Falcons Free Agent Targets: Defensive Ends

Brian McIntyre of FalconInsider.com looks at the Falcons needs and options in free agency. Today's group: The defensive ends.

The good news for the Atlanta Falcons defensive ends was that John Abraham didn't miss a game for a second consecutive season and, for the fifth time in 9 NFL seasons, Abraham posted a double-digit sack total. Abraham's 16.5 sacks in 2008 were a career-high, and that he didn't make the Pro Bowl team was an injustice.

Also in the "Good News" department was the emergence of Chauncey Davis (38 tackles, 4 sacks) and 2008 fifth-round pick Kroy Biermann (21 total tackles, 2 sacks), who provided solid depth behind starters Abraham and Jamaal Anderson.

The bad news is that Anderson, the eighth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, hasn't developed as rapidly as the fans and Falcons had hoped. Through 31 games, and 31 starts, Anderson has just two sacks. With the attention Abraham and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux command from opposing offensive lines, Anderson's sack total should be higher than it is. Before anyone completely writes him off, though, it's important to remember that pass rushers often need time to develop and Anderson just recently turned 23. To say that his best football is ahead of him would be an understatement.

Abraham, Anderson and Biermann are under contract through 2011 (Anderson is signed through 2012), but Davis is an unrestricted free agent who the Falcons are actively trying to re-sign. Veterans Simon Fraser and Willie Evans are also under contract.

The Falcons are expected to address the defensive end position this off-season, either in the draft or free agency. Some options in free agency include:

Julius Peppers, Carolina – The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Peppers, who wants out of Carolina and onto a team that will a.) pay Carolina's exorbitant asking price for him, b.) runs the 3-4 defense, c.) is willing to play him at outside linebacker, and d.) is willing make him one of the highest paid defenders in the NFL.

That team is not the Atlanta Falcons.

Antonio Smith, Arizona – The Cardinals would like to bring Smith (6-4, 285) back for next season. Though he only has 14.5 career sacks, Smith is solid against the run and flashed some pass-rush ability during the Cardinals' Super Bowl run, including sacking Matt Ryan for a safety on Wild Card Weekend.

Michael Montgomery, Green Bay – Montgomery is another player who may not fit in the Packers' long-term plans now that they're switching to a 3-4 defense, but he's been a valuable member of the defensive end rotation and has demonstrated the ability to rush the quarterback. Last season, Montgomery started 8 games, made 57 tackles and had a career-high 2.5 sacks. He also finished 3rd on the team in quarterback hits with 6. That might not seem like a lot, but Aaron Kampman

Demetric Evans, Washington – Like Davis, Evans has been a backup for most of his career. After starting 11 games for the Redskins in 2008, the Georgia alum may be seeking more of an opportunity to start than the Falcons can provide.

Bertrand Berry, Arizona – It's been a few years since Berry has been a full-time starter, or even a player capable of staying healthy for a full 16-game regular season, but Berry could have some value as a situational pass rusher.

Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for FalconInsider.com, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.

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