NFL Free Agency 2011: Strength in the Trenches Stands out in This Year's Class
Now that there is some semblance of life in the NFL, it is time to actually analyze the players that are available for teams to sign.
There is still a lot to be determined as far as the CBA before teams will actually be able to start signing free agents as they won't know what kind of salary is reasonable for each player.
One thing is for certain however. The strength of this year's free agency class is in the trenches. Having already taken a look at the top 5 pass rushers available. I can tell you that while there aren't any Julius Peppers available there are quite a few impact players without a team as of today.
Guys like Charles Johnson, Ray Edwards and Cliff Avril should draw a lot of interest from teams across the nation for their ability to get to the quarterback. There are a lot of players available that can prevent players such as those three from getting to the quarterback available also.
Franchise left tackles hit free agency as often as franchise quarterbacks. In other words—not very often. Matt Light may be 33 years of age but he was still a stud in New England for the best part of last season. Light would represent good value for a team looking to shore up their pass protection for the next year or two.
The presence of Sebastien Vollmer in New England may make the Patriots cautious when competing to resign Light. Teams looking for a long term solution will have no interest in him. This means that Light could represent very good value for a team looking to sign a stop gap star.
Matt Light isn't the only former franchise left tackle available. Jamaal Brown was the starting left tackle for the Saints for four years before injury allowed Jermon Bushrod to steal his spot.
After a short stint in Washington Brown is now a free agent. He is unlikely to return to Washington as Mike Jones of the Washington Post reports, he "would rather play left tackle." With Trent Williams slotted in on the blindside in Washington, Brown will need to find a new team. He may have suffered slightly during the early part of last season because of slow recovery from a herniated disk the previous season but he still has the capability to solidify the left tackle spot.
Brown isn't the only former Saints offensive lineman available.
All-pro guard Carl Nicks' contract is up. Nicks has been one of the best guards in the league over the past two seasons being both equally elite in pass protection and run blocking. For any team that looks to sign him he will come at a heavy price but with unmeasurable quality.
The more affordable options at guard would be Atlanta's Harvey Dahl or Tampa Bay's former starter Davin Joseph. Both players were starters last season for strong running games. Joseph in particular represents good value to teams as he is still only 27 years of age.
The depth of this year's offensive line free agents is astounding when you consider that Willie Colon, Jared Gaither and Tyson Clabo have all been starting tackles on playoff teams but won't be the most sought after propositions. Colon and Gaither are both coming off seasons when they didn't play because of injury but both are undoubtedly talented when healthy.
There are less big name players hitting free agency on the other side of the ball but there is an abundance of talent and value for teams willing to search for it.
Lost in the porous quality of the NFC West in recent years has been the emergence of Brandon Mebane. Mebane's numbers have taken a dip the past two seasons since putting up 5.5 sacks in 2008.
He may only be a one hit wonder on paper but when you consider the quality of players around him for the past two seasons you have to cut him some slack. By no means is he a star but with a better supporting cast he could become a very good starter for a real playoff team.
Mebane and Barry Cofield will be the two most sought after defensive tackles for teams playing 4-3 defenses. Cofield has been a starter on the Giants talented defensive line for the past five seasons. At 27 years of age he potentially has his best years ahead of him. Cofield will be able to command a hefty price on the open market.
However the NFL now features more 3-4 defensive schemes than ever before. As such this makes Cullen Jenkins the most valuable defensive tackle in free agency.
Overlooking his durability concerns, Jenkins is an amazingly talented player that consistently gets sacks overcoming double teams. He has 29 career sacks in seven seasons including seven sacks in only eight starts during last year's regular season. Cullen Jenkins has a unique skill set that makes him the best pass rushing 3-4 lineman in the league.
Shaun Ellis and Ray Edwards provide a degree of reliability for teams searching to retool it's defensive line while Cliff Avril and Charles Johnson are young linemen that are already reaching their potential on the field. Throw a Pro Bowler from last season, Jason Babin, and an unknown quantity such as Mathias Kiwanuka into the mix and you'll find a very deep and talented class of defensive ends available. [Read more on these players here]
Coaches often refer to the fact that games are won and lost in the trenches. This year more than most previous they will be able to reinforce both lines through free agency.
This year's free agent linemen bring both talent and value to the market.
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