2010 free-agent preview: Defensive linemen

This is the second in a series of position-by-position analyses of the best players who may be available on the NFL’s open market when free agency opens on March 5.

The Peppers game

As the Panthers’ franchise player last season, Julius Peppers made $16.7 million. Based on his production from 2009, that turned out to be about $1.6 million per sack. Unlikely to be tagged again (UPDATE: Reports Monday night said he won’t be) and back on the open market, he’ll command a contract that rivals that of some top quarterbacks.

With Julius Peppers all but done in Charlotte, teams must balance concerns over his price tag with his productivity.
With Julius Peppers all but done in Charlotte, teams must balance concerns over his price tag with his productivity.

In addition to his price tag, there are other concerns about Peppers. Critics have often questioned whether he plays with the same drive on every snap.

Although Peppers has said he’s flexible to a move to 3-4 outside linebacker, there is a concern if he can be effective in that role.

Former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley, an ESPN analyst, thinks Peppers, at 6-7, 283 and a former basketball player, has athleticism to do very well, but that’s only part of the equation.

"You never how that will translate into coverage," and "It’s a lot different when you’re one-on-one with backs or tight ends."

The Patriots have been a popular rumored suitor, even though a splashy, expensive acquisition hasn’t been their typical offseason approach.

A good nose is hard to find

There’s a big reason the Patriots and Steelers enjoyed great play from their three-man fronts over the past decade: They both have had strong, consistent nose tackles in Vince Wilfork and Casey Hampton.

Wilfork, Hampton and 49ers rising star Aubrayo Frankllin are all set to get tagged as franchise players, and there’s a chance another 3-4 nose tackle, Green Bay’s Ryan Pickett also gets that designation.

With so many other teams joining the Packers in a recent switch to a three-man front — such as Denver, Miami and now Buffalo — it’s become all the more important to lock up that interior linchpin.

"When teams find that nose tackle, they tend to not let him go," said an NFC team’s director of pro personnel. "It’s such a rare commodity and a hard position to fill."

Because of that, it may leave teams like the Dolphins hoping they can convert a solid 4-3 Tackle — such as the the Giants’ Barry Cofield — into a nose.

Do the hustle

If a team is looking for a high-effort, experienced pass rusher, and it can look past age and previous knee injuries, there is short-term help available.

 
Free agency at a glance
Franchise tag deadline: Feb. 25
Free agency begins: March 5
Unrestricted: A player with six or more years of continuous NFL service
Restricted: A player with three years of continuous NFL service
CBA: Fourth- and fifth-year players will become "restricted’ free agents unless there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place by March 5

Aaron Kampman is coming off a tough year in Green Bay. The transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker didn’t suit the strengths of the two-time double-digit sack producer, and a torn ACL cut short his season after nine games. At 30, he’d be best back at end, where he can fight hard to get upfield and not worry about coverage.

"There’s a comfort level there that comes with confidence," Wiley said of Kampman. "He’s obviously familiar with rushing the quarterback well in a 4-3."

For a slightly older option, there’s Kampman’s fellow Iowan Kyle Vanden Bosch, 31. Like Kampman, Vanden Bosch always hustles and can still contribute well to a team with an aggressive scheme.

It’s OK to stay, Ray

One of the most frustrated free agents among those affected by the players-owners rift is Vikings end Ray Edwards. Only 25, Edwards may not be able to cash in the way he would like for the long term after a breakthrough career-high 8 ½ -sack fourth season.

Although Edwards likely won’t get to take on the challenge of trying to succeed away from Minnesota’s front four, remaining another year in a favorable situation may end up boosting his value in 2011.

"Few young linemen ever get a chance to play along with players such as Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams," Wiley said. "He’s better off staying put with that defensive line and improving over another season."

The top 10

1. Vince Wilfork DT, Patriots (F)
2. Julius Peppers DE, Panthers (UFA)
3. Ray Edwards DE, Vikings*
4. Marcus Spears DE, Cowboys*
5. Aaron Kampman DE, Packers (UFA)
6. Aubrayo Franklin DT, 49ers (F)
7. Richard Seymour DE, Raiders (F)
8. Casey Hampton DE, Steelers (F)
9. Barry Cofield DT, Giants*
10. Kyle Vanden Bosch DE, Titans (UFA)
UFA=will be an unrestricted free agent
*=will be restricted without new CBA

 

And one more to watch

DT Shaun Rogers, Browns
He’s 30, and with his massive, 6-4, 350-pound frame, he tends to wear down late in games, which limits his snaps. But when he’s on the field against the run, he eats up plenty of space. If he doesn’t move to end in Cleveland, he might be moved for a high draft pick.

A means to a 3-4 end

For the many teams using a 3-4 defense, it’s not easy finding that big nose tackle or a top-flight edge pass rusher at outside linebacker. Luckily, another specialty player is created by that front, the tackle-like, blocker-absorbing end.

The best of that group, Marcus Spears, will be back with the Cowboys, but options set to hit the market include the Jets’ Marques Douglas, the Patriots’ Jarvis Green and the Ravens’ Dwan Edwards.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

This is the second in a series of position-by-position analyses of the best players who may be available on the NFL’s open market when free agency opens on March 5.

The Peppers game

As the Panthers’ franchise player last season, Julius Peppers made $16.7 million. Based on his production from 2009, that turned out to be about $1.6 million per sack. Unlikely to be tagged again (UPDATE: Reports Monday night said he won’t be) and back on the open market, he’ll command a contract that rivals that of some top quarterbacks.

With Julius Peppers all but done in Charlotte, teams must balance concerns over his price tag with his productivity.
With Julius Peppers all but done in Charlotte, teams must balance concerns over his price tag with his productivity.

In addition to his price tag, there are other concerns about Peppers. Critics have often questioned whether he plays with the same drive on every snap.

Although Peppers has said he’s flexible to a move to 3-4 outside linebacker, there is a concern if he can be effective in that role.

Former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley, an ESPN analyst, thinks Peppers, at 6-7, 283 and a former basketball player, has athleticism to do very well, but that’s only part of the equation.

"You never how that will translate into coverage," and "It’s a lot different when you’re one-on-one with backs or tight ends."

The Patriots have been a popular rumored suitor, even though a splashy, expensive acquisition hasn’t been their typical offseason approach.

A good nose is hard to find

There’s a big reason the Patriots and Steelers enjoyed great play from their three-man fronts over the past decade: They both have had strong, consistent nose tackles in Vince Wilfork and Casey Hampton.

Wilfork, Hampton and 49ers rising star Aubrayo Frankllin are all set to get tagged as franchise players, and there’s a chance another 3-4 nose tackle, Green Bay’s Ryan Pickett also gets that designation.

With so many other teams joining the Packers in a recent switch to a three-man front — such as Denver, Miami and now Buffalo — it’s become all the more important to lock up that interior linchpin.

"When teams find that nose tackle, they tend to not let him go," said an NFC team’s director of pro personnel. "It’s such a rare commodity and a hard position to fill."

Because of that, it may leave teams like the Dolphins hoping they can convert a solid 4-3 Tackle — such as the the Giants’ Barry Cofield — into a nose.

Do the hustle

If a team is looking for a high-effort, experienced pass rusher, and it can look past age and previous knee injuries, there is short-term help available.

 
Free agency at a glance
Franchise tag deadline: Feb. 25
Free agency begins: March 5
Unrestricted: A player with six or more years of continuous NFL service
Restricted: A player with three years of continuous NFL service
CBA: Fourth- and fifth-year players will become "restricted’ free agents unless there is a new collective bargaining agreement in place by March 5

Aaron Kampman is coming off a tough year in Green Bay. The transition from 4-3 end to 3-4 outside linebacker didn’t suit the strengths of the two-time double-digit sack producer, and a torn ACL cut short his season after nine games. At 30, he’d be best back at end, where he can fight hard to get upfield and not worry about coverage.

"There’s a comfort level there that comes with confidence," Wiley said of Kampman. "He’s obviously familiar with rushing the quarterback well in a 4-3."

For a slightly older option, there’s Kampman’s fellow Iowan Kyle Vanden Bosch, 31. Like Kampman, Vanden Bosch always hustles and can still contribute well to a team with an aggressive scheme.

It’s OK to stay, Ray

One of the most frustrated free agents among those affected by the players-owners rift is Vikings end Ray Edwards. Only 25, Edwards may not be able to cash in the way he would like for the long term after a breakthrough career-high 8 ½ -sack fourth season.

Although Edwards likely won’t get to take on the challenge of trying to succeed away from Minnesota’s front four, remaining another year in a favorable situation may end up boosting his value in 2011.

"Few young linemen ever get a chance to play along with players such as Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams," Wiley said. "He’s better off staying put with that defensive line and improving over another season."

The top 10

1. Vince Wilfork DT, Patriots (F)
2. Julius Peppers DE, Panthers (UFA)
3. Ray Edwards DE, Vikings*
4. Marcus Spears DE, Cowboys*
5. Aaron Kampman DE, Packers (UFA)
6. Aubrayo Franklin DT, 49ers (F)
7. Richard Seymour DE, Raiders (F)
8. Casey Hampton DE, Steelers (F)
9. Barry Cofield DT, Giants*
10. Kyle Vanden Bosch DE, Titans (UFA)
UFA=will be an unrestricted free agent
*=will be restricted without new CBA

 

And one more to watch

DT Shaun Rogers, Browns
He’s 30, and with his massive, 6-4, 350-pound frame, he tends to wear down late in games, which limits his snaps. But when he’s on the field against the run, he eats up plenty of space. If he doesn’t move to end in Cleveland, he might be moved for a high draft pick.

A means to a 3-4 end

For the many teams using a 3-4 defense, it’s not easy finding that big nose tackle or a top-flight edge pass rusher at outside linebacker. Luckily, another specialty player is created by that front, the tackle-like, blocker-absorbing end.

The best of that group, Marcus Spears, will be back with the Cowboys, but options set to hit the market include the Jets’ Marques Douglas, the Patriots’ Jarvis Green and the Ravens’ Dwan Edwards.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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