We continue our free agent preview by turning our attention now to the defensive side of the ball, starting with defensive ends. The Eagles are reportedly open to incorporating some aspect of the 3-4, which means they could be looking to make some personnel changes. How can this group of free agent defensive ends help the Eagles? We take a look, thanks to the rankings provided by Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com …
1. Cliff Avril, Detroit – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 260, Age: 26, Exp: 5
Career: Avril was the Lions’ third-round selection in 2008, and he quickly became one of Detroit’s impact defenders. Last season he notched 28 total tackles, 9.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Avril played under the franchise tag last season, and was a restricted agent in 2011.
Fit: According to reports, Avril and the Lions have had only ‘minimal’ contact, and he seems destined to hit free agency. Avril played only 66 percent of the Lions’ snaps last season and fits the mold of a pass-rushing 4-3 defensive end. Avril probably wouldn’t be an ideal fit in defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ new scheme.
2. Michael Johnson, Cincinnati – Ht: 6-7, Wt: 270, Age: 26, Exp: 4
Career: Johnson was the Bengals’ third-round pick in 2009. Last season was by far the most productive of his career, as he recorded 35 tackles, 11.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. Though he played with his hand in the ground last season, Johnson spent two seasons at outside linebacker.
Fit: Johnson was the recipient of the Bengals’ franchise tag this offseason. If he signs it, he’ll earn a reported $11.175 million next season. Cincinnati has more cap space than almost any team in the league, meaning it’s unlikely the Bengals him leave.
3. John Abraham, Atlanta – Ht: 6-4, Wt: 263, Age: 34, Exp: 13
Career: A four-time Pro Bowl selection and a three-time All-Pro, Abraham has had a successful run in the NFL. After putting up impressive numbers for the 13-3 Falcons last season (37 total tackles, 10 sacks and six forced fumbles), Abraham was released March 1. His 122 career sacks make him the league’s active leader, and place him in a tie for 13th in NFL history.
Fit: While Abraham still has more football ahead of him, it’s doubtful that he’ll be playing it with the Eagles. Abraham is a 4-3 edge rusher, which doesn’t appear to fit what the Eagles will do next season. And at 34, Abraham likely wouldn’t fit the Eagles’ apparent youth movement.
4. Kyle Vanden Bosch, Detroit – Ht: 6-4, Wt: 278, Age: 34, Exp: 12
Career: As a member of the Cardinals, Titans and Lions, Vanden Bosch has had a noteworthy career. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl three times and was named an All-Pro in 2007. Last season, he started 13 games for the Lions, posting 3.5 sacks, 36 total tackles and a safety.
Fit: Like Abraham, Vanden Bosch is a 4-3 defensive end in the twilight of his career. While he can still be an effective player, he isn’t a fit in Philadelphia.
5. Dwight Freeney, Indianapolis – Ht: 6-1, Wt: 268, Age: 33, Exp: 11
Career: A longtime franchise cornerstone for the Colts, Freeney is a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a three-time All-Pro. Though he spent most of his 11-year career as a 4-3 defensive end, the Colts’ switch to a 3-4 last season moved Freeney to outside linebacker. Injuries kept Freeney out of three games last season, and he finished with 12 total tackles and 5.0 sacks.
Fit: Freeney has said publicly that he’s looking for a team that will allow him to move back to defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. And, like Vanden Bosch and Abraham, Freeney is on the wrong side of 30. It’s not a fit for either party.
6. Osi Umenyiora, New York Giants – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 255, Age: 31, Exp: 10
Career: Umenyiora has enjoyed a decorated career with the Giants. A two-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro, Umenyiora has been an impact player since being drafted in the second round of the 2003 draft. But over the last two seasons, his playing time has decreased; he started a combined 11 games over the last two seasons. He finished 2012 with 42 combined tackles and 6.0 sacks.
Fit: Umenyiora’s best days appear to be behind him. At 31, and with all his NFL experience coming as a 4-3 defensive end, it’s hard to imagine the former Giant coming to Philadelphia.
7. Matt Shaughnessy, Oakland – Ht: 6-5, Wt: 285, Age: 26, Exp: 4
Career: Shaughnessy was drafted by the Raiders in the third round of the 2009 draft. He started a handful of games throughout his four-year career, but became a full-time starter at defensive end last season. In 2012, he amassed 31 total tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Fit: At 285 pounds, Shaughnessy fits more into a 3-4 scheme than some of the other free agent ends. But he’s better off playing for a team that will let him keep his hand in the dirt in a traditional 4-3 system.
8. Michael Bennett, Tampa Bay – Ht: 6-4, Wt: 274, Age: 27, Exp: 4
Career: The brother of free agent tight end Martellus, Bennett began his career as an undrafted rookie who was signed by the Seahawks in 2009. Bennett joined the Buccaneers that same season, and has experience playing at both defensive end and tackle. He finished last season with a career-high 9.0 sacks and 41 combined tackles.
Fit: The Buccaneers are reportedly interested in retaining Bennett’s services. His positional versatility could intrigue the Eagles, though he would have to add weight to fit in as a defensive end in a 3-4 system.
9. William Hayes, St. Louis – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 272, Age: 27, Exp: 5
Career: Hayes was a fourth-round pick for the Titans back in 2008. After serving in a reserve role in Tennessee, Hayes joined head coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and flourished. Hayes played in all 16 games last season, recording 7.0 sacks and 34 total tackles.
Fit: Fisher said he’d like to keep Hayes in St. Louis, and given the latter’s success last season (and his lack of starting experience), Hayes’ best deal will likely come from the Rams. Either way, Hayes doesn’t quite fit what the Eagles are looking to do moving forward.
10. Frostee Rucker, Cleveland – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 280, Age: 29, Exp: 7
Career: Rucker was drafted by the Bengals in 2006, and spent six seasons in Cincinnati. Last offseason he signed with the Browns and started all 16 games. In 2012, he logged 48 total tackles and 4.0 sacks. However, Rucker was released by the Browns in early February.
Fit: The new Browns regime is looking to move away from the 4-3 defense, and one of their first moves in that direction was releasing Rucker. While new defensive coordinator Bill Davis is familiar with Rucker from their days in Cleveland, don’t expect a reunion next season.
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