Tennessee Titans Free Agency: The 10 Best Defensive Ends on the Market
Before the draft comes along in April, there's free agency to deal with. Since the Titans have a lot of needs, all of which can't be addressed in the draft with a mere six picks, they'll need to patch a few of those holes in free agency.
One position that can be addressed in free agency is defensive end. The Titans like what they have in Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley, but no one denies that they could use more consistency with the pass rush.
Now I think end is a position best addressed in the draft this year, but if you can find a veteran who's worth the money he asks for, then you may as well sign him.
Here are the top 10 defensive ends on the market this year.
10. Victor Butler, Dallas Cowboys
I know that Titans fans will not like the idea of getting another 3-4 outside linebacker to play defensive end, but if they're picking up a guy like Victor Butler, it's definitely to improve depth at the position more than anything else.
Also, Butler has picked up a few sacks every year like clockwork (three in 2012, 2011 and 2009, with two in 2010). As a depth player, that's a decent contribution to the pass rush.
He's also likely to be fairly cheap, which is good since the Titans will need to be addressing other positions of need if they don't sign a big-play defensive end.
9. William Hayes, St. Louis Rams
You probably remember William Hayes. He was that guy on the Titans everyone kept expecting to have a big year, but it never came, so he went elsewhere as a free agent.
Well, that year came. Hayes had seven sacks this season (more than any player on the Titans), which is a breakout performance for him as he only had 1.5 the year before.
Hayes is a player whom the Titans are familiar with, and he'd be a good depth addition to the defensive line. However, with so many years playing and so little production until now, there's a chance that this season could have just been a flash in the pan.
Hayes is a player whom the price would dictate. If he's demanding seven-sacks-a-season money, the Titans will pass. If he's looking for less, they might bite.
8. Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys
Anthony Spencer is one heck of a pass-rusher; his problem is the scheme that he plays in. Like Butler, Spencer is a rush linebacker, and if the Titans pick him up, they'll be expecting him to contribute more than just depth.
However, Spencer is a proven pass-rusher. He picked up 11 sacks this season, which was his biggest, but he's been a contributor before that, picking up six sacks in 2011 and five in 2010.
Of course, he'll need to add weight if he's going to be anything more than a situational pass-rusher. Then again, the 49ers did pretty well using Aldon Smith as just that in 2011, so the Titans may take a page from their book.
7. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis Colts
Dwight Freeney terrorized Titans quarterbacks for years, but now, he's on the open market. Unfortunately, he's on the open market as a 32-year-old coming off his worst season in five years.
That said, Freeney is a proven player. Over the course of his long career, he's racked up over 100 sacks and 40 forced fumbles. He's had seven seasons where he had over 10 sacks.
However, I just think it's not there anymore. Freeney only picked up five sacks this season (that's down from 8.5 in 2011, which is down from 10 in 2010, which is down from 13.5 in 2009).
Freeney is in decline, and unless he wants a one-year deal or is willing to take a much lower contract than people will expect, he won't be worth signing.
6. Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants
Speaking of guys past their prime, Osi Umenyiora is declining as well. Now, Umenyiora is a little younger than Freeney, so he isn't as much of a risk to fall off a cliff as Freeney is, but the risk is still certainly there.
Umenyiora had six sacks in 2012, which would put him on equal footing with Kamerion Wimbley in the sack department. He sits right between the two things that the Titans need out of a defensive end—a depth guy and an impact pass-rusher.
Umenyiora is too good to keep off the field as much as the Titans would were he to just be a depth player, but he isn't good enough to be an upgrade over what they have in Wimbley and Derrick Morgan.
There's also the fact that he seems to have ruffled some feathers up in New York, which is something to consider as well.
5. Israel Idonije, Chicago Bears
The Bears have a lot of players entering free agency or getting close to it, so letting a guy like Israel Idonije go is not outside the realm of possibility.
Idonije doesn't get a lot of press (not many people who share the field with Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher would), but he's a solid all-around player.
He's the same age as Umenyiora, but I have him higher on my list because, first of all, he doesn't look like a player in decline. He had 7.5 sacks this season, which is more than he had last season and more than either Freeney or Umenyiora did this year.
Second, because he spent a large part of his career as a backup, so his body isn't as worn as the other two older players.
Still, he's not an ideal guy to add onto the Titans, since, like Umenyiora, he's not really an improvement over Morgan and Wimbley.
4. Paul Kruger, Baltimore Ravens
Unlike Spencer, Paul Kruger has the perfect size to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme (6'4" tall and 265 lbs). He's also coming off the best year of his career and has improved every season.
That's the kind of player you want as a free agent. This season, Kruger took over for an injured Terrell Suggs and finished the regular season with nine sacks.
Kruger looks like the kind of player who would transition well to the 4-3, and he'd be a great addition to the Titans' roster if you ask me.
3. Connor Barwin, Houston Texans
If you're going to take a rush linebacker to play defensive end again, you may as well take a better one.
Connor Barwin has been a steady pass-rusher for the Texans, netting 18 sacks over the last three years. He had an off-year in 2012, with only three sacks to show for the season, but he played better than those numbers indicate.
Once J.J. Watt burst onto the scene, Barwin didn't have to rush the passer as much, so his numbers went down.
Despite playing linebacker, he's the perfect size for a 4-3 defensive end, standing 6'4" and weighing in at just under 270 pounds.
I think he'd make the transition easily to the 4-3, but if the Titans wanted him, he'd certainly be an expensive acquisition.
2. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Johnson burst onto NFL radars this season with 11.5 sacks—not that he'd been entirely unproductive before. He had six sacks in 2011 and 5.5 for the two years before.
2012 is his first time in double-digit territory, but teams are unlikely to think he's just a flash in the pan because he's been steadily improving since the Bengals drafted him in 2009.
If Johnson is just now getting to his full potential, then he could be a productive starter for years to come for whomever picks him up.
Of course, that also means that he's likely to be out of Tennessee's price range unless he just really wants to rejoin his former teammate Derrick Morgan, or the Titans make some major budget cuts somewhere else on the roster.
1. Cliff Avril, Detroit Lions
Cliff Avril finished the 2012 season with 9.5 sacks. That may be less than Michael Johnson, but Avril has been the more consistent one of the two, making him the higher-priority free agent.
In 2011, Avril had 11 sacks, and he totaled 19 sacks in his three years before that. That's a pretty impressive résumé if you ask me.
Avril isn't just a sack artist either. He has 168 tackles, 16 forced fumbles, 13 deflected passes and an interception to his name, all in just a five-year career.
The prohibitive factor for Avril, like Johnson, would be money. Avril was franchised by the Lions in 2011, but they've been unable to come to a long-term deal since then. That tells me that he wants way more money than they're willing to shell out.
However, you never know what players end up taking, and if Avril is cheap enough for the Titans to afford, he'd make a deadly addition to their defensive line.
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