NFL Free Agency 2011: Nnamdi Asomugha Top Prospect for Detroit Lions?

Brenda SummersCorrespondent IIMay 7, 2011

NFL Free Agency 2011: Nnamdi Asomugha Top Prospect for Detroit Lions?

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    Nnamdi Asomugha in Honolulu Blue and Silver?Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The post-draft fever hit another blow at the announcement of a continuing lockout and no CBA.  The draft brought brief excitement and hope to fans desperately looking for something to celebrate.  After the draft we were essentially told, again, to hold off on buying any party favors.

    The sense of restless for an answer about free-agency and when we can get the new kids in to their respective team facilities is mounting to an almost unbearable level.

    We all heard the booing toward NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the draft and the chanting of "we want football" from the crowd.  He said he heard us.  Did he?  Sometimes, I would like to suggest that the Commissioner be renamed "Roger Godawful" but, in the end, I know it is not just about him.

    Ultimately, we have to move on with the expectation that the miracle on 280 Park Avenue (NFL headquarters) will happen sooner or later.

    Moving on means that we get to return to the question of free-agency.

    For Detroit fans, there are rumblings in the media about projected free-agency targets that are extremely intriguing. 

    Probably the one that will garner the most attention is about CB Nnamdi Asomugha (more on that shortly).  

    As we learned through the draft, there is no telling what Jim Schwartz (coach) and Martin Mayhew (GM) may be thinking or how they will approach free-agency.

    Bottom line:  Would they spend their money on one big name player like Asomugha or spread it out on filling more holes with really good but less expensive players?  The Lions also have to be looking for an upgrade in players who can start immediately in a tough NFC North division.  Which players have that ability?

    There is no way of knowing who will be considered an unrestricted free-agent vs a restricted free-agent at this point so we will consider all of them who have not been franchised or signed contracts.

    For purposes of addressing what many feel are the most glaring needs for the Lions this off-season, we'll focus on OLBers and CBs.

    Get out the Kool-aid.  This is where it gets fun again.

LB Stephen Tulloch: Tennessee Titans RFA

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    Tulloch against Green BayDoug Benc/Getty Images

    This is a fan favorite pick for many of the Lions faithful.  Stephen Tulloch already has ties with Schwartz as he was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans before becoming the head coach of the Detroit Lions.  He is also a fantastic player who could be a difference maker for any team.  The Lions like difference makers as much as anyone.

    The potential issue with getting Tulloch is that DeAndre Levy already holds the MLB (MIKE) position and Schwartz has said he wants to keep Levy there.  Technically, either Tulloch or Levy could move to the outside, but is this a great idea?

    Levy was an excellent reader of offenses last year at the MLB position.  That is extremely valuable to Schwartz and to this Lions' defense.

    How likely would it be for the Lions to pay for another MLB, regardless of how much they respect Tulloch, if they could spend the money on a true OLB?

    There is no doubt that Tulloch would love to be on the Lions radar.   Tulloch did not try to hide this fact from the Titans or the Lions right after the draft.  He tweeted several times about his respect for the Detroit defensive line and Jim Schwartz.

    Here are three excerpts off of Tulloch's twitter account which were all posted on April 28:

    What a defensive line the LIONS got KVB, SUH, and now FAIRLEY boy..... SMH

    The start to a dominate defense is your Defensive line anyone that plays defense can tell you that.....

    “@ChemGuy101: @stephentulloch Jim Schwartz. What more can you say?!”( Jim Schwartz know football very smart man...)

    Do you think he would be willing to come to Detroit?

    Many have suggested that he would be on Jim Schwartz's door instead of the other way around.

    Bottom line:  Do the Lions spend the money on a player they would have to make adjustments to their line over?  Is Tulloch the right player to pursue?  Can he be used at the OLB position?  Would he be another addition to the durability and depth issue that Schwartz is creating?  How effective can he be against the NFC North teams?

LB Stephen Nicholas: Atlanta Falcons RFA

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    Stephen NicholasChris Graythen/Getty Images

    OLB Stephen Nicholas is looking for a starting job.  He's a four year player who could become an UFA if the Collective Bargaining Agreement is redefined.  Nicholas is currently looking at having to compete with the Atlanta Falcons 2010 first round draft pick, Sean Weatherspoon, for a starting role in the defensive line.

    The beauty of an "unrestricted" label is that all tenders become null and void so no future picks would have to be given up.

    Nicholas is already a 4-3 guy and the Lions are reported to already have him on their radar.  He also is reported to have them on his.

    Nicholas is described as a strong-side linebacker but the Lions would want him to be able to play at either right or left side for purposes of versatility. 

    For the sake of reference, the Detroit Lions' coaches don't generally use the words "strong-" or "weak-" side when talking about their defensive scheme.  They prefer to use the terms "right-" or "left-" side instead.

    Bottom Line:  Nicholas is not drawing a lot of attention from other teams except for the Denver Broncos.  He could come without having to give up any future draft picks and wouldn't carry the same price tag as Tulloch.  He fits a need and could end up being a very good value for the Lions. 

    However, do the Lions really want someone who is considered to be good but not great?  How much of an immediate improvement would he be?  How well would he do in the NFC North? 

    Though the photo above shows Nicholas trying to slow Green Bay Packer, WR Greg Jennings, down, he was burned by QB Aaron Rodgers several times. The Falcons met the Packers twice last year, once in the regular season and once in their post season play.  Nicholas had one tackle against them in the regular season and five, plus a forced fumble, in the playoffs. 

    In the NFC North division, especially this year, you have to be effective against the Green Bay Packer offense.  The Atlanta Falcons, collectively, were not able to shut the Packer's down.  That doesn't just fall on Nicholas, but the Lions need someone who can make an immediate impact at OLB. 

    If the Lions pursue an OLB this off season, they look at their most difficult rivals in the division and fill the position with someone who can contribute to shutting them down.  The Lions have one of the most formidable defensive lines in the NFL but the OLB's have to be better at doing their part in order to put this team into playoff territory. 

    Don't be tricked into thinking the Lions aren't as close as being two players away from beating the Packers every time they meet this year.  The Lions have built the talent to upend any chance of the Packers or Chicago Bears being the division leaders in 2011.   They can easily be the "spoilers" in the NFC North.

LB Rocky McIntosh: Washington Redskins RFA

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Linebacker Rocky McIntosh was said to be a casualty of a new 3-4 scheme put in place last year on the Washington Redskin's defense.  He is a 4-3 guy and that's where he shines.

    There has not been a lot of chatter around the Lions' interest in acquiring McIntosh but some fans have thought he would be a good fit due to his versatility. 

    The reality is that the Redskin's certainly look to be moving on without McIntosh.  They focused heavily on defense during this past draft and don't believe he fits their scheme as well as London Fletcher and a handful of back-ups do.  Yet, McIntosh was ranked the fifth best OLB available in free-agency by WalterFootball.com and second once you throw in the players who were franchised. 

    I may be missing something but when I looked at his stats for 2010 they didn't drop off. In fact, they improved. The only thing he didn't accomplish, compared to the two season's prior, was an interception.

    It seems more likely that he is not on Mike Shanahan's (coach) favorite list of players because McIntosh decided not to participate in any of the 2010 off-season work outs.  That tends to not go over very well with any coach.

    Bottom line:  There is no question about McIntosh's ability to play at a high level at the OLB position.  The real question is if the Lions staff are interested in having him on the team.  He would cost less than Asomugha (who wouldn't?) and still bring talent to the line.  But is he the right fit for Detroit?  If he gets upset about his contract will he protest by not working out again?  He has also had a few aggravating injuries.

    How well would he do against other NFC North teams?  We have some idea about this since the Redskins played against each one of the NFC teams last year.  McIntosh recorded seven tackles against Green Bay (where they defeated GB in overtime 16-13), had eight tackles, one forced fumble and one interception against the Chicago Bears (defeated Bears 17-14), posted nine tackles against Detroit (lost 37-25), and had nine tackles while forcing two safeties against the Minnesota Vikings (lost 17-13).

    He can play in the NFC North.

LB Manny Lawson: San Francisco 49ers RFA

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    Manny LawsonScott Boehm/Getty Images

    LB Manny Lawson may be considered one of the best OLBs in free-agency but it's hard to get a good feel for where he stands with the San Francisco 49ers

    There are some who say Lawson's on his way out because they drafted DE Aldon Smith, who will likely be moved to the OLB position.  There are others who say that because he is, as of this writing, a RFA, the 49ers would keep him as a mentor until A. Smith was ready to take over.  He would also need to be able to convert to a 4-3 scheme.

    The real kicker may be that he was compared to being a Julian Peterson-type of player.  That's not exactly what the Lions' are looking for, I feel quite sure, since they just let Peterson go.  Maybe the comparison wasn't fair and he would be better than Peterson, but you have to admit, it does leave you wondering if that was meant to be a compliment or not.

    Lawson can be a real beast of a player but he can also be a concern to coaches who aren't looking for drama or for someone who isn't dedicated to the team.

    Bottom line:  Here is the question again.  Would Lawson, who is likely to ask for a lot of money, really help build the defensive line?  Is he the one the Lions see as their answer to the OLB issue or is it true that he could just become another "Julian Peterson"? 

    Lawson posted 59 tackles last year along with 2.5 sacks, six passes defended, one interception, and two forced fumbles.  He started in all 16 games.

    The real bottom line:

    The Detroit Lions have two veteran players they like who were both recently added to the team. 

    Bobby Carpenter will be coming into his sixth year in the NFL and his first true full year with the Lions (picked up in October, 2010 Carpenter was not part of any off-season training and did not make his first start until week 15 against Tampa Bay).  Carpenter was a first round draft pick in 2006 by the Dallas Cowboys.

    Carpenter posted 30 tackles and two passes defended in ten games.  He only started in two of them which means he did not have nearly the same amount of playing time as Lawson or any of the other starters in free-agency.  18 of his tackles (over half of his total) were in the last two games of the season.

    Ashlee Palmer was claimed off waivers by Detroit in Feb. 2010.  This will be his third year in the NFL and second year as a Lion.  Palmer was picked up by the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent in 2009.

    Palmer posted 55 tackles, one sack, one pass defended, and 3 forced fumbles.  He started in five games and played in all 16.

    Carpenter and Palmer will likely battle it out for a starting role on the left side OLB position.  The Lions need at least one more veteran that they can put on the right side unless they put either Carpenter or Palmer there.  If they do this (unlikely), they would still need depth and still need to bring in a veteran player. 

    I believe they will pick someone like Stephen Nicholas or Rocky McIntosh to plug into that role and develop their newly drafted OLB, Doug Hogue.  They will also likely pick up an undrafted free agent.

LB Mark Herzlich: UFA

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    I was a fan of taking Mark Herzlich in the draft but no one did.  As soon as the lockout is lifted Herzlich, and a host of all the other undrafted rookies, are back on the table.

    It is difficult to understand why Herzlich wasn't drafted in the first place.  His desire to play football has never been in question.  His character has never been in question and his ability to play at the next level was only questioned after his bout with cancer.  I know that teams worry about his health and wonder if he will ever be as strong as he used to be. 

    This is what I have to say in response to that:  He had cancer.  It isn't contagious.  For elite athletes, it can take up to 18 months for them to recover fully from chemotherapy.  That would make Herzlich better in the NFL than he was at Boston College last year.  Yes, the same guy projected to go in the top five of the draft prior to being diagnosed with bone cancer could easily be back to form and even better in 2011.

    Prediction:  Herzlich will be a monster LB with a non-stop motor.  Let him play.

    What does former undrafted Arian Foster, who led the NFL in rushing and set a record 2,220 yards from the line of scrimmage (most ever by an undrafted player), have to say about Herzlich?

    The undrafted player who I feel can have a big impact in the NFL, would have to be Mark Herzlich, Foster says. I've read his story, from being a projected top-five pick to his fight with cancer, and coming back to play football again for his school, he is a great human spirit.

    There isn't a machine or drill at the combine that can measure heart, grit, mental strength, will, perseverance and courage. Mark embodies all of those traits, and he is a great football player. If I was a GM, I would have that young man on my roster.

    Bottom line:  Detroit would be crazy not to seriously consider adding Herzlich to the roster.  If he doesn't show enough grit and ability, put him on the practice squad for a year.  He would likely work harder than any other player out there because he knows what he has to prove. 

    Give Herzlich to Kyle Vanden Bosch for strength and conditioning in the off-season.  He isn't going to cost the Lions much at all to get.  It should not take more than a minute for Detroit to decide to get this player.  He is exactly the kind of player the Lions love.  He was also rated higher by ESPN than Doug Hogue and Jonas Muton (who was picked up in the second round by the San Diego Chargers)...I'm just saying.

CB Brandon Carr: Kansas City Chiefs RFA

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    Brandon Carr #39Harry How/Getty Images

    The Kansas City Chiefs took a CB, Jalil Brown, in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.  That has led some to question what that might mean for Brandon Carr.

    It could be that they are just adding depth to their roster or want someone not named Brandon to make up at least half of the CBs on the field.  Last year Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers were both starters for the Chiefs.  Carr had a very good year with Kansas City last year and it earned him a first round tender. 

    He is entering his fourth year in the NFL and has spent his first three with the Chiefs. 

    Brandon Carr (who played in 16 games in 2010) had 57 tackles, defended an impressive 25 passes, and had one interception.  It is not clear if the Chiefs really want to let him go or if they are hoping that a first round tender will keep him on the team.  Either way, Carr has not signed the tender as of this writing which means that if a team, like the Lions, feel he is the answer to their secondary they can pursue him.

    The Lions might be interested in Carr, not only for his talent, but because he's a hometown guy.  He graduated from Grand Valley State University and grew up in Flint, MI. 

    Plus, how cool would it be to have a "Carr" in the Motor City?

    Bottom line:  Carr is young and still developing.  He shows the most skill at tackling and defending passes.  He's not a big interception guy which is not what most teams are in the market for anyway when it comes to a CB, but is a definite bonus.  If the Chiefs let him go, he could be a great pickup for Detroit.  However, are they willing to trade a first round pick for him?

    Let's compare numbers with the Lions' starting CB's from 2010.

    Chris Houston (who played in 15 games) had 56 tackles, 12 passes defended, one interception, and one forced fumble.

    Alphonso Smith (who only played in 12 games) posted 39 tackles, eight passes passes defended, five interceptions, one touchdown, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

CB Chris Carr: Baltimore Ravens UFA

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    Chris Carr causes Donald Driver to lose the ballScott Boehm/Getty Images

    Chris Carr is another interesting story.  The Baltimore Ravens have ten, yes ten, CB's on their roster including two they just picked up in the draft (Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown).  Where does that leave unrestricted free-agent Chris Carr?  Most likely, wearing another team's jersey this season.

    The Ravens' decision to bring on another potential top tier CB in Jimmy Smith was necessary.  This is a team who has depth at the CB position but three of their top CB's are free-agents this year.

    The Ravens have to be a little disappointed over the possibility of losing three of their corners.   I could be wrong, but I think they could feel the worst about losing Carr.  C. Carr had his best season to date last year posting 61 tackles, two STFs (tackles for loss), three forced fumbles, two interceptions, and eight passes defended.

    Out of all of the CB's in free-agency this off season Chris Carr is considered to be in the top seven.  If you look at unrestricted free-agents, C. Carr is behind only Nnamdi Asomugha and Champ Bailey which makes him part of a very impressive group.

    Bottom line:

    The Lions have to be intrigued by this guy.  He's 28 years old, 5'10" and 182 lbs.  C. Carr has a lot of talent and at least five more good years at CB in him.  He's a starter and won't be nearly as expensive as Asomugha and no draft picks have to be given up.

CB Ike Taylor: Pittsburgh Steelers UFA

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    Ike TaylorKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Can you say, revenge?  Ike Taylor was on the field against the Green Bay Packers when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to GB (31-25) in the Super Bowl. 

    Do you think he'd love a chance to play against them in the NFC North division? 

    As a 31 year old unrestricted free-agent, he just might appreciate getting to play out the rest of his career beating GB at least twice a year. 

    Taylor had a very good season with the Steelers in 2010-2011.  He posted 66 tackles, had two interceptions (both for positive yardage), one forced fumble, eleven passed defended, and a sack.  Taylor is a taller CB at 6'2" and weighs in at 195 lbs.  I have to say that I love the fact that he has a sack to his name.  That is what I call a versatile, go after whoever has the ball, kind of guy.

    If the Lions passed over all the CBs in the draft, you have to believe that they are either looking at a serious upgrade or they believe they are already set at that position.  That is why I am only considering the top-tier CBs in free-agency this year as prospects. 

    Bottom line:  Would the Detroit Lions be willing to pay for a guy who may only have three to four good years left in the tank when there are other younger top-tier corners out there in free-agency?  I don't doubt his ability to play in the NFC North division as a Pittsburgh Steeler and I don't think the front office does either.  It's really about whether they think he's the answer to addressing not having a true number one CB in the Lions secondary.

CB Nnamdi Asomugha: Oakland Raiders UFA

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Here's the guy many people have been waiting for: CB Nnamdi Asomugha.  We all know what a profound corner he is so let's just cut to the chase.

    The Detroit Lions, like almost every other team in the NFL, have been rumored to be interested in pursuing Asomugha.  They have also been rumored not to be.  With what we just witnessed during the 2011 draft, there really is no predicting what the Lions front office is planning.  Frankly, I think that is exactly the way they want it to be.

    Their lack of getting a CB during the draft does leave some questions, however.

    Many found it curious when the Lions chose not to trade up to get CB Patrick Peterson.  Did they back down because the cost would have ultimately been too high in terms of both money and lost draft picks? 

    Did the Lions pass on getting any CB's in the draft because they already had their minds made up about getting one in free-agency? 

    If they didn't get Patrick Peterson because the cost/benefit wasn't worth it, was it also because they already figured on losing a first round draft pick to a restricted free-agent?  If this is true then they probably aren't looking at Asomugha.

    Did they not waste a pick on a top CB in the draft because they wanted to save some money to use in free agency?  This could put Asomugha back on the table.

    Do they believe a team will offer a decent amount of money for their current starter at CB, Chris Houston, which would leave them with a draft pick, cash, and an opening at the CB position?  If this is true, Asomugha could be a target.

    If the Lions can get their needs met at OLB without having to spend much and they feel good enough about their other positions to not use up a lot of funds, it is possible for them to pursue Asomugha.

    The reports have swung in both directions regarding the Lions going after the top CB in free-agency.

    Eric Endholm of ProFootballWeekly.com commented about his take on why the Lions didn't pick a CB up in the draft:

    Look, what this all tells me is that the Lions once more plan to be very aggressive in free agency. That's where they can fill their needs. I don't know if we're talkingh [sic] Nnamdi Asomugha aggressive, but if Asomugha were to look at the Lions, he would see talent up and down this roster.

    As an avid Detroit Lions fan, I can't argue with that last sentence at all.

    Jim Schwartz (coach) brings us back to his answers about not pursuing OLBs and CBs in the draft.  

    If I thought we didn't have any linebackers or corners, I'd be trying to acquire linebackers and corners, he said. As I said before, this is not our finish line. When we (get into free agency), we still have the opportunity to sign players — to acquire players. This is part of the process.

    Which brings us back to speculation of how the Lions will address free-agency.

    That process will begin when free agency and trades are green-lit by the NFL. Some reports say the Lions will go hard after free-agent CB Nnamdi Asomugha to fill the need for a starter opposite Chris Houston...

    So what really is the bottom line on Asomugha? 

    He will be very expensive and had a fairly dramatic drop off in performance last season (many have argued that his stats haven't looked great in a couple of years because no one throws or runs in his direction)

    The Detroit Lions will not let their intentions be known no matter how badly we want them to.  Therefore they may be ready to pursue him with everything they have, or maybe not at all.

    Is taking Asomugha for 12-15 millions of dollars a year really going to be answer to the Lions secondary for years to come?

    Whatever decision the front office makes once free-agency is open will be the right one.  Detroit fans, do not fear.  We will never return to the days of Matt Millen.  This team is being built the right way. 

    We will have a legacy on our hands and it will be one that lasts for years.  Schwartz and Mayhew are not looking for a "one shining moment"...they are looking to create something we have never seen before...a team that has literally risen from the ashes to become the best in the NFL, period.