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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Concerns about FA pass-rush options

By Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. –- Pass-rushers have moved quickly at the start of NFL free agency.

Greg Hardy (tagged in Carolina) and Michael Bennett (re-signed by Seattle) never made it to market. Lamarr Houston jumped from Oakland to Chicago, and Michael Johnson went from Cincinnati to Tampa Bay.

That’s four of the top five guys on ESPN’s resident GM Bill Polian’s list of ends Insider.

But all four of those guys are coming out of 4-3 situations.

DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware would be expensive, but could give Tennessee's pass rush a boost.
So is Denver’s Shaun Phillips, though he’s played end in a 3-4 front, too. He’s 32, but had 10 sacks last season.

At the very least the Tennessee Titans will be a hybrid front, and I think they ultimately will want to be predominantly a 3-4.

Washington’s Brian Orakpo is the kind of player the Titans need. The Redskins franchised him.

The list of available linebackers doesn’t include any absolute certainties in terms of sacks.

Polian gave 29 linebackers Insider grades of C or better. Eight have signed or been tagged.

Of the remaining 21, outside linebackers with 3-4 experience coming off productive pass-rushing seasons are rare.

Lamar Woodley had 5 sacks for Pittsburgh, Parys Haralson had 3.5 for New Orleans, Matt Shaughnessy had 3 for Arizona, and Reggie Walker had 3 for San Diego.

Hardly a bumper crop.

That brings us to DeMarcus Ware. The former Dallas Cowboy, released Tuesday, is 31 and is going to cost a great deal. He was a 4-3 end last season and had 6 sacks. But in 2012 he was a 3-4 outside backer and 11.5.

The scouting report from Polian and the guys who helped build his free agent board:
Ware is an excellent veteran pass-rusher who brings a combination of length, first-step quickness, explosiveness and the flexibility to bend the edge. He can hold up as an edge-setter against the run and has the versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4. A very good athlete with questions only stemming from durability and age (31). Will generate significant interest from teams all over the league.

Ware turns 32 on July 31.

Julius Peppers, a 4-3 end, just came free, too, and he’s 34. Jared Allen has played his whole career in a 4-3 and is 31.

Tuesday we discussed how the Titans didn’t appear to be afraid of age in free agency.

I’m not sure if that will apply to a costly, aging pass-rusher.

Maybe the Titans jump out and spend big on Ware. Maybe they add a Woodley or a versatile Shaughnessy and blend them in with Akeem Ayers and maybe Kamerion Wimbley and Zach Brown, if Brown turns out to be an outside rather than inside backer in the new scheme.

Just about every player the Titans could look at for rush help from this free-agent class has a wart -- be it age, production or scheme fit/versatility.

I wonder if the likelihood is already up that the Titans spend their first- or second-round pick on and end or outside linebacker with pass-rush skills they think will translate to the NFL.

And if they’ll concentrate on bigger defensive linemen, inside linebacker and/or offensive tackle in the meantime.