Last week I went over notable free agent linebackers. Although I stated only the top four of this year's free agent class, each one of those players can have a direct impact on many defensive struggling teams. In this week's Friday Hard Hits we are going to take a look into top free agent defensive ends, whether they should be targeted to re-signed, or left to tread water in the free agent pool. Defensive Ends listed below are in order of free agency priority of top DE's available. Of available defensive ends there are some shadowed names that could easily make a important, quick, and direct impact on the pass rush, and teams like Oakland, San Diego, New England, Carolina, and Buffalo could all use some interior pass-rushing linemen for 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
I'd like to bring an important date to the table, Febuary 20th where teams can begin using the Franchise Tag. Arizona DE Calais Campbell looks to be one receiving such a label. Now below I list my top 5 free agent defensive ends with insight on whether they should be re-signed or let go. Although cap space, extensions, trades and future draft picks all pay a important role, of the top 5 there is only one that looks to be thrown in the pool.
Player Name – 2011 Team – FA type
1. Mario Williams (27 yrs old) – HOU – UFA
Mario topped my list also as the #1 available free agent linebacker as well considering the defensive scheme change Houston applied this year, which showcased Mario Williams' athletic ability early -- which would be laid to rest for the rest of the year due to injury.
Re-Sign or Let-Go: Re-Sign, If I was HOU I would do my best to re-sign Williams at the rice price considering other top team FA priorities such as RB Arian Foster. Mario will be looking to bring in the bank for 2012 and on.
2. Robert Mathis (30 yrs old)– IND – UFA
Mathis at the moment is not one of the Colts' off-season concerns. As we all know, Peyton Manning is the talk of the town and will be until he gets a deal done. However, this is where teams who need some defensive linemen upgrades should sneak in and steal one of the best, underrated pass rushers in the game. Mathis has both strength and speed that make him a dangerous threat and big play opportunity. Mathis was part of an Indianapolis defense that was ranked 15th is sacks in 2011 -- an average rank for a overall terrible 2011 campaign.
Re-Sign or Let-Go: Re-Sign, INDY should look to hold onto Mathis to keep the 1-2 punch with Freeney on the edge. With offensive struggles and the possibility of a 2012 with no Manning (or half Manning) at the helm, their defense is going to be the catalyst to winning games.
3. Cliff Avril (25 yrs old) – DET – UFA
A great young talent for a up and rising Detroit Lions team. Avril recorded career numbers in sacks (11.0) and forced fumbles (6) in 2011; and as many pass rushers do, looks to be paid with a long term deal for 2012 and on. He is a possible franchise tag candidate, although he has stated he is not a fan of the tag.
Re-Sign or Let-Go: Re-Sign, Now I say re-sign but with major doubts. Detroit is already near the cap limit and Avril will be expecting to get PAID, which will make further negotiations with other free agents and draft picks that much more difficult.
4. John Abraham (33 yrs old) – ATL – UFA
When you think of ATL pass rushers, theirs John Abraham and ………….
Abraham will be turning 34 in 2012, but what else can the A-T-L expect from him or rely on? Abraham will reportedly need to take a pay cut, but do realize since coming to Atlanta in 2006 Abraham has posted a 9.75 sack average in the 6 year span. Atlanta has a top 10 defensive pass and rush D, but Abraham will be put up against younger defensive FA talent.
Re-Sign or Let-Go: Let-Go, Abraham will eventually turn into a passing down only defensive pass rusher and with younger FA defensive players such as CB Grimes and LB Lofton priority will be put outside of the Abraham circle. Figure of these major 3 defensive free agents, only 2 do return -- Abraham not one of them due to age, his price tag...
5. Calais Campbell (25 yrs old) – ARI – UFA
Campbell had a a great 2011 season, recording 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a INT. Although rumors early on had Campbell being a prime FA for any team needing a solid defensive end, Arizona Cardinals GM Rod Graves stated that Campbell is "staying put." Their plan is to pay the man with a long-term deal; however, if time becomes pressed he will be slapped in the franchise tag to prolong negotiations.
Re-Sign or Let-Go: Re-Sign, this is an obvious one, with backing from the GM Campbell will be staying in Arizona regardless of a new contract deal or not.
Other notable free agent Defensive Ends:
William Hayes (26 yrs old) – TEN – UFA
Shaun Ellis (34 yrs old) – NE – UFA
Aaron Maybin (23 yrs old) – NYJ – RFA
Be sure to check back next Friday as I take a look into free agent Cornerbacks.