2005 free agency: Defensive tackles

How would an established NFL veteran who can clog running lanes and provide push in the pass rush look in the middle of the 49ers' defensive line this year? Pretty good, as most everyone would agree. The 49ers need to upgrade at defensive tackle, and one place they immediately can look is in free agency, where some established big bodies are available. But with the team switching to a 3-4 scheme, if the Niners do go shopping for a DT, it likely will be for one type of player in particular.

That player probably would have to eat up space as the nose tackle in a 3-4 set. Preliminary indications are the 49ers feel they can try third-year tackle Anthony Adams and untested Isaac Sopoaga - the team's 2004 fourth-round draft choice who missed his entire rookie season last year with a back injury - at the nose. But they'll be on the lookout for beefy players who can play that position and also tackle in a standard 3-4.

Buffalo's Pat Williams, Cincinnati's Tony Williams, Minnesota's Chris Hovan and Jason Ferguson of the New York Jets all are tackles scheduled for unrestricted free agency who could provide some extra muscle and impact force to the middle of a San Francisco line that can use a boost in that area.

There also are some lesser names available who could come in and compete for time in the regular tackle rotation and at least provide an upgrade in the team's depth at the position. If the price is right, the 49ers might target one of those players.

The Niners also will seriously consider signing one of their own veterans who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. Chris Cooper, who joined the team at midseason, started the 49ers' final two games last year in place of an injured Adams at left tackle. At 290 pounds, he has the size to play inside, but his skills might be better suited for end, which increases his value in the 3-4, where he can hold down one of the two edge positions on the front line.

Versatile Tony Brown - who showed the 49ers a few things last year after joining the team in September - is an exclusive rights free agent who falls into the same category, although he also is better suited to end. At 280 pounds, he is too small to take any kind of every-down pounding at tackle, though he has the ability to fill in at the position.

Daleroy Stewart, San Francisco's fourth tackle last year, also is scheduled for unrestricted free agency. But it's uncertain if his skills fit into the team's new defensive scheme and the 49ers are unlikely to give him an offer.

But they might be willing to spend some of their dollars targeted for free agency on someone else at this position.

Here's a list of the players scheduled to hit the open market at defensive tackle, along with comments for the unrestricted players:

2005 Free-Agent Defensive Tackles

A listing of the defensive tackles scheduled for NFL free agency in 2005. UFA=Unrestricted Free Agent; RFA=Restricted Free Agent; ERFA=Exclusive Rights Free Agent. For definitions of free-agent terms, click here. The "Best of the Bunch" is sorted by rankings from Scout.com's Lane Adkins. The "Rest of the Bunch" is sorted by free-agent type, then by most recent team. Comments provided for unrestricted free agents.
BEST OF THE BUNCH
Player Free-Agent Type 2004 Team
Pat Williams UFA Bills
Comment: With the Eagles' Corey Simon getting the franchise tag last week, Williams moves up to the top defensive tackle scheduled for free agency this year. With 474 tackles and 13 sacks, he has proven to be a very productive interior player, but the Bills might not be able to afford Williams and Sam Adams. Chances are he'll land with another team for decent money.
Jason Ferguson UFA Jets
Comment: The Jets would probably like to re-sign Ferguson, but their top priority on the defensive line in free agency will lie with getting John Abraham under contract before he hits the open market. That could mean an opportunity for another team to swoop in and steal Ferguson.
Seth Payne UFA Texans
Comment: When healthy, he's a productive player. A risky proposition, though, considering recent surgery to repair two torn tendons in his hamstring and reconstructive knee surgery in 2003.
Tony Williams UFA Bengals
Comment: A broken and dislocated ankle ended his 2004 campaign prematurely, and the Bengals have young players looking to emerge at DT.
Chris Hovan UFA Vikings
Comment: Quick defensive tackle that has struggled to disengage from blocks recently. In the right system, he could get his career back on track, but the last two years have been an outright bust with the Vikings. Won't be back in Minnesota.
Leonardo Carson UFA Cowboys
Comment: Character issues could be a concern for some teams after an opening-game suspension in 2003 because of an incident involving an ex-girlfriend.
Marcus Bell UFA Lions
Comment: A solidly built run stuffer.
Josh Evans UFA Jets
Comment: While talented, Evans would be a risk-reward signing. He had back surgery last September and was placed on injured reserve and will turn 33 early in the season.
Cedric Killings UFA Redskins
Comment: A consummate roster-bubble player.
Eric Downing RFA Chargers
James Reed UFA Jets
Comment: A decent reserve in a team's tackle rotation but likely never a starter.
Chartric Darby UFA Buccaneers
Comment: Could play either left end or tackle, but won't be a big player in the free-agent game.
Kenny Smith UFA Saints
Comment: In his first go-round in unrestricted free agency, Smith's career was on the rise with a career-high 42 tackles in 2003, but he tore a rotator cuff in training camp last year and was placed on injured reserve. He can play both end and tackle.
Derrick Ransom UFA Jaguars
Comment: A hard-working journeyman-type who has the versatility to play end on running downs.
Kelvin Pritchett UFA Lions
Comment: Getting a little long in the tooth
Lance Legree UFA Giants
Comment: Showed some versatility when he moved out to defensive end late in the season and he may need to stay there if he re-signs with the Giants.
Junior Ioane UFA Texans
Comment: After coming up with 29 tackles in 2003, Ioane only played in one game in 2004.
Luther Ellis UFA Broncos
Comment: Injuries have limited his effectiveness the last few years, so it's unlikely any team will spend much money on that gamble.
Joe Salave'a UFA Redskins
Comment: Proved that he still had some gas in the tank as a solid run stuffer with Washington in 2004. Would be a decent backup for most teams.
REST OF THE BUNCH
Player Free-Agent Type 2004 Team
Chris Cooper UFA 49ers
Comment: Can played both inside and outside and has had some shining moments in San Fran.
Daleroy Stewart UFA 49ers
Comment: Played in 15 games with the Cowboys in 2003 and spent time with the Jets and 49ers.
Monsanto Pope UFA Broncos
Comment: The former seventh-round pick has blown hot and cold. He was on the roster bubble at the end of last year's training camp, but wound up climbing the depth chart before a sprained wrist limited his time.
Devone Claybrooks UFA Cowboys
Comment: Decent pass rusher.
Alan Harper UFA Jets
Comment: A fourth-round pick in 2002, Harper hasn't been a contributor yet. He'll be a low priority in free agency.
Cullen Jenkins UFA Packers
Comment: Could start in emergency situations, but isn't big enough to handle full-time duty on the interior line. Better pass rusher than run stuffer, but a hard all-around worker.
Kendrick Clancy UFA Steelers
Comment: Spent most of his career as a backup nose tackle in Pittsburgh, but he appears to be a fit primarily for 3-4 schemes, limiting his potential suitors in free agency.
Dorsett Davis RFA Broncos
Ross Kolodziej RFA Cardinals
Dequnicy Scott RFA Chargers
Dario Romero RFA Dolphins
Ma'ake Kemoeatu RFA Ravens
Matt Zielinski RFA Ravens
Rocky Bernard RFA Seahawks
Tony Brown ERFA 49ers
Terrance Martin ERFA Bengals
Nick Eason ERFA Browns
Jon Bradley ERFA Buccaneers
Jacques Cesaire ERFA Chargers
Montique Sharpe ERFA Chiefs
Jermaine Brooks ERFA Cowboys
Kendrick Allen ERFA Giants
Jordan Carstens ERFA Panthers
Ethan Kelley ERFA Patriots
Howard Green ERFA Saints
Grant Bowman ERFA Steelers

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