Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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The 2011 Defense Market

Saturday, June 04, 2011

When we started our positional market analysis on May 10, it appeared possible, maybe even likely, that the 2011 NFL season would be played under a lockout injunction and 2010 rules. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement has become much more probable over the past month.

Five-year free agents are likely to be unrestricted, and four-year UFA/RFAs probably will be too. If so, it's going to be easily the best free agent crop we have ever seen. Teams were wary of extending players all last year, so expiring contracts have almost become the norm. Expect a wild few weeks when free agency kicks off.

This is the last installment of our market previews. For the first four columns, bang it here:

The Quarterback Market
The Running Back Market
The Wide Receiver Market
The Tight End Market

Surefire Free Agent Defenders

1. Nnamdi Asomugha, cornerback

Scouting Report: Though rarely allowed to "shadow" No. 1 receivers in Oakland, Asomugha has earned a reputation as a shutdown cornerback for his man-to-man cover skills. The Raiders used him at right corner, where Asomugha dealt with split end-type, vertical receivers like Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, and Brandon Lloyd. Johnson, the best wideout in the game, has been held to stat lines of 2/66/0, 2/19/0, and 1/9/0 in his career against Asomugha. For the most part, offenses have simply refused to throw at Asomugha's RCB position over the past several seasons. He has not exceeded 40 tackles or one interception in any of the last four years.

Availability: Asomugha's contract, originally worth $45.3 million over three years, voided at season's end because he failed to meet certain statistical barriers. (Because no one throws at him.) Asomugha belongs in a system that allows corners to play press-man coverage rather than zone. His highest degree of interest when free agency begins is expected to come from the NFC East. Signing Asomugha could be the move that puts Philadelphia over the top.

Prediction: Eagles on a five-year, $72 million contract.

2. Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle

Scouting Report: Built low to the ground at 6-foot-1, 320 with a thunderously thick lower body, Franklin is the quintessential 3-4 nose tackle. He offers nothing in the way of pass rush, but has mastered the art of "two-gapping" as a double team-commanding interior presence. The 49ers have fielded a top-six run defense in each of the past two years, and their paltry 3.55 yards-per-carry average allowed during that span is largely attributable to Franklin's dirty work in front of Patrick Willis. Immovable, athletic specimen like Franklin are tremendously difficult to find.

Availability: After Franklin held out of 2010 camp due to dissatisfaction with the franchise tag, the new 49ers brass opted against tagging him for a second straight year. This is what Franklin has wanted all along -- freedom to test his wares on the open market -- so it's a safe bet that he'll take the best offer available. Franklin turns 31 before the season, and there's buyer-beware risk here. As for a contract, Casey Hampton's 2010 deal will be the starting point.

Prediction: Redskins on a four-year, $32 million contract.

3. Matt Roth, defensive end/outside linebacker

Scouting Report: Roth has never been a big sack guy -- his career high is 5.0 in 2008 -- but he plays with a relentless motor and is a highly physical run defender. Pro Football Focus has rated Roth as a top-seven run-stopping outside linebacker in each of the past two seasons. At 6-foot-4, 275, however, Roth's best NFL position would be left defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. He played defensive end early in his career under Nick Saban with the Dolphins.

Availability: The 46th pick in the '05 draft, Roth is a six-year unrestricted free agent regardless of CBA rules. He'll look to max out on the open market at age 28. Roth has shown impressive versatility for a front seven defender, which will appeal to teams like the Jets, Patriots, and Ravens. It also makes sense for the Browns to keep him as Jabaal Sheard's bookend. Bill Belichick can get an in-depth Roth scouting report from Saban, his former defensive coordinator.

Prediction: Patriots on a five-year, $29 million contract.

4. Cullen Jenkins, defensive lineman

Scouting Report: A late bloomer and former undrafted free agent, Jenkins did a stint in NFL Europe before landing a spot on Green Bay's roster in 2005. The team's starting right end since overtaking Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Jenkins has shown a complete game when healthy. But that's the rub. Jenkins has missed 17 games over the past three seasons, last year battling a fractured hand and torn calf, and in 2009 going on I.R. with a torn pectoral. Jenkins is 6-foot-2, 305, so the eyeball test says he'd be better suited for an interior position outside of Green Bay.

Availability: The Packers didn't use the franchise tag, and Mike McCarthy spoke of Jenkins in the past tense at his year-ending press conference. "I really enjoyed coaching Cullen," the coach said in February. Speculation has linked Jenkins to the Bears, Redskins, and Broncos. He can project to a variety of positions in all schemes, so there should be no shortage of suitors.

Prediction: Seahawks on a four-year, $22.5 million contract.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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