In what some personnel people have assessed as only an average year in free agency, even with the inclusion of four-year veterans in the pool, there figure to be a few healthy positions. And defensive tackle, traditionally a difficult position to fill, might be one of them.
There will be a few big-name tackles, and the group will be bolstered by Kris Jenkins, who has been released by the New York Jets, and Jamal Williams, cut by the Broncos, and the likely availability of Washington's Albert Haynesworth via trade. Teams that deploy in a 3-4 might want to chase San Francisco's Aubrayo Franklin.
But there will also be a very nice group of what in some years might be adjudged a "middle level" pool of tackles, but which this season figures to draw plenty of attention. At or near the top of that group probably will be Anthony Adams of Chicago, an unrestricted free agent. Bears officials have noted that re-upping Adams will be a priority for them, and the eight-year veteran recently indicated that his preference is to remain in Chicago, if practicable.
But the Bears got Adams for the relative bargain price of $4.3 million for four years in 2007, and the veteran inside defender, who made a base salary of $900,000 in 2010, probably won't come this time at anything close to that modest price. Adams, 31, started all 16 games in '10 – only the second time in eight seasons he has started 16 games – and he proved to be a productive performer, with 37 tackles and two sacks.
Adams can play at both of the inside spots in a 4-3 front, although he isn't quite as effective on the nose, and he is going to be in surprisingly solid demand.
There are several other solid tackles available for a change in free agency – Remi Ayodele (New Orleans), Barry Cofield (New York Giants), Derek Landri (Carolina), Brandon Mebane (Seattle) and Daniel Muir (Indianapolis), among them – but Adams might get more play than any of them if he doesn't re-sign with the Bears before testing the market.
No Ordinary Joseph: Keep an eye on Cincinnati cornerback Johnathan Joseph in free agency. Although the Bengals often note his injury history, and point out that the former first-rounder (2006) has started all 16 games only once in his career, the five-year veteran has been whispered by several teams as a far less expensive (although his price won't be cheap) alternative to fellow free agent Nnamdi Asomugha.
Joseph is only 27 and, if he can stay healthy, is a solid cover guy who may not be as physical as some teams like, but who has benefitted from playing in the AFC North. The Bengals aren't going to spend the $8-$10 million per year Joseph likely could command somewhere else. Compounding the situation is that Cincinnati prefers to try to keep cornerback Leon Hall, who is entering the final season of his contract.
On a side note, people in Cincy have told The Sports Xchange that, even though recent surgery to address the neck injury suffered last season by Pacman Jones isn't considered serious by some, there remain reservations in the organization about whether the veteran corner will be able to play in 2011.
Bills due: Given that they play in one of the league's toughest divisions, it's hard at times to discern any progress achieved by the Buffalo Bills, who haven't been to the playoffs since gaining a wild card berth in 1999. But the Bills have assembled what might be one of the NFL's best young receiving corps.
"We have some guys who can go and get (the ball), and they're just going to get better," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick told The Sports Xchange. "There are guys who can run, who can come underneath, work the edges, work out of the slot, you name it."
The veterans are Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish, two players whose names have been raised in the past in trade rumors. But of the nine wide receivers currently listed on the Buffalo roster, six have three or fewer seasons of NFL experience. And the group includes 2010 leading receiver Steve Johnson (three years), along with Donald Jones and slot man David Nelson (both rookies in 2010), along with 2010 rookies Marcus Easley (who missed his entire rookie season because of injury) and Naaman Roosevelt, who has great potential.
It might be hyperbole to suggest that the Bills had put together the best young group in the league, but Fitzpatrick thinks the young wideouts can develop into "a real force."
Notebook: Depth at D-tackle on the market
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