By Sean Haugh.
The free agent market on the defensive side of the ball should be relatively quiet this year.
While there are some very big names on the market, in many cases the incentive is there on both sides to do whatever it takes to keep those guys in the same uniforms.
Here are the top impact defensive players on the market with my prediction on what colors they’ll be wearing in September.
1. DT Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee
The conventional wisdom is the Titans painted themselves in a corner by promising Haynesworth they would not place the franchise tag on him again this year. But practically it may not matter much, as Haynesworth is clearly worth top dollars.
Remember, at the time they franchised him last year, he was still trying to live down his head stomp on Andre Gurode, in some minor trouble with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and frequently sounding off like a volatile "Prima Donna". Given those character red flags, the Titans used the tag to give him a one year “prove it” deal...
And prove it he did. Not only did the character issues subside, when Haynesworth was out injured Tennessee clearly was not the same team. The Titans don’t make a habit of signing huge contracts, but management saw the same things we did this season.
Haynesworth and his agent have all the cards in this negotiation, but I doubt the Titans will complain about it too much. Expect them to announce a new long-term deal at the beginning of free agency.
Next year’s team: Tennessee.
2. DE Julius Peppers, Carolina
Carolina and Baltimore are the two teams who have the biggest free agent issues this offseason. Besides Peppers, the Panthers also need to reach a new deal with last year’s franchise tag winner, OT Jordan Gross.
Carolina made a strong statement when they signed CB Chris Gamble to an extension in late November. By taking care of Gamble already, they’re well on their way to solving their free agent quandary.
They probably will wrap up Peppers and Gross with equal efficiency, but that would pretty much take them off the market for any remaining free agents. Not that the Panthers would mind such a result. They prefer to build through the draft and rarely go after big money free agents they didn’t develop themselves.
The rumor now is that Peppers will get the franchise tag. We sportswriters talk about that as if it’s the easy way out. However, the reality is the tag comes with its own complications. The fact that only half dozen teams a year use it demonstrates that it really is only a measure of last resort. It won’t get that far in Carolina.
Next year’s team: Carolina.
3. DE Terrell Suggs, Baltimore
There’s a reason why Defensive Ends rank 1-2-3 on this list. There are fewer top DEs in the league than there are teams, so when you get one you generally hang onto him at almost all costs.
Suggs is at the end of his rookie deal and only 26. He is the premier DE/OLB hybrid in the league and perfect for the system they run in Baltimore. Unlike the Panthers, I expect the Ravens to let some of their big names go.
But not Suggs. He may be less famous than some names further down the list but no one overshadows his value to this team on the field. With so many other contracts to negotiate this year, and so many other teams that will want him, Suggs may well be the first player to have the tag slapped on him just so Baltimore can take him off the market.
Next year’s team: Baltimore (franchise tag).
4. CB Nnamadi Asomugha, Oakland
Even rarer than the franchise DE is the shutdown corner. Asomugha was so effective that he became invisible to the average football fan by 2007. I get the feeling we heard more about him this year simply because commentators felt compelled to remind everyone how talented he is.
The Raiders franchised him last year and rumor has it they will again this year. But it won’t be so easy this time. Asomugha has been making noises about wanting out of the trainwreck in Oakland and I can’t say as I blame him. These will easily be the most dramatic negotiations of the offseason.
It’s not in his nature, but Asomugha is smart enough to realize that if he makes a big enough stink he may be able to buy his freedom from the Raiders. Of course, it will help if another team is willing to throw a draft pick or two Oakland’s way. I think Asomugha will be successful in his ploy, and am looking forward to the entertainment.
Next year’s team: Atlanta.
5. LB Ray Lewis, Baltimore
GreaWhat, Ray Lewis ranks below Terrell Suggs? Well, it depends on how you measure it. I’ll bet 31 of the other 31 teams in the league would rather have Suggs as a player. But no one sums up the identity of the Ravens more than Lewis.
Baltimore has become a very comfortable place for Lewis. His team kept faith with him even when he was...
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