For me, the looming defensive player free agency looks a little thinner. A wealth of defensive backs were cut recently, bolstering the number, but when it comes to defensive line and linebacker depth… well it looks thin.
Cliff Avril and Paul Kruger headline this group with a couple other names being locked up (Michael Johnson, CIN and Henry Melton, CHI). Both of these guys come with some risks. For me, neither player is marquee guy. If I were an NFL GM, and depending on the situation, I would likely lean towards a Jonathan Abraham or Dwight Freeney to solve my pass rushing needs. Kruger is a situational pass rusher who had a decent year against the run, but has never flourished in that role. If a team is to invest in him he needs to be in a role that will be conducive to his talents, ie rushing the passer.
Avril is more balanced, but is less of a pass rusher at his best and worked with a much better defensive line group. Suh by himself takes a lot of heat off of everyone else.
Beyond those top two, Freeney and Abraham still have talent available for teams looking for a short-term solution. Ricky Jean Francois from San Francisco is a versatile 3-4 guy with excellent run stuffing abilities. The Ravens have been reportedly interested in him, but likely lack the cap room to make a push for him. Mike DeVito is another 3-4 end with some pass rushing skills that has already heard from several teams. Terrence Knighton is the biggest guy in free agency, a mountain of a tackle that could potentially move to a 3-4 nose tackle role.
The inside linebacker group has some solid names in it. Dannell Ellerbe is riding his playoff performance into what looks like a monster contract (apparently seeking Lawrence Timmons money). Jasper Brinkley has been sporadic but has plenty of talent for lesser price. Rey Maualuga has a big name, but his play has been average on a very talented defense. The Bengals would reportedly like to keep him around however. There’s a couple older names on the board too – Bart Scott, Brian Urlacher, and Keith Brooking could have some potential.
Sleepers for me include Barrett Ruud for a Tampa 2 scheme. Gerald McRath is another guy who has a lot of potential in a new scheme.
Plenty of corner backs are in this market. Top names include Aqib Talib, Sean Smith, Mike Jenkins, and Cary Williams. All have some defects and are scheme dependent, but in the right situation they could excel. Talib is probably the best of the bunch, but the Patriots are more concerned about his work ethic with a long-term contract. Smith is likely the best press cover corner. Jenkins and Williams are solid coverage guys, but probably number 2 corners at best.
My favorite of this class is Antoine Cason for his elite ball skills (11 picks so far), and in a high pressure defense could thrive on that ability. He’s also played almost every game his entire career and is solid if not spectacular. Could be a very good number 2 guy with potential to be a top corner if the pass rush is good enough.
Superbowl hero Tracy Porter is back on the market, but he’s been floating around the league and likely will see less suitors this time around. Aaron Ross, Darius Butler, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are all high draft picks with a lot of potential.
The two best options here were probably Jarius Byrd and William Moore, but both were retained by their teams. Now there is a slew of older players such as Ed Reed, Charles Woodson, Nate Clements, and Adrian Wilson that could intrigue some teams on short-term contracts.
Kenny Phillips is a guy I like a lot, but has a long injury history and will have to convince a team to overlook that. LaRon Landry is a physical beast, but a massive coverage liability. His brother Dawan brings a lot of experience, but not a very impressive skill set (speed is lacking in particular).
Another interesting safety is O.J. Atogwe, who was a big name guy a couple of years back and has kind of disappeared. His talent is pretty intriguing for me.