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Free Agency Preview: Defensive Tackle

We've now arrived at one of the more intriguing positions of free agency as it relates to the Eagles. With a defensive coordinator in tow and signs pointing to some philosophical changes defensively that could, at least, incorporate functions of a 3-4 defense, the Eagles could be in the market for a big man in the middle, especially following the release of Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins. Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton probably profile best on the outside in a three-man front, which leaves Antonio Dixon as the only nose-tackle type currently on the roster. Dixon fits the mold well, but the Eagles will likely look to, at the very least, bring in some competition up front. So who's available? Let's take a look at the top defensive tackles on the free-agent market, as ranked by Adam Caplan of ...

1. Henry Melton, Chicago – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 295, Age: 26, Exp: 3

Career: A fourth-round pick in 2009, Melton didn't debut for the Bears until 2010, but he's been an important member of their defense since. After earning a starting role in 2011, Melton has been impressive, notching 13.0 sacks over the last two seasons and earning his first Pro Bowl nod in 2012.

Fit: It doesn't look like Melton's going anywhere after the Bears issued their franchise tag designation onto the young defensive tackle. Barring something unforeseen, he'll remain a Bear.

2. Randy Starks, Miami – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 305, Age: 29, Exp: 9

Career: After joining the Tennessee Titans as a third-round pick in 2004, Starks earned immediate playing time, starting 36 games over four seasons with his original team. He then joined the Dolphins, where he's been an integral starter over the last four seasons, earning his only Pro Bowl invitation in 2010.

Fit: Like Melton, Starks was given the franchise tag by the Dolphins, who want to keep the big man in Miami. The Dolphins opted to place the tag on Starks instead of fellow starters left tackle Jake Long and cornerback Sean Smith, so they clearly value his presence on the team.

3. Roy Miller, Tampa Bay – Ht: 6-2, Wt: 310, Age: 25, Exp: 4

Career: A third-round pick out of Texas in 2009, Miller earned a starting role in 2010, battled through an injury-plagued 2011 and returned to form as a healthy starter in 2012.

Fit: Miller is not an interior pass-rushing threat (he only has 1.0 sack over the last three years), but he fits the bill of a run-stuffing space eater inside. Considering his relative youth and skillset, Miller could be an option for the Eagles.

4. Ricky Jean-Francois, San Francisco – Ht: 6-3, Wt: 295, Age: 26, Exp: 4

Career: Despite a solid collegiate career at LSU, Jean-Francois fell all the way to the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, when the 49ers plucked the versatile defender. After a year of seasoning, Jean-Francois emerged as a valuable cog in the 49ers' defensive line scheme, though he's mostly been a part-time player.

Fit: Most indications are that Jean-Francois is ready for a bigger role and though he's nominally a defensive tackle, he probably fits best as a 3-4 defensive end who can slide inside in nickel situations. That's the kind of versatility the Eagles may covet, so Jean-Francois is a player of interest.

5. Alan Branch, Seattle – Ht: 6-6, Wt: 325, Age: 28, Exp: 6

Career: The first pick in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Branch was a contributor but never a consistent starter for the Arizona Cardinals. He then joined the Seahawks in 2011 and immediately entered the starting lineup of a top defense, accumulating 4.0 sacks over two seasons inside for Seattle.

Fit: Branch has expressed his interest in returning to Seattle, where he's settled comfortably into a key role. If the two sides don't work something out, it's possible he would intrigue the Eagles, depending on the price tag.

6. Isaac Sopoaga, San Francisco – Ht: 6-2, Wt: 330, Age: 31, Exp: 9

Career: Drafted in the fourth round of the 2004 NFL Draft by San Francisco, Sopoaga has been through the ups and downs of the 49ers' recent past as a stalwart member of the defense for the last eight seasons. A rotational player at this stage of his career, Sopoaga is a trustworthy run defender on first and second downs.

Fit: Sopoaga is a dependable nose-tackle-type player who can defend the run and eat up space, but his advanced age isn't likely to have suitors coming after him full force. If he doesn't return to San Francisco, he could be an option in the second wave of free agency.

7. Chris Canty, New York Giants – Ht: 6-7, Wt: 317, Age: 30, Exp: 8

Career: Canty has spent his entire career butting heads with the Eagles in the NFC East. A fourth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2005, Canty spent four seasons in Dallas and started 50 games, primarily as a 3-4 defensive end. Then he left to join the Giants, where he played as an inside pass rusher. He was released by the Giants earlier this offseason.

Fit: Canty is a versatile player who can fit in numerous ways along a defensive line, but his skills are on the decline. It remains to be seen what kind of market there will be for Canty, though it's unlikely the Eagles will be heavily involved.

8. Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans – Ht: 6-1, Wt: 307, Age: 27, Exp: 5

Career: The seventh overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft, Ellis was mostly a disappointment in his five seasons with the Saints, despite starting all 70 games of his career. Billed as a dynamic inside pass rusher during that draft process, Ellis only has 12.5 career sacks to his credit thus far. But perhaps a change of scenery could bring out more in the former USC Trojan.

Fit: Ellis is probably best suited to remain in a 4-3 defense, but it's possible he could profile as a 3-4 defensive end in the right system. Like most of the players at this level of free agency, price will determine interest.

9. Richard Seymour, Oakland – Ht: 6-6, Wt: 317, Age: 33, Exp: 12

Career: A seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro, Seymour is one of the best defensive linemen of the last decade. His production has quieted somewhat since the move to Oakland four years ago, but Seymour is still a productive player and is said to lead well by example.

Fit: It's hard to imagine the Eagles having much interest in Seymour at this stage of his career, especially since he's likely to be offered more money elsewhere. Much respect to a great player, but this doesn't look like a fit.

10. Corey Williams, Detroit – Ht: 6-4, Wt: 320, Age: 32, Exp: 9

Career: Selected in the sixth round of the 2004 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, Williams carved out a solid, if unspectacular, career for himself split between the Packers, Browns and, most recently, Lions. But the 32-year-old missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury and has only 2.0 sacks in each of the last three seasons.

Fit: Considering his age, injury history, skillset and overall decline in play, it's hard to imagine the Eagles being interested in Williams in any capacity other than low-wage insurance policy.

There are a few other defensive tackles to keep an eye on in the free agent market though. Seattle's Jason Jones, 26, is a good interior pass rusher and might make sense as a 3-4 defensive end. Oakland's Desmond Bryant, 27, is coming off a big 2012 season in which he recorded 4.0 sacks and ranked as the league's seventh-best defensive tackle according to ProFootballFocus. But an offseason arrest for driving under the influence raises red flags. Finally, Terrance Knighton, known affectionately as "Pot Roast" during his time in Jacksonville, could fit the nose tackle mold if the price is right. As a bonus, the 26-year-old is certainly familiar with Philadelphia after his collegiate playing career at Temple.

Free Agency Previews:

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