tackler, he will get a nice contract. The Texans want to keep him.
3 ) Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions, Age 26 – Once one of the best up-and-coming safeties in the NFL, Delmas has battled serious injuries, and now it seems he cannot stay on the field. He is probably worth a gamble, because he was once an incredible player, but is he the next Bob Sanders? Great, but always hurt.
4 ) William Moore, Atlanta Falcons, Age 28 – Moore has become one of the best safeties in football, and a hamstring injury kept him out of the Falcons playoff run, where they missed him. Atlanta is trying desperately to keep him, however it could prove difficult, he will get interest elsewhere.
5 ) Kenny Phillips, New York Giants, Age 26 – Another safety who once looked like he would be one of the best in the NFL, but a serious knee injury and multiple subsequent injuries prevented this from ever happening. Will his knee ever be healthy again?
6 ) Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens, Age 34 – Reed is still an excellent player, and it would be a shame if he finished his career with any team but the Baltimore Ravens, however they are cash strapped and need to keep their younger players in house first. It’s no secret that the Patriots are circling.
7 ) Stevie Brown, New York Giants, Age 26 (RFA) – Came out of nowhere to pick off eight passes for the Giants last season, the Giants are committed to keeping him, and seem to have made the decision to let Kenny Phillips walk in favor of Brown.
8 ) LaRon Landry, New York Jets, Age 28 – Usually a major injury liability, the big hitter stayed healthy in 2012, and was excellent for the New York Jets. Rex Ryan loves him and the Jets want him back, but at their price, while Landry is seeking long term security.
9 ) Charles Woodson, Green Bay Packer, Age 36 – The future Hall-of-Famer was released by the Green Bay Packers for financial reasons, and although he missed time with injuries, he definitely has something left in the tank when healthy. Several teams have contacted his agent, I’ve heard Seahawks, Giants, Jets, Dolphins to name a few, and he is expected to sign with the team that is closest to contending.
Best of the Rest: Adrian Wilson, Arizona Cardinals, Age 33 – Gerald Sensabaugh, Dallas Cowboys, Age 30 – Patrick Chung, New England Patriots, Age 26 – Chris Clemons, Miami Dolphins, Age 27 – Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Age 37 – Chris Crocker, Cincinnati Bengals, Age 33