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Tony Nowak | Archive | Email
Staff Writer

2012 IDP Free Agent Preview

Defensive Line

  • Mario Williams, DE/OLB - I was skeptical about him making the transition to 3-4 OLB under new DC Wade Phillips at the start of this season, but Williams has shown he can dominate either way before a torn pec ended his season. He should be fine in time for next season and is a UDFA who gives the Texans a difficult decision to make. Because of his current high base salary, if they use the franchise tag on him, his number will be more than the higher than the average at the position (either as a LB or the higher-percentage DE, a disagreement the team and agent would surely have) under the rules (see a lengthy explanation in this ESPN AFC South Blog entry). It should be cheaper to sign him to a long-term deal, but they also have C Chris Myers, who has emerged as one of the best at his position, and RFA RB Arian Foster both headed for big paydays. It's hard to envision the Texans letting Williams go, but the emergence of Connor Barwin and rookie Brooks Reed in the absence of Williams makes food for thought if the price is not right. If Williams hits the market, he could be the top overall free agent available, coveted by teams with either 3-4 or 4-3 base defenses.

  • Cliff Avril, DE - literally and figuratively in the shadow of Ndamukong Suh, Avril quietly became of one of the top pass rushers in the league. Starting every game this year for the first time in his four-year career, Avril posted double-digit sacks for the first time (11) and shares the league lead in forced fumbles (6) through Week 16. The latest in a long line of successful pass rushing tweeners from Purdue, the he'll be looking for, and in line for, a huge payday from his first long-term contract. Having finally assembled a contender, the Lions will be keen to keep one of their core young players. I think they ultimately keep him, whether it's a long-term deal or via the franchise tag. If he somehow hits the market, there will be many suitors, but I see a team like the Colts, who build their defense around speed-rushing ends like him and desperate to infuse some talented youth at the position, breaking the bank for him.

  • Calais Campbell, DL - the big man could be hotly pursued if he hit the free agent market, but it sounds like Arizona has made it a priority to lock him up with a long-term deal. I'd be surprised if he moves. Update: Franchise tag on 3/2.

  • Robert Mathis, DE/OLB - as mentioned above, the Colts need a boost at the position. Mathis is the free agent, but I'd keep him and jettison Freeney, perhaps the most undeserving Pro Bowl player this year. Both are the wrong side of 30 now and 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes is a bust. They are at a tipping point for addressing this position for the future. If Manning is back, I assume they'll hang on to both Freeney and Mathis for one more run, but if Mathis hits the free agent market, I could see him being most coveted by a 3-4 team where the undersized end will be a great fit as situational edge pass rusher and veteran leaders. Not too many other teams see a player of his size as a good fit at end, despite his consistent history of sack production. A great stop-gap solution for the Jets, as they struggled to fill the spot of Bryan Thomas after he went down, or in Green Bay, where he can look to play for championships again.

  • John Abraham, DE/OLB - after some injury-related inconsistency in the middle of his career, he's remained very healthy and pretty consistent the last five years. He'll be 34 before next season starts, so he's not looking at a big long-term payday and might not get many appealing offers on the open market. If Ray Edwards had panned out this year, I could see them partying ways with Abraham, but I think he'll be affordable enough to keep in Atlanta, where he is still their top pass rushing threat. However, they likely have to decide between him and Kroy Biermann, also a free agent, but the younger Biermann just hasn't proven to be an elite pass rusher. If Abraham departs, I wouldn't rule out a return to the New York Jets and his 3-4 roots, where he's another good fit to replace Bryan Thomas or in Green Bay. He also fits the profile of the affordable vet Bill Belichick loves to plug in for a season or two. If interest in him is lower than expected, the Bills could jump in with a lowball offer.

  • Jason Jones, DL - I still love his potential and think he could have achieved by now if the Titans had let him settle in to one position. They've invest a lot at the position, and could still be looking in this draft as brittle former first-round pick Derrick Morgan hasn't been the pass rush threat they lack, so I can't see them keeping Jones around. Some smart shopper like the Giants or Patriots will get him at a reasonable deal, figure out where to utilize him best, and he'll emerge next year.

  • Paul Soliai, NT - the 2007 fourth-round pick seemed to be eating his way out of the league his first few years, but he turned a corner in 2010 and solidified himself as one of the top true NTs in the league. He played with the franchise tag last year, so the team has a big number in the budget for him already. He should be locked in to South Beach with a long-term deal this offseason. If not, most teams running a 3-4 will have interest, especially a Houston Texans, who will be looking to figure out how to remain among the upper echelon of teams they were able to ascend to this year. Not much of a fantasy factor himself, but where he lands should have a positive impact on the players around him.

  • Aubrayo Franklin, NT - I was surprised at the lack of interest in Franklin last offseason with the growing number of 3-4 defenses. He wasn't a good fit in New Orleans and should be back in a 3-4 this year, unless the Saints and DC Gregg Williams, who began flashing more 3-4 looks later in the season, have new plans for the defense.


  • D'Qwell Jackson, MLB - the likely NFL Comeback Player of the Year is exactly the type of playmaking man in the middle DC Dick Jauron builds his defense around. At a minimum, I'd expect Cleveland to put the franchise tag on him. Update: Jackson signed a five-year, $42.5 million deal with Cleveland on 2/27.

  • London Fletcher, ILB - the perennially underappreciated Fletcher showed no signs of slowing down at 36, leading the league in tackles. He should be back in Washington to tutor Perry Riley for another year. If not, I'm certain Bill Belichick will waste no time swooping him up.

  • Stephen Tulloch, ILB - I was shocked he could do no better than a one-year, $3.25M deal last year, I guess he was viewed as just a two-down thumper. Regardless, although he wasn't the same tackle-machine he was when he was second in the league in 2010, he broke triple digits and showed ability for the big play beyond just a run-stopper. Tulloch will be looking for the big payday again this time, with his resume bolstered. HC Jim Schwartz, who worked with him in Tennessee, should be keen to hold on to Tulloch, but keeping Avril at DE is probably a bigger priority. I was surprised the Eagles didn't go after him last year, so that is one likely landing spot, with the Giants next and possibly Minnesota or Baltimore, if Ray Lewis retires.

  • E.J. Henderson, MLB - injuries and age are catching up to him and I expect he'll only come back to Minnesota if they fail to address the position otherwise in free agency or through the draft. Where ever he lands, it will likely be as veteran competition and have a fight to be a starter next year.

Defensive Back

  • Cortland Finnegan, CB - leads a fairly stacked corner class of free agents. Tennessee has not engaged him in extension talks this season and have some young talent at corner. Finnegan already seems resigned to departing and has expressed he wouldn't be happy with a franchise tag. He seems destined for a new address next year. Finnegan has the aggression and disposition Rex Ryan loves, making the Jets the favorite to me. He would replace Antonio Cromartie, who was only brought back because the team was unable to sign Nnamdi Asomugha. Detroit seems to building a similar culture and is another likely destination. Another destination could be Dallas, who need to address their fragile secondary. I could see him also being appealing to Jerry Jones and DC Rob Ryan.

  • Brandon Carr, CB - after seemingly regressing a bit the previous season, he once again is emerging as the total package. A solid shut down corner on an island with the size and strength to be an asset in run support. The team eschewed signing him to a long-term deal as a RFA before this season, so they may be willing to part with him, despite having cap room to bring him and Dwayne Bowe back. His ability to play man well makes him another good fit for the Jets, Baltimore, and Minnesota, as well as Denver, who need to start thinking about replacing Champ Bailey and would get the double-whammy of plucking him away from a division rival.

  • Lardarius Webb, CB - one of the best up-and-coming players at the position, he reminds me of a Dre Bly who isn't afraid to stick his helmet in there. He's only a RFA and will certainly be back in Baltimore.

  • Brent Grimes, CB - the Falcons gave Dunta Robinson the big pay day to help bring their defense to the next level, but the underappreciated Grimes, a former UDFA, has been the star of their secondary. The Falcons should resign him, but they have some depth at the position, so they could mistakenly let him go. He shouldn't break the bank like Finnegan or Carr, so I could see the frugal Bears interested, who have the solid, but unspectacular and inconsistent, Tim Jennings hitting free agency. Tampa Bay should be interested too, if Ronde Barber departs. New England and New Orleans should value him highly too. Update: Franchise tag on 3/2

  • Carlos Rogers, CB - a fresh start on the other coast has helped the former first-round pick find his hands and escalate his game. The 49ers appear to be ready to lock him up, so I expect him back in San Francisco. A team like Minnesota, desperate at the position, could give him the big multi-year deal he couldn't land last year.

  • Asante Samuel, CB - while not a free agent, I include him because he seems likely to be released or traded by the Eagles. After spending a lot of money on Nnadmi Asomugha and trading for the younger, cheaper Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, many were surprised he stuck around in Philly for this season. I've previously discussed DRC and his long speed being misused as a nickel, so it makes sense to split him back outside at the expense of Samuel. Veteran Joselio Hanson is more than capable, and a better fit, covering the slot. While he dislikes contact, Samuel's rep as a riverboat gambler is exaggerated. He is a very good cover corner and racks up picks that way. If Samuel is released, I could see the Cowboys all over him. The Falcons and Lions, both trying to figure out a way to get by the Packers aerial assault, should also be interested.

  • Terrell Thomas, CB - a torn ACL ended his year in the preseason and while the early occurrence of the injury should have him ready in time for the 2012 season, it likely limits his price tag, as he also suffered the same injury in college. He's likely looking at an affordable one-year deal to prove his health before realistically chasing the big long-term payday. This makes him likely to return to the Giants, where he had emerged as their top cover corner and a fantasy stud with his strong tackle numbers in run support. The team also has former first-round pick Aaron Ross available in free agency. Although sporadically flashing talent, inconsistency by Ross, and problematic hamstrings, had him fall behind Thomas and Corey Webster, as well as lead the team to drafting Prince Amukamara in the first round of the last draft. Ross will likely be let go and be chased by the teams who fail to land one of the top free agents.

  • Rashean Mathis, CB - one of the more underrated corners in the league, he's unfortunately stuck looking a one-year deal to prove he's healthy after tearing his ACL late in the season. He'd like to return to the Jaguars and probably will. A bargain shopper like Chicago could also be interested because he'll be affordable.

  • Tracy Porter, CB - he's flashed a ton of talent, but is one of the more injury-prone players in the league, never making it though a full season in his first four years. I don't know if the Saints should turn over the spot to former first-round pick Patrick Robinson, but that could make him expendable in New Orleans.

  • Ronde Barber, CB - he can't cover the same anymore, but the soon-to-be 37 year-old was still a playmaker and should generate more interest than his twin brother if he returns. Barber has said he only wants to return to TB if HC Raheem Brock is back and could call it a career if not, but he could generate more interest than expected, where a playoff team like Dallas, New England or the Jets might like to bring him in as a leader and role player in a shaky secondary.

  • Michael Griffin, S - the two-time Pro Bowler apparently believes he's no longer wanted in Tennessee, tweeting "My last game at LP Field. Got to make it a good one." Before the team's final home game in Week 16. His apology that he meant last game of the "season" rang hollow as the team is clearly due for some major upheaval this offseason with 20 free agents, including Griffin and Chris Hope. I would have thought Griffin would be the one player the Titans retain. The aging Hope has already been replaced by Jordan Babineaux, also a free agent after coming on a one-year contract and I'd expect the team to bring him back over Hope. I've already discussed expecting Finnegan to depart, so bringing back Griffin to lead the secondary seems the logical move. If Griffin leaves, he should generate interest from quite a few teams. Griffin can play either safety position, making him desirable to teams like New England, the New York Jets and Chicago, who have a need and require that versatility in their schemes. After dealing with injury problems from both their big-name players at the position this past season, the Redskins seem a likely option to not bring back LaRon Landry and jettison Oshiomogho Atogwe to make a big bid on a player like Griffin. I could see him as the solution to replacing an aging Ed Reed in Baltimore, as well.

  • Tyvon Branch, SS - whether it's a long-term deal or via the franchise tag, this tackle machine will be back in Oakland. Update: Franchise tag on 3/2

  • LaRon Landry, SS - after ending his second straight season on the IR due to problems with his Achilles' tendon, it's hard to speculate on his situation until more is known. He declined surgery after 2010, hoping to let it heal naturally, but was hampered by it and related injuries for all of 2011. Now he looks set for surgery this offseason and could be looking at nothing more than a one-year deal to prove himself, which would be affordable enough for him to land anywhere on a team willing to gamble his upside.