The amount of depth in free agency this offseason is extremely limited, especially on the defensive side of the ball. It means top players at each position will be able to command big contracts and will probably still generate a lot of interest from around the NFL.
Although the league continues to shift toward high-powered offenses, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers both showed the importance of having defenses that can at least slow down those potent attacks. The Detroit Lions also proved you can't win with offense alone.
So teams will flock to the market with hopes of defensive filling voids before next season. Let's examine three stars that are going to be popular targets in the coming months if their current teams aren't able to lock them up before free agency begins in March.
Avril has recorded at least nine sacks in each of the past three seasons. Although it's not a league-leading total, that type of consistent pressure off the edge is always going to attract attention. Few teams around the league are completely satisfied with their pass rush.
It's also important to note the Lions didn't get more than 3.5 sacks from any other defensive ends last season. That lack of pressure from the other side often meant Avril was facing extra attention from the offensive line, but still managed to make a major impact.
He's still 26, which means he should just be entering the prime of his career. No other defensive end on the market possesses his solid track record and remaining years of top-end production. Teams in need of more pressure understand that.
Which player will provide the most FA value?
The Baltimore Ravens should do everything in their power to bring back Ellerbe. With Ray Lewis hanging up his cleats, they need a new reliable, dominant force in the middle of the defense, and Ellerbe showed flashes of being exactly that last season.
He racked up 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks, which are by far the best numbers of his four-year career as he took on a more prominent role. The undrafted hidden gem continued to impress in the playoffs with 32 tackles as the Ravens took home the championship.
If Baltimore isn't able to get a deal done, there will be no shortage of teams waiting to make offers. Ellerbe has just begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Wherever he lands, he will be a force using a lot of things he probably learned from Lewis.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted Talib in the first round of the 2008 draft. He proceeded to intercept 18 passes over four-plus seasons before his impending free agency led the team to trade him to the New England Patriots, where he continued to impress.
Talib is a strong cover corner with natural playmaking ability. He's scored four touchdowns on interception returns in his career. Since so many teams are heavily reliant on the passing game to carry their offense, having somebody that can turn the tide is key.
The other positive is Talib can play in any defensive scheme, which should increase the number of teams that will be interested in him. It's a weak market for corners and there's no doubt he will end up reaping the benefits of that.