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  1. #1
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    Defense dominates '08 free-agent class

    It's never too early to start thinking about next year, and next year is when you can start thinking of retooling your defense through free agency.


    Asante Samuel, 27, would be a catch for any team looking for secondary help. (Getty Images)
    Though some NFL talent scouts label the upcoming free-agent class as nothing more than ordinary, there is extraordinary talent that might be available for the right price.

    And most of it is on defense, where you can find Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth and Chicago's Lance Briggs, as well as Jared Allen of Kansas City, Seattle's Marcus Trufant, Indy's Bob Sanders and New England's Asante Samuel.

    If those names sound familiar, they should: All were named this week to the Pro Bowl rosters. And all stand to cash in on their achievements -- if, that is, they're not designated as their team's franchise players first.

    Samuel and Briggs probably won't be. We already know that. But others aren't so certain, which means two months from now you might find some of these names missing from the Help: Wanted lines.

    In fact, you can count on it.

    Nevertheless, let's take a look at what might be ahead -- with a list of 10 of my favorite free-agents-to-be, in no particular order. Could we have a drum roll, please?

    Asante Samuel, cornerback, New England: When the Patriots signed him to a one-year deal they included a provision that makes it unlikely they would protect him as their franchise player again. OK, then, that means one of two things happens: Either he gains a whopping extension with the Patriots, or he takes the money and runs. A year ago he had a league-best 10 interceptions; this season he has six, tied for second in the AFC. The point is: He's made a name for himself by making plays and shutting down receivers. Cornerbacks are quick to fly off the shelves in free agency, and they usually command top dollar. Samuel, who turns 27 next month, is the best free agent at his position and won't last long -- if, in fact, he makes it to the open market.

    Bob Sanders, safety, Indianapolis: When the Colts suddenly stopped opposing rushing attacks in last year's playoffs, everyone said the difference was Sanders. And it was hard to argue after watching him chop down opposing backs. The guy is a fierce hitter with better-than-average coverage skills. That makes him an attractive catch for someone in free agency, but don't bet the house that he makes it to the market. The Colts don't let valued players walk, and Sanders is one of the two most important members of an improved defense. OK, so the Colts turned out running back Edgerrin James. They had a backup plan then, and it went something like this: Joseph Addai. Thank you very much. But without Sanders, the Indianapolis run defense is back to where it was the middle of last season -- and that is not good. Look for the Colts to keep him one way or the other.

    Alan Faneca, guard, Pittsburgh: A five-time All-Pro choice, Faneca almost certainly won't return to Pittsburgh. He pretty much said as much when he reported to camp this summer and refused to talk about an extension. Faneca not only believes he deserves better than what he has in Pittsburgh, but he charged the team with reneging on a promise to take care of him financially if he waited to redo his contract. So Faneca waited, and nothing happened. Now he will wait on everyone else. Faneca is the top offensive lineman in this year's class and one of the top offensive linemen to hit the market in years. At 31, he should have more than a handful of high-caliber seasons left, and durability is never a question with the guy. He hasn't missed a game since 2001.


    Sackmaster Jared Allen will be an attractive defensive end this offseason. (US Presswire)
    Michael Turner, running back, San Diego: He could start on most teams in the NFL, but he can't start on the Chargers. That's the price of sharing a locker room with LaDainian Tomlinson. Nevertheless, when Turner makes an appearance he makes an impression. Remember when San Diego snapped Indianapolis' 13-game unbeaten streak in 2005? It was Turner who finished the Colts with a game-clinching 83-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He averages 5.7 yards a carry in his career and never averaged below 5.0 in any season. He can return kicks. He has decent hands, though the Chargers seldom have taken advantage of them. And he has almost no wear on him. That happens when you never have more than 80 carries in a season.

    Randy Moss, wide receiver, New England: I can't see him leaving New England, either. What's happening with him this season is too much of a good thing for a guy who hasn't had many good things in his life lately. A year ago, the Raiders practically gave him away after two underwhelming years in Oakland. And they did it for a reason: They felt they were better off without him. And maybe they are. But New England is better off, too -- in fact, much better with Moss as a deep threat. All he's done is snag 19 touchdown passes, three short of Jerry Rice's single-season record, and win a Good Citizenship award for his behavior. Moss likes it in New England, and the Patriots like having him around. I would, too, if I had someone leading the league in receiving yards -- and that's what Moss is doing. It sure sounds like a marriage that can last. Stay tuned.

    Marcus Trufant, cornerback, Seattle: His contract will void based on playing time, and that's not good for Seattle. Trufant was the Seahawks' best and most trusted defensive back this season -- and that was reflected by his choice over Charles Woodson to the Pro Bowl. Trufant is having the best of his five NFL seasons, with a three-interception effort against Arizona his most notable achievement. With a career-high seven interceptions, he's second only to San Diego's Antonio Cromartie, but that's only part of the story here. He leads the Seahawks in passes defensed, and his 77 tackles are second to Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Trufant's success comes after he returned to left cornerback, where he started his first two seasons, and after the Seahawks hired Jim Mora as their secondary coach. With Mora's guidance, Trufant is more aggressive, more confident and better. He's more attractive to potential suitors, too.



    Lance Briggs, linebacker, Chicago: Bears' general manager Jerry Angelo recently said he "never shut the door" on Briggs returning to the club and will "wait to see how things play out." The smart money says Briggs doesn't return to Chicago, even though he told the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell he'd be happy to retire as a Bear. Sure, and I'd be happy to live in Fort Wayne. But the question is: What would make him happier?. My guess is that it's a long-term deal somewhere other than Chicago. Briggs' value is in his consistency and his productivity. He had more than 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll make it there again this season. If there's a problem for Briggs it's only this: In Chicago he's overshadowed by teammate Brian Urlacher, though it was Briggs, not Urlacher, who was named to this year's Pro Bowl. Good reason: He had a better season.

    Terrell Suggs, defensive end/linebacker, Baltimore: You name it, Suggs can play it. Defensive end? No problem. Outside linebacker? Give me a 3-4, and he's perfect. Suggs is one of the league's top pass rushers and ideally suited to Baltimore's attacking defense. He attacks the pocket with speed and quickness and is so proficient that he's been at or near double-digit sack totals in each of his first four seasons in the NFL. One problem: This year has been a disappointment, with Suggs down to five sacks, but it's been a disappointment across the board for the Ravens. Suggs is merely a reflection of a good team gone bad. Baltimore can and probably will franchise Suggs if it can't re-sign him, and there are a couple of reasons why: 1) He's not only an impact player, but 2) he turned 25 in October. That means his best seasons are ahead of him, which should mean the Ravens are intent on keeping him.

    Jared Allen, defensive end, Kansas City: He always was considered the Chiefs' top pass rusher, but now he's regarded as one of the league's best, too. Allen was named as a Pro Bowl starter this week and look for him to cash in on the recognition after the season. In all likelihood, the Chiefs keep him -- either through and extension or by designating him as their franchise player. In fact, president Carl Peterson said as much when he promised that Allen would return to Kansas City in 2008. Smart move. Allen is tough, relentless and productive -- with more sacks this season (11.5) than everyone in the AFC but Houston's Mario Williams. "I'm interested in the guy," said one personnel director, "but there are off-the-field issues that would concern me." Maybe, but Allen seems to have matured this season and assumed more of a leadership role on the field. That's a plus. So is this: He's only 25.

    Albert Haynesworth, defensive tackle, Tennessee: He will be at or near the top of everyone's list for two reasons: 1) Because of the position he plays and 2) because of how he plays it. Haynesworth has been so dominant this year, routinely blowing up opponent after opponent, that he's the leading candidate for the league's Defensive Player of the Year. He jams the middle. He can rush the passer. He bats down passes. In short, he can do it all. Or, at least, he could this season. "Contract year," is how one GM characterized it. "I'd be careful with him," he said, "because of character issues." Hayesworth, who was suspended five games last season, has been a model citizen, staying out of trouble and producing at an All-Pro level. He has as many sacks (six) as his last three seasons combined and more quarterback pressures (20) than at anytime since his rookie year. Critics wonder if it lasts. All I know is that if I'm the Titans I'd like the opportunity to find out.


    Honorable mention
    Dallas Clark, tight end, Indianapolis: I love this guy. He can play inside or outside. He can block. He can make the difficult catch. He's tough. He's resilient. In short, he's perfect for Indianapolis, where he serves as a security blanket for Peyton Manning, which is why I can't see the Colts letting him go. With Marvin Harrison winding down the Colts must keep surrounding Manning with quality pass receivers, and Clark is one of the best in the business. His versatility is what makes him so attractive to the team, with few tight ends better at catching, route running and yards after the reception. Quick now, who leads Indianapolis in touchdown receptions? If you said Reggie Wayne you're only partially correct. He's tied with Clark at nine. Maybe the Colts are on the verge of a Wayne-Harrison breakup, but there is no reason to dissolve this union. It can go on for years


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    Re: Defense dominates '08 free-agent class

    Bob Sanders signed

    Alan Faneca, guard, Pittsburgh: A five-time All-Pro choice. This would be a nice addition. We could get Chris Long and then go WR in the second round.
    Last edited by Rambos; -01-01-2008 at 01:44 PM.

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    Re: Defense dominates '08 free-agent class

    I would like that a lot. Our only problem is getting a top-tier talent to sign on with the Rams. I think if we could get Faneca, though, we would be on the right track to a return to the playoffs. It would certainly do no harm.

    And as someone else pointed out in another thread, there are a lot of good WRs in this draft, and one could easily fall into our laps in round 2.

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    Nick's Avatar
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    Re: Defense dominates '08 free-agent class

    Personally I think it's going to be hard to lure Faneca away from Arizona, seeing as how his old OC and O-line coach are both there. Plus Arizona's line isn't exactly locked up on the interior. I could see them going out and spending some money on a guy like Alan.

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    Re: Defense dominates '08 free-agent class

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick View Post
    Personally I think it's going to be hard to lure Faneca away from Arizona, seeing as how his old OC and O-line coach are both there. Plus Arizona's line isn't exactly locked up on the interior. I could see them going out and spending some money on a guy like Alan.
    And the fact that we're a poor team. We dont have the cash to sign Feneca then have to deal with the rest of our needs. If we had a bigger salary cap, then I'd say go for him...but...we just dont have the money to spend on him as well as improve other needs in our team.

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