In Part 2 of Sports By Schmucks look at the upcoming free agency class in the NFL, I look at the defensive side of the ball. There are a ton of solid free agents at pretty much every position across the board on defense this year. There are no Mario Williams this year, but plenty of solid players to go around. With that in mind, here are my predictions for where the top free agents will land.
Cliff Avril- Lions, Michael Johnson- Bengals, Osi Umenyiora- Cowboys, Dwight Freeney- Broncos- Michael Bennett- Buccaneers
I kick things off with the league's premier pass rushers and this year's class is a mix of the up and comers and the wily veterans who are coming off down seasons. Cliff Avril, Michael Johnson, and Michael Bennett are the up and comers I had just mentioned. I see each man signing back with their original clubs but each for different reasons. Avril is looking for Mario Williams type money on the open market and will not find anything close to that. I can see the Lions bringing him back at around three years, $10ish million a year. With Kyle Vanden Bosch being let go, the Lions will need pass rushers so retaining Avril should be their first priority. Michael Johnson is underrated. The man knows how to get to the quarterback. I expect the Bengals to franchise tag this man and would be wise to do so. Bennett is a great fit for Tampa Bay. He's great in run defense and can get to the quarterback. With Adrian Clayborn coming back from injury and Daquan Bowers potential legal trouble, Tampa can ill afford to let him leave. Freeney and Umenyiora are both coming off down seasons I see both going to well established teams who could use them. Freeney would be great going back to another 4-3 team and being a third-down pass rusher for the already dangerous Broncos defense would be devastating. Plus, it wouldn't hurt being Peyton's teammate again. The Cowboys could use a 4-3 end to play in their system now that Monte Kiffin is the defensive coordinator in the big D. Playing on the opposite end of Demarcus Ware could revive Osi and cause both men to put up big numbers in the sack category.
Henry Melton- Bears, Randy Starks- Dolphins, Glenn Dorsey- Buccaneers, Jason Jones- Seahawks
Great young class of tackles this year. Unfortunately for most teams, I see this years big fishes staying put with the exception of Glenn Dorsey. Melton and Starks are incredibly valuable to their teams and the Bears and Dolphins respectively would be fools to let these young tackles get away. Both are disruptive forces on the inside. I expect Melton to be tagged and Starks to get a three-year deal. Jason Jones is another young, up-and-coming lineman mostly used last year as a rotational guy in Seattle. I expect plenty of competition for the services of Jones, but I see his best fit in Seattle on a two or three-year deal and receiving more playing time. The only player I see moving in my predictions is Glenn Dorsey to the Buccaneers. The Bucs have plenty of a cap space. After letting Roy Miller go free this offseason, the Buccaneers could use another tackle to play along side Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy. Adding Dorsey to McCoy, a solid run stuffer with some pass rushing potential, would definitely help out along that young Buccaneers front 4.
Paul Kruger- Ravens, Connor Barwin- Colts, Daryl Smith- Bills, Thomas Howard- Bengals
Two pass rushing linebackers and two conventional linebackers. Two making some big moves with two staying with their current teams. Let's take a look at the two I selected to stay with their current teams. Thomas Howard is an outstanding and underrated linebacker in the NFL. He has a solid all-around game and that's why I expect the Bengals to keep him. He'll match up with break out rookie Vontaze Burfict in the middle of the Bengals defence. Signing Paul Kruger should be the Ravens' main focus after getting Joe Flacco's contract down. Kruger is a solid young pass rusher. He shouldn't break the bank to keep and will give you great numbers across from Terrell Suggs. Daryl Smith is the perfect linebacker for the Bills to pick up this off season. Why is that you ask? Because he is 100x better then anything the Bills have on their roster at linebacker. Smith is solid in all phases of the game. He will really help out that ever-improving Bills' defense. The shocking move of the offseason is the Texans letting Barwin slip away to division-rival Indianapolis. The Colts, needing to replace a mismatched Dwight Freeney since they switched to a 3-4 last year, pick up a younger and more suitable replacement in Barwin. Also, he will get to play Houston twice a year and that will be more motivation for the young man.
Rey Maualuga- Ravens, Dannell Ellerbe- Browns, Brian Urlacher- Bears
Mixed bag here of linebackers: a young, up-and-comer; a former USC star who had a miserable last season; and a ravaged former superstar linebacker. Rey Maualuga is coming off a terrible year in Cincinnati where he was taken advantage in the run and a passing game. But, he's not as bad as he was last year. I see him moving over to division-rival Baltimore to take over for retiring Ray Lewis. He isn't Ray, but he is a solid linebacker who can fill in for several years while the Ravens look for their next defensive captain. Speaking of players going to division rivals, Dannell Ellerbe to the Browns would be a fantastic boost to Cleveland's linebacking core to add to D'Qwell Jackson. It will also hurt the Ravens in the process. While I believe the Ravens will try everything they can to resign him, I think Flacco and Kruger will take most of the money leaving the Ravens with little cap space left to resign Dannell. Brian Urlacher is a Bear for life, and that is all I will say about that, even with the new coach.
Aqib Talib- Patriots, Sean Smith- Colts, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie- Buccaneers, Brent Grimes- Steelers
Aqib Talib, former number 1 pick for the Buccaneers and recent pick up by the Patriots, would be best served staying in an environment where he is closely monitored and has plenty of veteran presence. Talib was thriving in New England after the trade from Tampa and should remain there if he is smart, which he is not. So expect this prediction to be wrong. The Colts would be reuniting the former Dolphins corner backs in Sean Smith and Vontae Davis for one of the best young corner back tandems in the NFL, that is if the Dolphins do not franchise him. DRC would be a great fit in Tampa. They need a number 1 corner back in the worse kind of way, and he is still young and a ball hawk. We shall see if Coach Greg Schiano can make him tackle though. Brent Grimes would be a solid pick up for the Steelers who need to get younger on this side of the ball. He's a solid tackler and man-to-man player would be a great number 2 to Ike Taylor in Pittsburgh.
Jairus Byrd- Buffalo, Dashon Goldson- 49ers, Ed Reed- Eagles, Charles Woodson- Patriots
Buffalo's defence would take a massive hit without Byrd playing center field or in the box for Buffalo. Look for the tag to be used on him, or a long term contract. Goldson has been a terrifying player for the 49ers, going to Pro Bowl this year and just being a monster for San Francisco. Last year, he was franchised by the team. Expect them to try to hammer out a multi-year deal before the deadline for the tag. If not, expect another tag followed by negotiations to hammer out a deal to keep Dashon there for many years. I don't expect Ed Reed to be back with the Ravens with the deal that it will require him to re-sign. I expect the Eagles to be in play for the future Hall of Famer. Their safety play since Brian Dawkins left has been abysmal. So, scooping up Reed, even if he isn't at the level he once was, would be a major coup for Chip Kelly. Charles Woodson, another Canton-bound player, would be a perfect fit for the Patriots. He's a solid veteran with plenty of big game experience. Woodson would help on the back end at safety where the Pats struggled to find consistency this year. Playing next to Devin McCourty should also help him in his development and help Aqib Talib stay in line.
That is my preview for the free agents for this coming off season in the NFL, stay tuned to Sports By Schmucks for my first mock draft post NFL combine!