Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Free agency in the East: Defensive ends
By Dan Graziano
Our position-by-position look at potential four-year unrestricted free agency rolls along, with a look at the defensive end position and the way the free-agent field could impact the NFC East. Now, with two 3-4 defense teams and two 4-3 defense teams in the division, we could be talking about a wide variety of types of defensive ends. But from here it looks as if the division's 3-4 teams have more of a need at the position than do the 4-3 teams. The Giants, for example, aren't going to need defensive end help unless they trade Osi Umenyiora and lose Mathias Kiwanuka in free agency. I don't expect either of those things to happen, let alone both. So...
NFC East teams in need
Cowboys: Marcus Spears, a starter last season before his injury, will be a free agent. So will Stephen Bowen, who took his place, and Jason Hatcher, who played in 13 games and started one. Even if they're counting on a bounce-back year from Igor Olshansky, the Cowboys will absolutely need to address the other defensive end spot. New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has said he doesn't want to move nose tackle Jay Ratliff to end. But you have to wonder, if the better options are interior linemen, whether the Cowboys would go that way and rotate Ratliff and one or two new guys in and out of the nose tackle and end spots.
Redskins: Washington likes Adam Carriker at one of the end spots, and it's possible that second-round pick Jarvis Jenkins could emerge at a starter at the other one eventually. But asking Jenkins to start right away might be a bit too much, and if Kedric Golston is leaving as a free agent, they're left with 35-year-old Vonnie Holliday and 38-year-old Phillip Daniels. Depending on what they see out of Jeremy Jarmon and his knee, they could be in the market for some depth at this position.
Eagles: Trent Cole is a monster on the right side, but the question is on the left, where Juqua Parker is still penciled in as the starter and 2010 first-round pick Brandon Graham likely won't be healthy in time to start the season. There has been lots of talk about the Eagles adding a veteran pass-rusher opposite Cole, and it's possible new defensive line coach Jim Washburn has some ideas for potential targets.
Top five potential unrestricted free-agent defensive ends
1. Ray Edwards. After playing a strong second fiddle to better-known defensive stars Jared Allen and Kevin Williams over the past few seasons, Edwards is looking for a place to shine on his own as a pass-rusher. He'd be a great fit in the Eagles' defensive line rotation and would dramatically upgrade Philadelphia's pass rush.
2. Jason Babin. Lots of talk in Philly about a return for Babin, especially after he posted a career-high 12.5 sacks last season in Tennessee under Washburn. Babin is probably the kind of guy who needs to be in the right system to succeed, and there is concern that 2010 might have been the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Babin's ability to produce.
3. Charles Johnson. Nobody could have expected Johnson to replace Julius Peppers as well as he did in 2010, and for that reason it's probably very important for Carolina to retain him. If he hits the market, his 11.5 sacks from last season will catch plenty of teams' eyes.
4. Kiwanuka. When healthy, he's a versatile, frightening force who can be a pass-rushing 4-3 end or an outside linebacker. He's high on the Giants' priority list, but they have a lot of guys to re-sign and they probably aren't going to be able to get them all. Would Kiwaunka on the Eagles be among Giants fans' worst nightmares?
5. Shaun Ellis. Couldn't do this list for this division without putting a 3-4 end on it. Ellis had a brilliant playoff performance for the Jets and, even at age 33, likely has something to contribute for the short term. Might be a real nice fit in Washington with those younger guys.
Predictions that mean nothing: Eagles sign Edwards, Redskins sign Spears, Cowboys get a couple of guys, including Kansas City's Shaun Smith, who can be a run-stuffing 3-4 end and also rotate inside if they decide to move Ratliff around.