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Posted on: February 28, 2012 12:00 am
Edited on: February 28, 2012 11:17 am
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Defensive tackle rankings

Follow all our 2012 free-agent rankings (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the defensive tackles.

Unlike our previous free-agent breakdowns, the defensive tackles lack big names and depth; but that doesn't mean their roles have diminished. Getting into the backfield is more important now than ever, and while sacks aren't necessarily a hallmark of the position, disrupting what the offense wants to do certainly is. And that's where some of the names below excel.

1. Paul Soliai

Breakdown: Soliai spent the first five years of his NFL career with the Dolphins. They thought so much of him that they franchised him before the 2011 season. The two sides have yet to agree on a long-term deal, although it isn't from a lack of trying. With the Dolphins likely switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, the nose tackle looks to be headed for free agency. Six-four, 355-pound space-eaters seldom have trouble finding work and we suspect that'll be the case for Soliai, too.

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Chargers, other 3-4 teams with cap room and a need for a nose tackle.

2. Sione Pouha

Breakdown: The Jets' defense wasn't the reason the team imploded down the stretch last season, but the unit wasn't as good as it had been during Rex Ryan's first two seasons in New York. Luckily, the Mark Sanchez-Santonio Holmes afterschool special obscured all that. But locker-room catfights aside, the Jets' defense has to get better in 2012 and that starts up the middle. Pouha is a run-stuffing nose tackle who at 33 shows no signs of slowing down. Because of the Jets' precarious salary-cap situation, they have no plans to tag Pouha, but as the Newark Star-Ledger's Jenny Vrentas noted last week, "Pouha is coming off a strong season and also has leverage because Kenrick Ellis, last year's third-round draft pick, is not yet ready for the role."

Possible landing spots: Patriots, Chargers, Chiefs.

3. Jason Jones

Breakdown: Jones is one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. At 6-5, 276, he might appear undersized for the tackle position but he had 12.5 sacks playing primarily inside during his first three seasons. But under a new coaching staff in 2011, Jones played both tackle and end and saw his numbers slip (he had just three sacks). Following the season, he admitted that how the Titans plan to use him could determine the likelihood he re-signs. Earlier this month, Titans head coach Mike Munchak said (via the Tennessean) “We’re going to use him whatever way we think is best to win football games. Obviously, if we felt leaving him at defensive tackle for every snap was the way to go, we would have done that. We didn’t do that. So now it’s just a matter of us having the right mix and having him feel good about it."

The Titans and Jones have begun contract talks but he appears headed for free agency.

Possible landing spots: Eagles, Broncos, Colts.
                                                                          (US PRESSWIRE)

4. Antonio Garay

Breakdown: Word on the street is that the Chargers will release defensive end Luis Castillo and hope to re-sign Garay and Tommie Harris (though both will be allowed to test free agency). At 32, Garay's best days may be behind him, but at the right price he makes a lot of sense. Pro Football Weekly noted several weeks ago that "Many believe Garay wore down at the end of the year, as he was not used to playing three downs for an entire season. With a capable backup in place, a better rotation would allow the lineman to stay fresh for the entire grind of the year."

The nose tackle rotation would include 2010 fifth-rounder Cam Thomas.

Possible landing spots: Defenses running the 3-4 and looking for a savvy, reasonably priced, two-down veteran. Patriots, Steelers, Cardinals.

5. Brodrick Bunkley

Breakdown: Bunkley washed out as the Eagles' 2006 first-round pick but experienced a rebirth of sorts in Denver last season. "There was at least some injury concern when Bunkley went to the Broncos," the Denver Post's Jeff Legwold wrote earlier this month, "but once he arrived, he didn't miss a practice on the way to playing in every game in the 2011 season. His statistics were modest on the surface — 43 tackles and no sacks — but his teammates, particularly the ones who have been with the Broncos for a while, say he was a key part of any improvement the team made defensively over 2010."

Team president John Elway, taking a break from talking Tim Tebow, offered this. "He really played well. Like all of our free agents, we would like to get them back in the building and consider (re-signing them)."

Possible landing spots: Broncos, cash-strapped teams looking for affordable depth.

6. Aubrayo Franklin

Breakdown: New Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will have to decide whether Franklin is worth re-signing but if not, Franklin could have a future as a nose tackle. "The nine-year veteran signed just a one-year, $4 million contract with New Orleans in '11, playing tackle in the 4-3 after the 3-4 market never really developed for him," Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli wrote in mid-February. "Two personnel directors at the Super Bowl last week mentioned Franklin as a possible 'sleeper' at the position." Which means Franklin could be in demand with 3-4 teams, or teams looking to move to the 3-4.

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Patriots, Steelers, Redskins.

7. Shaun Rogers

Breakdown: Remember when Rogers did this? (Tebow never lets that happen, by the way.) After stints in Cleveland and New Orleans, Rogers had developed a reputation for taking plays off. In 2011, he got off to a slow start with the Saints but improved as the season progressed. New Orleans could choose to give him a short-term deal, but it's just as likely that Rogers is headed for free agency. 

Possible landing spots: Chiefs, Saints.

8. Amobi Okoye

Breakdown: Okoye was 19 years old when the Texans took him out of Louisville in the first round of the 2007 draft (10th overall). He never lived up to expectations in Houston, and Chicago signed him to a one-year deal before the 2011 season. He played in 16 games for the Bears and had 18 tackles and four sacks. Last week, head coach Lovie Smith said "Amobi had a heck of a year," and sounded like the organization would make a real effort to keep him. On Sunday, CSNChicago.com's John Mullin wrote that "the Bears had contract talks late last season (with Okoye) and likely will have re-signed before the outset of free agency."

Possible landing spots: Chicago.

9. Albert Haynesworth

                                                                          (US PRESSWIRE)
Breakdown: Haynesworth makes the list on reputation alone. And we mean his pre-Redskins reputation, when Jim Washburn got the most out of the man now known as one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent years. Not even Bill Belichick could revive Haynesworth's career, cutting him midway through last season.

The Bucs signed him only to release him a few weeks ago. Maybe his career is over, but then again, coaches and GMs are seduced by potential. And Haynesworth certainly has plenty of that.

Possible landing spots: Realistically, Haynesworth's probably done. That said, we wouldn't be shocked if the Redskins signed him to another $100 million deal.

10. Tommie Harris

Breakdown: Injuries derailed a great career in the making for the Bears' former first-round pick. Chicago released Harris before the 2011 season, and after a brief stopover with the Colts, he made a home in San Diego. He played so well, in fact, that the Chargers are hoping to re-sign him and Garay to provide depth for a crop of young defensive linemen.

Possible landing spots: Teams looking for depth.

Honorable mention

Rocky Bernard, Kelly Gregg (possible retirement), Pat Sims, Jimmy Kennedy, Kyle Love (RFA), Trevor Laws

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 11:01 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 11:02 pm
 

Jets give LB Bart Scott permission to seek trade

After three years, Bart Scott's tenure with the Jets appears to be over.  (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

When Rex Ryan arrived in New York three years ago, he wasted little time bringing some of his former Ravens players with him. Linebacker Bart Scott was one of the first, signing a six-year, $48 million deal with the Jets in February 2009. Scott's skills have diminished to the point that the organization has given him permission to seek a trade, according to the New York Daily News's Manish Mehta.

The Jets restructured Scott's deal before the 2011 season, which offered some immediate cap relief in exchange for a 2012 base salary of $4.2 million. As his production slips, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify that salary.

More details via Mehta:
Scott's base salary is $6.9 million in 2013 and 2014. Scott's guaranteed base salary in 2012 makes it unlikely that the Jets would simply cut him. Financially, it won't make much sense.

Scott, 31, grew increasingly unhappy with his diminished playing time during the Jets' disappointing 8-8 season. He was routinely taken out on third downs due to the team's belief that he had difficulty in coverage.
Scott had 54 solo tackles in 2011, his lowest total since arriving in New York (though he had four sacks after logging one each in '10 and '09). And according to Pro Football Focus, Scott played fewer snaps last season than he did the previous two.

Not surprisingly (at least not after watching this again), Scott's frustrated. His agent Harold Lewis told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini that Scott's diminished role was "destroying him," but noted that his client's "ultimate goal" is to stay with the Jets.

"If we can't fix what's broken," Lewis said, "there will be other opportunities."

It appears that Scott's tenure with the Jets will end one way or another this offseason. Ideally, New York would like to trade him in the hopes of getting something in return for a guy that'll count $5.9 million against the cap. The most likely scenario, however is that the team will end up releasing Scott, who probably won't generate much interest on the trading block when teams know that he'll be a free agent in the coming weeks.

As for possible destinations, Lewis declared that Scott would play for the Giants "in a heartbeat."

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 8:45 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 11:33 am
 

2012 NFL Combine: Monday's winners and losers

Poe looked light for a 348-pound beast. (US Presswire)
By Will Brinson

The media section of the combine is done and we've made our way back from Indy. But that doesn't mean there aren't still judgments to make. On Monday, the defensive linemen and linebackers worked out on the field and, generally speaking, it was a good day for some guys. But not for everyone. Let's examine.

Winners

Dontari Poe: The Memphis defensive lineman's stock is skyrocketing right now. Poe was great in interviews over the weekend, ran a 4.98 40 time, led all defensive linemen with 44 reps on the 225-pound bench and had a respectable 29.5 vertical. A veteran offensive-line coach told our colleage Bruce Feldman that he took plays off, but "has definite first-round talent." Poe was previously considered likely to land in the latter part of the first round, but with the Panthers desperate to improve their run defense and pass rush by plugging a powerful defensive tackle in the middle of their defensive line, Poe's a sneaky candidate for a top-10 pick.

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Melvin Ingram: Ingram's our top outside-linebacker prospect and currently the 16th-overall prospect in the draft. That shouldn't change after his Monday combine workouts. Ingram ran a 4.79 40, benched 28 reps and flashed athleticism with a 34.5 vertical jump and a 109 inch broad jump. Ingram also surprised in his interview portion; we'd spoken with him on the phone and weren't particularly impressed, but he was quite engaging with the media on Saturday. Ingram could quite easily push himself into the top-15 of the draft.

Luke Kuechley: Did you know that last year, the Boston College linebacker had seven games with 15 tackles or more? His lowest output of the season was nine tackles in BC's final game, but he managed to pick up a 45-yard interception for a touchdown. And that was coming after he injured his elbow late in the season against NC State. Keuchley was fantastic at the podium Sunday, and even better on Monday. He ran a 4.58 official 40 time, the third-fastest time for all linebackers. He pressed 225 pounds 27 times. He had the third-highest vertical jump at 27.5 inches. And he had the fifth-highest long jump at 123 inches. If the only knock on Keuchley was his athleticism, what's there to dislike now?

Mychal Kendricks: Kendricks rated as the sixth-best inside linebacker on NFLDraftScout.com's prospect board coming into the combine. His stock got a huge boost as he dominated Monday's combine workouts for linebackers. Kendricks finished first in the broad jump (127 inches), first in the vertical jump (39.5 inches), first in the 40 (4.47) and he also benched 225 pounds 24 times. His workout in Indy could very well make him the third inside linebacker off the board come April, behind only Kuechley and Alabama's Dont'a Hightower.

Nick Perry: The USC defensive end, ranked as the No. 2 DE by NDS, is tagged with the while "one-year wonder" concern and there are also issues with him potentially taking plays off. Before the combine, he was pegged as a potential late first-round pick, but he could climb draft boards between now and April. He was faster than UNC's Quinton Coples in the 40, he benched more reps and he finished with the best measurements of all defensive linemen on both the vertical jump as well as the broad jump. In a weak defensive-end class, Perry could lock himself into the first round with a strong push towards the draft.

Losers

Vontaze Burflict: When listing the weekend winners and losers from the combine, we noted "Arizona State" as a loser. Well, Burflict, the most notable Sun Devil prospect, really separated himself on Monday. And not in a good way: Burflict ran an official 5.09 40 time, which was 12th-slowest among all defensive linemen and linebackers. He was the only linebacker who topped five seconds on the 40, and as Feldman reported Monday, one scout said simply, "I wouldn't touch him." Rob Rang thinks he could be falling to into "third-day" territory for the draft.

Quinton Coples: Coples had a decent 40 time, but he was unimpressive on the broad jump (109 inches), the vertical jump (31.5 inches) and the bench press (just 19 reps). Coples is a guy that's taken heat for his on-field hustle, so seeing him come in to the combine motivated and dominate teams would've been a reason to allay some of those fears. Instead, Coples is proving that this defensive end class simply isn't that impressive.

Michael Brockers: Yesterday, Brockers was the big winner. Then Monday happened, and Brockers just didn't look like the athlete we expected him to be. As Rang noted, Brockers has "plenty of red flags" and looked surprisingly slow during his 40-yard dash, clocking a snail-like 5.36. Brockers joked on Saturday that he's seen his 40 time dip since adding weight, but he never mentioned anything about a 5.3-second range. Expecting him to blow up the workouts with his freaky athleticism, we were prepared to plop him into the No. 9 spot in our next draft to the Panthers. Now, that's much less certain.

Anyone Who Wants Robert Griffin: The Browns, Dolphins and Redskins are the three most popular landing spots for RG3. But the Seahawks and the Chiefs -- and the ever-popular "mystery team" -- are out there as well. In short, with RG3 now gone from Indy, the market is even crazier than it was before he got there. Griffin, in our mind, will go No. 2 overall. There's a 99.5 percent chance, with the only way he doesn't go second being a 0.5 percent chance that the Colts bypass Andrew Luck. And when he does, it's going to cost whoever got there a pile of picks to do so.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 7:22 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 2:10 am
 

Rams will deal No. 2 overall pick

The RG3 sweepstakes gains momentum after the combine. (Getty Images, US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The NFL Draft is two months off, but this much is certain: some team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback will trade up to the No. 2 spot and take Robert Griffin III, which was confirmed by CBSSports.com NFL Insider Pat Kirwan. This is great news for the Rams, who currently own the second pick. While St. Louis has its own franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford, they have plenty of other needs.

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On Friday, CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman wrote about Griffin's future, noting that "League sources maintain at least three teams are strongly considering moving up in a blockbuster deal with the Rams to snag Griffin. Those teams, sources say, include Washington, Miami and Seattle. Team officials also say Cleveland has interest in trading up, though not as much as other teams." 

Freeman added that "It will likely take two No. 1 picks (at least) to make that trade, and the reason is some teams view Griffin as similarly talented as Luck or such a close facsimile in terms of potential that the difference isn't a great one."

RG3 had a nice showing at the combine and in Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" column he writes that "The Rams will drive a hard bargain. Cleveland (fourth overall pick), Washington (sixth) and Miami (eighth) will be in the derby to move up; Seattle (12) and a couple of mystery teams could be, too. Add the fact that the money involved (four years, about $22 million) is likely to be less than the money paid to the top (current) free agent Matt Flynn, and the market for Griffin will be hopping."

That last point can't be emphasized enough. Right or wrong, Flynn's getting paid, just like Kevin Kolb did last year. If teams truly are sold on RG3's potential, then the new CBA means that trading up, by itself, isn't cost prohibitive -- although that could change based on the Rams' asking price. (ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted Monday night that the Rams could get a deal similar to what the Chargers got for Eli Manning in 2004: two first-rounders, a third-rounder, and a fifth-rounder.)

A possible monkey wrench for teams not located in DC: the Redskins have a history of overpaying for talent, although they've been much better about it in recent years. Still, we liken owner Daniel Snyder's approach to player personnel to that of a prospective homebuyer who waives the home inspection and offers $40,000 over asking. It's a no-holds barred approach that ultimately doesn't work -- in real estate or for the 'Skins.

But the heart wants what the heart wants. And if Snyder is convinced that RG3 is the answer in Washington, we wouldn't be surprised if he had a roster-building relapse. Other potential suitors would be priced out of the bidding, which is great news for the Rams. Still, even if the 'Skins show restraint in the race for RG3, St. Louis should benefit.

"The whole paradigm has changed in several ways,'' Rams COO Kevin Demoff told King Saturday night. "Griffin could be cheaper than Flynn. The fact that you can get a potential franchise quarterback for what the top picks are paid now makes it easier to justify trading a lot for it.''

And fear not, RG3 sweepstakes losers. CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco tweets an important point:

PriscoCBS
For teams that might rush to trade up to No. 2 to get Griffin, just remember Matt Barkley and other QBs will be in next year's draft.
2/27/12 5:59 PM

The problem, of course, is that there's no guarantee that those quarterback-needy teams in range of RG3 this offseason will have similar opportunities to draft Barkley a year from now. That risk has to be weighed against the cost of getting Griffin now, as well as exploring other options, like trying to sign Flynn.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 5:46 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 5:59 pm
 

LB Leroy Hill arrested for marijuana possession

It's Hill's third arrest in three years. (Getty Images)
By Ryan Wilson

It's been a busy news day for drug arrests. Jaguars defensive tackle Nate Collins was charged with marijuana possession in Virginia, and free-agent linebacker Leroy Hill was arrested on similar charges in Atlanta, the Atlanta police department confirmed to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Curtis Crabtree.

The Tacoma News Tribune first reported the news.

Hill, who spent seven years with the Seahawks, was arrested along with his girlfriend after officers received a complaint of the strong smell of marijuana coming from the 17th floor of an apartment unit. Per the police report, officers obtained a search warrant after confirming the odor. After entering the premises, partially smoked "blunts" were in plain view.

Crabtree notes that "Hill was arrested in 2009 on marijuana charges after falling asleep at the wheel at an intersection in the Atlanta area."

And the News Tribune's Eric Williams writes that Hill has now been arrested three times in the last three years. Including the two incidents above, he was charged with fourth-degree assault/domestic violence in April 2010 for an incident involving his live-in girlfriend at the time.

The previous two arrests resulted in probation for misdemeanor drug possession and a settlement that led to the dismissal of the domestic-assault charges.

As for the latest run-in with authorities, Hill might not be so fortunate. He was suspended for the first game of the 2010 season for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. Now he could face a four-game ban for violating the substance-abuse policy.

"That’s not good news for Hill, a soon-to-be free agent coming off his best season in five years," Williams points out. "For the first time in his seven years in the league Hill, 29, played a full 16 games, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 89, and second on the team with four sacks."

If they weren't already (they almost certainly were), Seattle's scouts, coaches and front-office types can add "linebacker" to the to-do list at the NFL combine.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 4:54 pm
 

Jags DL arrested on marijuana possession charges

Nate Collins was pulled over for illegal window tint. That turned out to be the least of his issue. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Jaguars defensive lineman Nate Collins was arrested for marijuana possession in Warrenton, Virginia last week, according to the Fauquier Times-Democrat (via the Florida Times-Union's Tania Ganguli).

Collins, a former University of Virginia player, was originally signed to the Giants' practice squad in April 2010. He spent the last two seasons in Jacksonville and will be an exclusive right's free agent this offseason. He played in 12 games in 2011 registering a half a sack and one pass defended.

The Times-Democrat reports that Collins was pulled over by a Virginia state trooper for illegal window tint, the officer noticed the smell of marijuana coming from the car and "found a duffle bag with marijuana joints in the trunk."

As an exclusive rights free agent, Collins can only sign with his previous team, assuming the Jaguars offer him a contract. The marijuana possession charge certainly doesn't help Collins' job prospects in Jacksonville -- where there's a new owner and a new head coach -- or elsewhere.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 4:18 pm
 

Browns GM Heckert had heart surgery

By Josh Katzowitz

It caused a minor stir last week when it was revealed by the Browns that general manager Tom Heckert wouldn’t travel for the combine because he was “ill,” but that he should be fine to return to work this week.

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If you count “needing heart surgery” as being “ill,” then I guess Heckert was, in fact, ill.

That’s what Cleveland president Mike Holmgren announced at a press conference Monday afternoon when he revealed (via the Cleveland Plain Dealer) Heckert underwent heart surgery to clear a blockage and that he was recovering well.

Holmgren said Heckert -- who Holmgren said did not have a heart attack -- would return to the office Tuesday and would continue to be an integral part of the Browns draft efforts.

Heckert also missed the Senior Bowl, but he participated in combine interviews with potential draft picks the past week via Skype.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 2:11 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 2:15 pm
 

Report: D'Qwell Jackson gets $42.5 mil extension

Jackson wanted a five-year extension, and that's exactly what he got. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

D’Qwell Jackson was one of the best comeback stories of 2011. Though Matthew Stafford took home the AP comeback player of the year award, Jackson was as good a candidate for that honor as anybody.

After missing two seasons because of pectoral injuries, Jackson returned as a force in 2011, leading the AFC with 158 tackles (second-best in the NFL), recording a career-high 3.5 sacks and recovering three fumbles (tied for best in the AFC)*.

Now, the Browns are rewarding him, as they’ve announced they’ve signed him to a multiyear contract extension. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the deal is for five years and $42.5 million (including $19 million in guarantees and bonuses).

*Obviously, the hyperbaric chamber he loves so much was one reason he was so successful. At least in his mind.

The news obviously is great for Jackson, who wanted a five-year extension, but it’s also a positive step for the Browns, who were thinking about placing the franchise tag on Jackson at about $8.8 million for 2012.

As the Plain Dealer wrote earlier this month, the Browns also were thinking about tagging kicker Phil Dawson. That would cost them about $3.8 million since they also tagged him last season. Running back Peyton Hillis also remains an option to be tagged.

"Do I want to be back? This is where I started," Jackson told the paper in mid-February. "That's not even an afterthought to me. Yes, I want to be with the Browns, no question about it. I'm here in this locker room and I like the guys I'm playing with right now. That's all that matters."

"They indicated they wanted me back when they gave me an opportunity to come back after an injury; that was enough for me. That told me that they wanted me back. I was out for 26 games and they could've easily gone in a different direction, but they didn't. I owe it to them in a sense."

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com