Free Agency Shakes Up NFL Draft Picture
By: Craig VanderKam
March 7, 2010
Ndamukong Suh: Lions Draft Pick at #2?
Free agency only officially opened two days ago but it has already brought its share of big-splash deals and there was more action in the first day this year than there often is in the first week. With many of the free agent dominos having fallen and several of the big names on the trade market having been dealt, we take a closer look at these off-season acquisitions and how they could affect the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

The Detroit Lions have acquired two players on their defensive line who are guaranteed to start for next season, DT Corey Williams in a trade from the Cleveland Browns and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch via free agency. The Lions defense has ranked last in scoring defense for three straight seasons and with the exception of safety Louis Delmas and linebacker DeAndre Levy had very few bright spots. Larry Foote is a free agent and Julian Peterson is getting old, while Sammie Lee Hill has a lot of upside but Ernie Sims and Cliff Avril can only be considered building blocks or complimentary pieces at this point.

There have been some rumors the overhaul of the defensive line could tip the scales to OT Russell Okung with the Lions selection at #2 overall. Williams was a franchise player just two years ago playing with the Packers in their 4-3 scheme, but underperformed in Cleveland with the switch to the 3-4. Detroit has now invested a lot of money in their defensive line which would be fairly dependable if Vanden Bosch remains healthy, Williams regains effectiveness and Hill continues to develop. Ndamukong Suh, however, is a once-in-a-decade talent who has been called the best defensive tackle prospect since Warren Sapp. Suh has the versatility to line up at LDE with Hill, Williams and Vanden Bosch on running downs and LDT with Vanden Bosch, Williams and Avril on passing downs. Russell Okung is a fine talent but is nowhere near the prospect Suh is at his position. The Lions may put more consideration into Okung if Suh goes #1 overall but if St. Louis opts for Sam Bradford the only options at #2 should be Suh or trade down. The defense needed a lot of help and a 29-year-old Williams and 31-year-old Vanden Bosch should not change their draft plans. That is not to discount Williams’ ability because he has proven he can be very good, but Suh has the potential to be elite.

Russell Okung
The Washington Redskins had pursued offensive tackle Chad Clifton before he re-signed with the Green Bay Packers. Even with the signing of Artis Hicks and conflicting reports the team has agreed to terms with the versatile Tony Pashos, there is no doubt the Redskins are in desperate need for blind-side help. Clifton had extensive zone-blocking experience and would have fit into the new system the Redskins are installing under new head coach Mike Shanahan. Clifton is 34-years-old but is still a difference-maker on the left side and could have given Washington options with their pick at #4. Pashos looks ticketed for the right tackle position and Hicks has filled in as a starter at three positions on the line over the past three years but might be the best fit at right guard. The two veterans will shore up the Redskins crumbling offensive line, but they still have a glaring hole on the blind side and Russell Okung should be too good to pass on with the fourth overall pick.

The Seattle Seahawks have considered signing wide receiver Brandon Marshall to an offer sheet, but it would be shocking for the team to part with the #6 overall pick to acquire a player with insubordinate behavior. It is unclear if the Broncos, who also have the #11 selection, are willing to add a rookie for five years and a guaranteed $25 million, so the two teams could open trade talks in lieu of the sixth overall selection. If the Seahawks opt to sign Marshall to the offer sheet, they could be risking a chance at quarterback Jimmy Clausen or running back C.J. Spiller, though they could keep their fingers crossed that either is available when the team picks again at #14 overall.

Dez Bryant
The Jacksonville Jaguars have signed defensive end Aaron Kampman, and his 3.5 sacks in an injury-shortened 2009 season was still more than any other Jaguar. Jacksonville has addressed their number one need with the signing and now have an array of options with the #10 overall selection. They could still consider a defensive end such as Jason Pierre-Paul or Derrick Morgan to address the other side of the line, but they will also be tempted to add a wide receiver or safety. Dez Bryant should be available and could be an immediate starter opposite Mike Sims-Walker over Mike Thomas or Troy Williamson. Williamson is a bit of a question mark coming off a torn labrum that saw his season end last year in Week 2 and Thomas is a better fit as a slot receiver at 5’8” and 195 lbs. The Jaguars could go for Earl Thomas or Taylor Mays, but both would be a reach as Eric Berry is the only safety with a Top 10 grade.

Sergio Kindle
The Miami Dolphins signed inside linebacker Karlos Dansby to the richest deal ever for a non-blitzing linebacker, and Dansby will take over as the “Ted” ILB next to “Mike” Channing Crowder in the ‘Fins 3-4 defense. Dansby is just the first piece of the puzzle for Miami’s defense, who were out-bid for safety Antrel Rolle and still have a hole at outside linebacker. The Dolphins may look to use the #12 pick on a wide receiver -- Dez Bryant will be considered if he is available -- but more than likely they wait on receiver until round two or three. A rush linebacker such as Sergio Kindle or cover safety like Earl Thomas makes a lot of sense for the Dolphins in the first round.

The New York Giants severely over-paid for safety Antrel Rolle, but they had to upgrade the position, especially with doubts how quickly Kenny Phillips will recover from microfracture knee surgery. Rolle and Phillips could form an imposing safety duo, but Rolle has never made a Pro Bowl and the Giants made him the highest paid safety in NFL history, guaranting him $15 million over five seasons. The Giants are coming off their worst defensive season in years and Rolle does strengthen the secondary. New York will now consider an inside linebacker or defensive tackle at #15 overall. Rolando McClain would be a slam-dunk pick for the Giants if he is available. In a deep defensive tackle class, they may consider Brian Price or wait to address the position in the second round.

Sean Weatherspoon
Dunta Robinson cashed in with the Atlanta Falcons to the tune of $57 million, including $25.5 million in guaranteed money, making him the second-highest paid corner in the NFL behind Nnamdi Asomugha. The Falcons had one of the worst pass defenses in the league last season, and Robinson instantly becomes their top cornerback. He’s not a true playmaker, but he is a solid cover man with excellent range and is now signed through his age-33 season. Atlanta has the #19 overall pick and could consider using its pick on Sean Weatherspoon or Brandon Graham.

Jared Odrick
Following the trades of wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the Baltimore Ravens and cornerback Antonio Cromartie to the New York Jets, both teams can look to address other positions with their first round picks. Boldin excels as a run blocker and should fit right in with the Ravens smash-mouth style, and is enough of a playmaker to fill the team’s void of a number one receiver. The Ravens might still draft a receiver, but Boldin frees up the #25 to be used on defense. They are bringing cornerback Marlin Jackson in for a visit but if a deal is not worked out, could consider several corners with their selection, including Devin McCourty and Patrick Robinson. They could also consider a 3-4 rush linebacker to play opposite Terrell Suggs, an element they have missed since Peter Boulware retired. The Jets are taking a gamble with Cromartie’s myriad off-field issues and nonchalant on-field attitude, but the secondary will rise to a new level of dominance if he ever gets his head on straight. New York might now consider at #29 a wide receiver such as Golden Tate, a five-technique for their 3-4 scheme like Jared Odrick or Corey Wootton, or a safety following the trade of Kerry Rhodes to Arizona.

The Chicago Bears were the most active team on the first day of free agency, signing defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. The Bears dealt their first-round pick for Jay Cutler and their second rounder for the late Gaines Adams, so free agency was their best chance to drastically improve the team.

Some quality players do remain, and as other players are acquired, team needs will continue to change. The top free agents, however, are already off the market, and a more accurate picture can be drawn on how the first round may play out in April.

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