NFL free agent preview: The DL

Packer Report continues its look at free agency with the defensive line, where 3-4 help is hard to find. Albert Haynesworth headlines the defensive tackles, while Dallas' Chris Canty fits the bill as a proven 3-4 defensive end.

Packer Report continues its position-by-position preview of free agency with the defensive line. The deadline to name franchise players was Feb. 19, and free agency begins on Friday.

The Packers' needs:

A 3-4 defense requires — you guessed it! — three linemen. The Packers could use help at each of those positions.

Ryan Pickett is big and strong enough to at least be OK at nose tackle. But the Packers surely could use another body, even if they can re-sign free agent Colin Cole. Problem is, Cole is one of the few players on the market who could play nose tackle in a 3-4, though he might be better at end. The defensive ends are a sore point, too, with Cullen Jenkins coming off a season-ending chest injury and Johnny Jolly's lingering legal cloud. Even if both can play all 16 games, depth is needed here, too.

Big-ticket items:

— Defensive tackle: There isn't a bigger-ticket item in free agency than the Titans' Albert Haynesworth, the rare player who can stop the run and rush the passer. With teams flush with money — especially after the salary cap went up an extra $4 million over the expected $123 million — and there being so few difference-making players available, Haynesworth is almost certain to be the highest-paid defensive player in league history. The Buccaneers, at some $60 million under the cap and with their history of taking chances on players with character questions, seem poised to pounce.

— Defensive end: The Panthers made Julius Peppers their franchise player, which no doubt will lead to a blockbuster trade before the draft. Peppers has four teams on his wish list, and we hear the Packers aren't one of them. But, money talks. In addition to the money, though, it likely will take more than a first-round pick to get him. ... Of the defensive linemen available this offseason, none make more sense in Green Bay than Dallas' Chris Canty (6-7, 304), who played in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense. He's an above-average starter but not great, and it will take about $8 million per year to get him.

Pricey, but a good deal:

— Defensive tackle: Seattle's Rocky Bernard (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) relies on his quickness. He had 8.5 sacks in 2005 but only 11 since, and he has served a suspension for domestic violence. He's too small to be a nose tackle and lacks ideal height to play end in a 3-4, but would be an option at DE, nonetheless, if the price is right. ... Ditto for Tampa Bay's Jovan Haye (6-2, 295). He had seven sacks in 2007 but knee injuries held him without a sack in 2008. He's got a strong motor. ... Washington restricted free agent Kedric Golston is 6-4, 320. Insiders say he has the potential to turn into a quality starter.

— Defensive end: The Cardinals' Antonio Smith is a decent pass rusher who earned a lot of money during the playoffs. Better suited to play end in a 4-3, though. ... The Packers could take a chance on Igor Olshansky, who played end — though not very well — in the Chargers' 3-4 last year. He's 6-6, 309, with 11 sacks in five seasons. Strong as an ox but has sloppy technique and needs a change of scenery.

Bargain shopping:

— Defensive tackle: There's not much here in the way of nose tackles. Arizona's Gabe Watson (6-3, 340) is a restricted free agent who almost certainly will be retained by the Cardinals. Former Packers DT Grady Jackson has the bulk and did OK for the Falcons last season. ... Tank Johnson, whose legal troubles got him run out of Chicago, played the nose for Dallas last season, but at 300 pounds, he's not big enough. ... The rest of these tackles would be better suited to play end in a 3-4, though none have experience doing so. The best days are behind Darwin Walker, but at 6-3, 294, he makes some sense at defensive end if the price is right. ... Shaun Cody (6-3, 290) never worked out as a second-round pick by Detroit. He hasn't had a sack since his rookie year in 2005. ... The Bengals' John Thornton (6-3, 297) is a tough guy but not much of a pass rusher. ... The Rams' ageless La'Roi Glover isn't suited to play in a 3-4. ... Washington's Anthony Montgomery (6-6, 315) is a restricted free agent with 21 starts over the last two seasons. He'd make a good end in a 3-4.

— Defensive end: The Packers like Michael Montgomery, but he's too small to play end in a 3-4 and not athletic enough to move to linebacker. ... If you can't get Canty, how about Dallas' Stephen Bowen? He's a restricted free agent who has ideal size at 6-5, 304, and has played in 30 games as a reserve the last two seasons. ... The Cardinals' Bertrand Berry will be 34 by next season and Tampa Bay's Kevin Carter will be 36, but both would add something to the mix. Berry can play end in a 4-3 and outside linebacker in a 3-4, and the Packers have hinted they will do some of each. Carter is a leader who still can get to the quarterback on occasion. ... Washington's run defense improved dramatically when Demetric Evans (6-4, 287) replaced Jason Taylor in the starting lineup. ... Atlanta's Chauncey Davis (6-3, 277) doesn't fit a 3-4 scheme. ... Baltimore's Dwan Edwards (6-3, 295) missed all of last season with a back injury, and the Packers already have Justin Harrell for that role. He started 13 games in 2007, though. ... One name to remember is Pittsburgh's Orpheous Roye. He's 36 and he hasn't been a full-time starter since 2005, but he's got the size (6-4, 330) and experience as a 3-4 end. Plus, he's had two stints in Pittsburgh, and that's the basis of the new defense.

Clearance rack:

— Defensive tackle: Minnesota's Jimmy Kennedy was a first-round pick in 2003 who hasn't done anything. ... Ellis Wyms was a valuable reserve for Minnesota. ... Dewayne Robertson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, was released last week by Denver.

— Defensive end: Mike Wright is a valuable reserve with 3-4 experience in New England. ... Houston's Earl Cochran, who had a cup of coffee in Green Bay in 2003, had two sacks in eight games. ... Neither Denver veteran Ebenezer Ekuban nor Houston's Anthony Weaver are big enough for a 3-4.

Editor's note:

For a preview of the quarterbacks, click here

For a preview of the running backs, click here

For a preview of the fullbacks, click here

For a preview of the tight ends, click here

For a preview of the wide receivers, click here

For a preview of the offensive line, click here

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.


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