Age as of 9/1/10. “(UFA-CBA)” represents a player that will become an unrestricted free agent if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is put into place. Otherwise, free agents will be considered with a more realistic outlook of a 2010 season without a CBA in place.
Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers (30)
Playing on a franchise tender, an enormous one-year contract, Peppers has returned to a high level, just not in line with the money. With 10.5 sacks this season and unrelenting pressure, Peppers reached double-digit sacks for the 6th time in his career. The offseason will be interesting because Peppers no longer carries the reputation for being the league’s most feared end, primarily because he’s fairly inconsistent and fairly one-dimension in comparison to say, Jared Allen. Last year vocalized his desires to stand up in a 3-4 defense. This year, we’ll see how the Panthers handle his expiring contract because a tag doesn’t seem financially feasible. A tag and trade including a restructured contract is one option, but paying him in excess of $20 million, due to a 120% raise required could be the penalty if the Panthers can’t find any suitors. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and should receive less than half that amount per year if he signs a long-term extension.
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers (30)
Kampman’s struggles to OLB were blown out of proportion. Through 9 games, he did a fairly decent job considering he had been given a role unfamiliar to him. The former Pro Bowler suffered a knee injury in Week 11 against San Francisco requiring surgery and was placed on the IR a couple weeks later. 7th round rookie Brad Jones did an ample job as his replacement, playing the position with remarkable awareness and immeasurably better athleticism. Kampman’s rehab is far ahead of schedule, which will give the team an interesting decision to make this offseason. The natural decision seems that they’ll part ways, but don’t bank on it because the coaching staff was very high on him pre-injury. He is of an age where defensive ends start to go downhill though.
Leonard Little, St. Louis Rams (35)
At 35, Leonard Little is still giving the Rams some solid production from the end position. Under Steve Spagnuolo, Little has started the first 13 games this year before not dressing for the final 3. He recorded 6.5 sacks and a pick six in the process. For the one time elite defensive end, it’s the most productive season he’s had in 3 years when he notched 12.5 sacks. There’s little left in the tank and it’s unsure whether the Rams will renew his contract Little has been a career-long Ram, so that may factor into his plans if St. Louis does decide to let him walk. Though he hasn’t spoken of retirement, it’s a possibility. Little lives in Carolina so playing for his home team could also be an option for him.
Adewale Ogunleye, Chicago Bears (33)
Ogunleye started the first 14 games at left defensive end for the Bears this season, before sitting out the final two. He notched 6.5 sacks on the season, breaking last year’s total of 5. He led the team in that category. With the sudden and tragic loss of Gaines Adams, the Bears should have more incentive to keep Ogunleye around until they can find some consistent production from the position.
Elvis Dumervil, Denver Broncos (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Dumervil has become one of the league’s best pass rushers, leading the league in sacks with 17. He excels in using his long arms and hands to keep defenders off his body, despite his unconventional proportions. The Broncos will find a way to retain their most prized asset on defense, probably by throwing high-end outside linebacker coin in his direction. Dumervil has already exceeded 40 sacks and is one forced fumble away from 10 in his short 4-year career. One thing that may prevent him from getting the type of contract he may ask for is that Dumervil is pretty one-dimensional and is moved around a lot to allow him to attack the weakest points of a defense.
Ray Edwards, Minnesota Vikings (25) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Jared Allen and the two Williams men up front have paved way for left end Ray Edwards to emerge this season. In fact, according to the stats, teams have actually had more difficult running over his side than at Jared Allen. Edwards also has 8.5 sacks and 6 stuffs in the regular season. In the first game of the playoffs, Edwards stepped up his play and proved to be a nuisance nearly every play, recording 3 sacks and 2 stuffs in the game. The Vikings should keep try to keep the league’s best pass rush in tact by re-signing the former Purdue standout. Edwards is a complete defensive end who will have a number of interested teams this offseason as the best young and complete defensive end on the market.
Johnny Jolly, Green Bay Packers (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Johnny Jolly quietly put together a great season at defensive end for Green Bay’s front line under Capers’ scheme. Jolly is very active up front playing contain and peeling off blocks to make plays himself near the line of scrimmage. He had 10 batted passes this year and an interception, showing that he’s very active with his hands. Jolly excels against the run, but doesn’t give much in the form of a pass rush. He’s played his best ball at defensive end in the 3-4, but has the size and ability to play some reps at nose tackle. The uncapped season could give the Packers the opportunity to retain a number of their players in restricted free agency, otherwise will probably be left with some options on who to pay and who to let walk.
Marcus Spears, Dallas Cowboys (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Spears has done a good job for the Cowboys on the left side and his solid season has shown partly through the improvement made by OLB Anthony Spencer behind him. He does a better job playing the run than the getting after the quarterback. Spears is a solid, but unspectacular. He won’t command the price tag of Chris Canty from last season, but will be one of the 3-4 ends with good value this offseason.
Other Notable Free Agents:
Mark Anderson, Chicago Bears (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Derrick Burgess, New England Patriots (32)
Phillip Daniels, Washington Redskins (37)
Ryan Denney, Buffalo Bills (33)
Jarvis Green, New England Patriots (31)
James Hall, St. Louis Rams (33)
Reggie Hayward, Jacksonville Jaguars (31)
Jason Hunter, Detroit Lions (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Jevon Kearse, Tennessee Titans (33)
Travis Kirschke, Pittsburgh Steelers (35)
Anthony Montgomery, Washington Redskins (26)
Chike Okeafor, Arizona Cardinals (34)
Darryl Tapp, Seattle Seahawks (25) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Kyle Vanden Bosch, Tennessee Titans (31)
Top Defensive Tackles:
Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots (28)
The Patriots acknowledged being unable to keep both of their elite defensive linemen by trading away Richard Seymour, freeing up enough money to retain Vince Wilfork. Wilfork is one of the league’s premier nose tackles and one of the cornerstones for the Patriots’ defense. The Pats shouldn’t waste much time and begin working on a long-term extension to keep him in New England. He’s already gone on the record saying he won’t be pleased if the Patriots use the franchise tag on him, but that doesn’t mean the Patriots won’t use it as a last resort if the two sides can’t agree to a deal. Wilfork moving elsewhere would be among the biggest shocks in free agency regardless of the outcomes.
Richard Seymour, Oakland Raiders (30)
Seymour has been coined one of the best defensive linemen of the decade and had at one time made himself a fixture in Honolulu. An injury and a slight drop-off in his play altered his image around the league, but is still undoubtedly one of the best talents on the defensive line. Seymour has the ability and experience of playing 4-3 DT and 3-4 DE. He excels in run defense, but also has the ability to apply pressure and collapse the pocket. With his move to Oakland, the defensive line had been injected with a burst of energy and has performed pretty well down the stretch. Seymour didn’t seem too excited about being blindsided in a trade to Oakland, but has said he is interested in returning to Oakland and has begun contract talks with Al Davis. If a deal isn’t reach, expect the Raiders to apply the franchise tag on Seymour.
Aubrayo Franklin, San Francisco 49ers (30)
Franklin has emerged as one of the elite nose tackles this year, helping the 49ers to field one of the best run defenses in the league this year. He doesn’t provide much against the pass, but is able to occupy blockers and hold at the point of attack with good technique and leverage. Teammate Patrick Willis is one of a number of Niners on defense that eagerly anticipates Franklin to stick around in the long-term. If the Niners can’t reach a deal with Franklin, they’re expected to use the franchise tag on him.
Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers (32)
Hampton played well again this season, just outside of an elite level, and remains one of the best 5-7 nose tackles in the NFL. With an expiring contract, Steelers’ owner Art Rooney has made it clear that re-signing Hampton will be one of the team’s top priorities this season. The Steelers finished, once again, with one of the best run defenses in the NFL with Casey Hampton anchoring the front line. With a number of teams making the switch to the 3-4 without a proper nose tackle, Hampton’s salary could skyrocket as an unrestricted free agent. The team has promised not to use the franchise tag on him this year.
Ryan Pickett, Green Bay Packers (30)
Under Dom Capers, the Packers defense has made a complete transformation into a new unit. The most impressive turnaround comes from the defensive line and the front 7’s ability to stop the run. Pickett has turned around his career in Green Bay and done a fantastic job at NT on run downs, where almost all of his snaps have come. First round pick BJ Raji saw seeing most of the snaps in passing situations. Though Pickett isn’t nearly an every down nose tackle, he’s one of the underrated nose tackles on the market. If his price ends up being out of the range for Ted Thompson, the Packers could feasibly turn to their top 10 selection and hope he performs at a high level. The first among Wilfork, Franklin, and Hampton should set a good asking price for the other free agents.
Tony Brown, Tennessee Titans (29) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
While some of the Titans’ defensive line has struggled this season, Tony Brown hasn’t been one of them. He’s one of the underrated defensive tackles in the league and one of the best pass rushers from the interior. In fact, he unofficially led interior linemen in quarterback pressures. He is a quick, penetrating under-tackle that the Titans are expected to re-sign. After losing Haynesworth last year, losing Tony Brown would be a big blow to the front line.
Other Notable Free Agents:
Kendrick Clancy, New Orleans Saints (32)
Barry Cofield, New York Giants (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Jason Ferguson, Miami Dolphins (35)
Kedric Golston, Washington Redskins (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Tank Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals (28)
Travis Johnson, San Diego Chargers (28) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Fred Robbins, New York Giants (33)
Clifton Ryan, St. Louis Rams (26) – Exclusive Rights FA
Tank Tyler, Carolina Panthers (25) – Restricted FA