2006 NFL Free Agents: Defensive Line
By: Thomas J Gersey
1. John Abraham, DE, New York Jets [58 tkls, 11.0 sacks, 6 FF]
One of the elite pass rushers in the league, Abraham has accumulated 53.5 sacks in his six year career. Despite gaudy sack numbers, Abraham has also shown excellent skill as a run stopper, with the speed to shut off the outside route for speedy runners. At 258 lbs, Abraham lacks the ideal size for an end, but any more size would limit his speed, which is his real strength. His first step is quick enough to beat almost any lineman, but Abraham can get repetitious in his moves, and needs to do a better job of mixing up his looks. Only 27, any team acquiring Abraham would be able to plug in an elite pass rusher for the next 5 years.
GOOD FITS: New York Jets, Minnesota, Washington, San Francisco
EARLY PICK: Abraham has been franchised repeatedly, and this year will likely be no different. With new head coach Eric Mangini, defense will again be a priority in New York, and Abraham is one of the team's cornerstones. If the Jets allow him to walk, it will take a free spender looking to upgrade significantly to lure him away. Minnesota would be a great fit where they are desparate to revamp their identity, and money will not be an object. Meanwhile, Washington has a fantastic defense, which only lacks a premier pass rusher. Expect a player like Abraham to provoke Dan Snyder into opening the pocket book.
2. Darren Howard, DE, New Orleans [33 tkls, 4.0 sacks, 2 FF]
Howard has been a bit of an enigma during his 6 years in the league. One year, he looks like the next premier pass rusher in the game. The next year he struggles to play a full season. Howard has had injury problems hte pas three years, so any team pursuing him will have to factor that in. Howard has been franchised, as well as shopped, in the past. After a year of turmoil and the hiring of an offensive minded HC, look for hte Saints to finally cut ties with Howard. He is a great athlete for his size, and has shown the ability to rush the passer consistently in the past. He is also a load, and could move to DT if needed with his 275 lbs frame. However, he is susceptible to double teams, and has trouble adjusting once he turns the corner. Still 29, if he can stay healthy he would be worth the risk. Could be had for good value with an incentive-laden deal.
GOOD FITS: OAK, ARIZ, DET, CLEV, CINCY
EARLY PICK: Oakland seems like the perfect fit. He is still young, with explosive athletic ability. He would come cheaper than in years past, though you can expect a team like the Raiders to still overpay. After hitting it big with Derrick Burgess last season, Howard could be the perfect bookend for the woeful Raiders. If not Oakland, a young team like Cincy or Arizona may snatch up Howard for a reasonable price.
3. Larry Tripplett, DT, Indianapolis [30 tkls, 4.0 sacks]
Tripplett may seem like an odd pick this high, but considering the value he may be had for, he could be the perfect fit on a contender looking to upgrade the DT position. Tripplett has good size, and the ability to shed double teams on a consistent basis. What he lacks in intensity, he makes up for with intelligence. He reads block schemes well, and anticipates plays rather than reacting to them. If he were to add strength in the weight room, he could move into the upper tier of tackles.
GOOD FITS: SEA, BUFF, IND, GB
EARLY PICK: Another Colt free agent, the first question becomes: who do they keep? If Tripplett is amongst the lucky, then expect him to resign with Indy. However, it is likely Indy will deem him replaceable, and he will get a quality offer elsewhere. Seattle has serviceable lineman, but bringing home the former UW star would seem like the perfect fit. Holes in Green Bay and Buffalo may lead Tripplett to head to one of those two rebuilding teams where money will be spent a bit more recklessly.
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