The Denver Broncos are sorely needing in the defensive tackle department.
After a season where the interior run defense was poor even with the impressive play of linebacker Joe Mays and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley against opposing runners, Denver needs to address the position if the defense is to improve heading into the 2012 NFL season.
The signing of Bunkley with the New Orleans Saints and the possible departure of starter Marcus Thomas leaves Denver with a severe need of both talent and depth at defensive tackle. Ty Warren is recovering from an injury that sidelined him for the 2011 season. Like Warren, Kevin Vickerson missed much of 2011 due to injury. Ryan McBean will be suspended for the first six games of 2012 after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
The draft may be the best option in terms of talent and future performance, but if Denver is looking elsewhere early in the draft, there are still several valuable free-agent tackles who could contribute for the team in 2012.
Okoye played last season for the Chicago Bears as a rotational interior pass-rusher, racking up four sacks. A former first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2007, Okoye has yet to live up to the expectations on a top-10 pick. Over the past five seasons, he has proven to be a capable pass-rushing tackle who could make up for the loss of McBean early on in the season. Still young at 24 years-old, Okoye could yet develop into more of an impact player in the NFL.
Which free-agent tackle should Denver sign?
Much like Okoye, Landri could fill in for McBean as a pass-rusher in the interior line. In 2010 for the Carolina Panthers, Landri totaled 43 tackles and three sacks as a 16-game starter. This past season with the Philadelphia Eagles proved to be a setback for Landri, racking up half the tackles in 12 games as a rotational lineman.
Not much of a pass-rusher, Franklin could contribute as a replacement for Thomas should he sign elsewhere this offseason. However, Franklin is turning 32 in August and contributed very little for New Orleans in 2011.
Another, more familiar name has entered the mix recently. According to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, former Broncos lineman Justin Bannan visited with team officials Thursday. Bannan is a capable run-stuffer who has played as both a 3-4 end and as a 4-3 tackle. Much like Franklin, Bannan would not solve the necessity of an interior pass-rusher. However, Bannan has been healthy and consistent over the past five seasons and could bring that consistently to a defensive line that only had two tackles play in over two-thirds of the regular season in 2011.
The free-agent market has been picked through, and the best players are already gone. However, if Denver opts to look elsewhere early on the in the draft, there may still be players available who could make an impact for the team in 2012.