|Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings. (US PRESSWIRE)|
By Ryan Wilson
Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive tackles.
Unlike our previous free-agent breakdowns, the defensive tackles lack big names and depth; but that doesn't mean their roles have diminished. Getting into the backfield is more important now than ever, and while sacks aren't necessarily a hallmark of the position, disrupting what the offense wants to do certainly is. And that's where some of the names below excel.
1. Paul SoliaiBreakdown: Soliai spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Dolphins. They thought so much of him that they franchised him before the 2011 season. The two sides have yet to agree on a long-term deal, although it isn't from a lack of trying. With the Dolphins likely switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the nose tackle looks to be headed for free agency. Six-four, 355-pound space-eaters seldom have trouble finding work and we suspect that'll be the case for Soliai, too.
Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Chargers, other 3-4 teams with cap room and a need for a nose tackle.
2. Sione PouhaBreakdown: The Jets' defense wasn't the reason the team imploded down the stretch last season, but the unit wasn't as good as it had been during Rex Ryan's first two seasons in New York. Luckily, the Mark Sanchez-Santonio Holmes afterschool special obscured all that. But locker-room catfights aside, the Jets' defense has to get better in 2012 and that starts up the middle. Pouha is a run-stuffing nose tackle who at 33 shows no signs of slowing down. Because of the Jets' precarious salary-cap situation, they have no plans to tag Pouha, but as the Newark Star-Ledger's Jenny Vrentas noted last week, "Pouha is coming off a strong season and also has leverage because Kenrick Ellis, last year's third-round draft pick, is not yet ready for the role."
Possible landing spots: Patriots, Chargers, Chiefs.
3. Jason JonesBreakdown: Jones is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. At 6-5, 276, he might appear undersized for the tackle position but he had 12.5 sacks playing primarily inside during his first three seasons. But under a new coaching staff in 2011, Jones played both tackle and end and saw his numbers slip (he had just three sacks). Following the season, he admitted that how the Titans plan to use him could determine the likelihood he re-signs. Earlier this month, Titans head coach Mike Munchak said (via the Tennessean) “We’re going to use him whatever way we think is best to win football games. Obviously, if we felt leaving him at defensive tackle for every snap was the way to go, we would have done that. We didn’t do that. So now it’s just a matter of us having the right mix and having him feel good about it."
The Titans and Jones have begun contract talks but he appears headed for free agency.
Possible landing spots: Eagles, Broncos, Colts.
4. Antonio GarayBreakdown: Word on the street is that the Chargers will release defensive end Luis Castillo and hope to re-sign Garay and Tommie Harris (though both will be allowed to test free agency). At 32, Garay's best days may be behind him, but at the right price he makes a lot of sense. Pro Football Weekly noted several weeks ago that "Many believe Garay wore down at the end of the year, as he was not used to playing three downs for an entire season. With a capable backup in place, a better rotation would allow the lineman to stay fresh for the entire grind of the year."
The nose tackle rotation would include 2010 fifth-rounder Cam Thomas.
Possible landing spots: Defenses running the 3-4 and looking for a savvy, reasonably priced, two-down veteran. Patriots, Steelers, Cardinals.
5. Brodrick BunkleyBreakdown: Bunkley washed out as the Eagles' 2006 first-round pick but experienced a rebirth of sorts in Denver last season. "There was at least some injury concern when Bunkley went to the Broncos," the Denver Post's Jeff Legwold wrote earlier this month, "but once he arrived, he didn't miss a practice on the way to playing in every game in the 2011 season. His statistics were modest on the surface — 43 tackles and no sacks — but his teammates, particularly the ones who have been with the Broncos for a while, say he was a key part of any improvement the team made defensively over 2010."
Team president John Elway, taking a break from talking Tim Tebow, offered this. "He really played well. Like all of our free agents, we would like to get them back in the building and consider (re-signing them)."
Possible landing spots: Broncos, cash-strapped teams looking for affordable depth.
6. Aubrayo FranklinBreakdown: New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to decide whether Franklin is worth re-signing but if not, Franklin could have a future as a nose tackle. "The nine-year veteran signed just a one-year, $4 million contract with New Orleans in '11, playing tackle in the 4-3 after the 3-4 market never really developed for him," Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli wrote in mid-February. "Two personnel directors at the Super Bowl last week mentioned Franklin as a possible 'sleeper' at the position." Which means Franklin could be in demand with 3-4 teams, or teams looking to move to the 3-4.
Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers, Redskins.
7. Shaun RogersBreakdown: Remember when Rogers did this? (Tebow never lets that happen, by the way.) After stints in Cleveland and New Orleans, Rogers had developed a reputation for taking plays off. In 2011, he got off to a slow start with the Saints but improved as the season progressed. New Orleans could choose to give him a short-term deal, but it's just as likely that Rogers is headed for free agency.
Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Saints.
8. Amobi OkoyeBreakdown: Okoye was 19 years old when the Texans took him out of Louisville in the first round of the 2007 draft (10th overall). He never lived up to expectations in Houston, and Chicago signed him to a one-year deal before the 2011 season. He played in 16 games for the Bears and had 18 tackles and four sacks. Last week, head coach Lovie Smith said "Amobi had a heck of a year," and sounded like the organization would make a real effort to keep him. On Sunday, CSNChicago.com's John Mullin wrote that "the Bears had contract talks late last season (with Okoye) and likely will have re-signed before the outset of free agency."
Possible landing spots: Chicago.
9. Albert Haynesworth
The Bucs signed him only to release him a few weeks ago. Maybe his career is over, but then again, coaches and GMs are seduced by potential. And Haynesworth certainly has plenty of that.
Possible landing spots: Realistically, Haynesworth's probably done. That said, we wouldn't be shocked if the Redskins signed him to another $100 million deal.
10. Tommie HarrisBreakdown: Injuries derailed a great career in the making for the Bears' former first-round pick. Chicago released Harris before the 2011 season, and after a brief stopover with the Colts, he made a home in San Diego. He played so well, in fact, that the Chargers are hoping to re-sign him and Garay to provide depth for a crop of young defensive linemen.
Possible landing spots: Teams looking for depth.
Honorable mentionRocky Bernard, Kelly Gregg (possible retirement), Pat Sims, Jimmy Kennedy, Kyle Love (RFA), Trevor Laws
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