Coach John Fox has gone on record about playmakers. He thinks the team needs a few more. As fans, though, we seem to always think of playmakers as offensive guys, skill players. The way Fox likes good defenders, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was considering the defensive side of the ball too.
The Carolina Panthers’ defense last season simply failed to make plays. The statistics bear this out. Far too few turnovers, a lack of quarterback sacks, it all goes back to one thing that the team had done well prior to the ’07 season – gaining an advantage at the line of scrimmage with their front four.
This offseason, there is great potential in the group of players available to play along the defensive line.
DT, Albert Haynesworth, Tennessee Titans : The cliche about a player picking up his level of play during a contract year couldn’t be more true than it was last season with Haynesworth. He was a force to be reckoned with anytime he lined up. (6 sacks, 40 tackles) For a defensive tackle to account for more than 2 or 3 sacks is impressive enough but it was how he disrupted opposing offenses that was most impressive. All of this praise may have been earned but putting him on this wish list might be a waste of time. The team could place the franchise tag on him and, more importantly, Haynesworth is talking like a guy who really wants to stay put. It’s a long shot that he signs elsewhere but if he does he’ll command a very big payday.
DE, Jared Allen, Kansas City Chiefs : It’s one thing to have a great season but to do it while playing for a bad team is another. Allen put up 15.5 sacks, 64 tackles, 3 forced fumbles and scored two TD’s. He’s only 25 years old – yet another stat that raises his stock even more. The Chiefs want to keep him around and they may make him their franchise player to accomplish that. “It’ll be interesting to see where it goes,” Allen said recently. “It’s up to the Chiefs right now.” I doubt he hits the market, but if he does he’ll be a highly sought after commodity.
DE, Justin Smith, Cincinnati Bengals : While Hayneswworth and Allen were putting up big numbers and playing lights out during their contract seasons, Smith was disappointing many in the Midwest. He managed only 2 sacks (after having 7.5 in ’06) but he did have 78 tackles. Let’s be honest, though, he was playing on a defense that was far from stellar. If the Bengals are looking only at the numbers, they may allow Smith to leave. If that happens, he’ll be a player worth watching.
DE/OLB, Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens : Suggs is a versatile player who can play both as a down lineman and as an outside linebacker. His career has been highlighted by his sack totals though that number dropped considerably in ’07 (5 sacks). However, he did post 80 tackles 52 of which were of the solo variety. While it was a bit of an off year, Suggs could demand lot of Benjamins as a free agent. He’s only 25 years old and could be a tremendous asset to another team.
DE, Tommy Kelly, Oakland Raiders : When Warren Sapp praises you as a player is that a good thing or a bad thing? Kelly had looked like a very good up and coming player prior to being injured last season. As a result, he had only 1 sack and 30 tackles while appearing in seven games. It will be the versatility to play both end and tackle that will make Kelly an attractive prospect in free agency, should be escape the Bay Area.
DT, Corey Williams, Green Bay Packers : Williams is a very consistent defensive tackle who has managed 7 sacks both of the last two seasons. In ’07 he also 3 forced fumbles. The Packers are a young team with an improving defense so the situation with a guy like Williams will be interesting to watch. If he is no longer playing on the frozen tundra next season, he’ll be getting paid pretty handsomely to play elsewhere.
For a complete list of potential free agent defensive linemen visit our Free Agents Page.
The Carolina Panthers’ front four may be undergoing some changes this offseason. There are some questions to be answered. Among them: Will Mike Rucker return? Will Julius Peppers return to form? The team may elect to either stay with the status quo or make an addition or two. My guess is that Rucker returns but in a more limited role while Fox and company look to upgrade at least one position along the defensive front. Because of his love for good defensive players, I’d watch Fox to see who he could be targetting this offseason out of this group.
Be sure to return tomorrow. We’ll be breaking down the list of free agent linebackers.