*Note: My apologies. This was labeled Free Safeties in the Title, but it was supposed to be Strong Safeties.
The Strong Safety position for the Denver Broncos is currently fortified by 32 year old Renaldo Hill, who just completed his 10th season in the NFL. His understudy, 23 year old David Bruton, is a second year Special Teams commodity being groomed for the future. There are concerns that Hill has slowed down and Bruton hasn't been able to step up to a full-time starting spot, so the solution is to upgrade the talent level. Denver's defense ranked dead last in the league by the end of the 2010 regular season, so no position should be considered safe. It has long been my belief that a defense needs to be strong through the middle and in that regard, a hard hitting Strong Safety can make a huge difference in preventing 3rd down conversions by opposing offenses. There will be a good cluster of choices this off-season provided a new CBA gets resolved and a Free Agency period opens, so let's take a look at the options available for our favorite team.
Bernard Pollard is a 6' 1", 225 lb, 26 year old, 5th year SS/OLB for the Houston Texans. Pollard was one of the few bright spots in Houston's secondary this season, finishing with career-highs in tackles and sacks. He covers a lot of ground in deep zone coverage and is one of the best safeties against the run. Bernard is a better zone defender than man-to-man. He is big and fast, two things the Broncos need. His salary in 2010 was $2.521 million.
Dawan Landry is a talented SS for the Baltimore Ravens. He measures 6' 0", 210 lbs, is 28 years old and in his 5th year. Landry is a hard hitting, very productive tackler. In the last two seasons he has been second on the team in tackles, behind only Ray Lewis. He is an above-average safety who complements his aggressive run defense with a nice feel for pick-offs. However, Dawan lacks top speed and has had some injury issues. He played on a one-year contract worth $1.759 million in 2010.
Matt Ware is 6' 3", 218 lbs, 28 years old and in his 7th year for the Arizona Cardinals. Matt had a salary of $630,000 in 2010 playing behind Adrian Wilson. He is a versatile safety that has seen extensive action as a reserve Cornerback. Ware had 15 Special Teams tackles last season. The good: He plays well close to the line and jams the receiver. He is quick and agile in coverage, has good hands and plays the run well. He has experience as a return man. The bad: He lacks polish. He doesn't have great long speed and can get beaten deep. He has trouble making quick reads and can get lost in zone coverage. He bites on fakes and is somewhat injury-prone.
Josh Bullocks, Chicago Bears - 6' 0", 207 lbs, Age: 27, 6th year. 2010 Salary: $1,200,000. Bullocks is considered an adequate starter with a good size-speed package. He can step up in run support, but is a slow reactor in coverage. He has a tendency to get tight hipped and slow in man coverage. Although Josh started 51 games in four years including the playoffs, his best season was as a rookie and after that he fell off. He only started six games last year, after starting every game in his first three seasons. He played behind Danieal Manning in 2010.
Danieal Manning, also from the Bears, is a SS/KR who goes 5' 11", 202 lbs. He is 28 years old and in his 5th year. Danieal played on a $1.176 million contract in 2010. As a Return specialist, Manning has 2,328 Total Kick Return yards. He won the starting position before the start of the Bears 2009 summer training camp and had a career-high 92 tackles. He had a down season in 2010, posting just 72 tackles with no sacks and one interception starting all 16 games for the Bears. He is an athletic safety with great range who anticipates plays and covers a lot of ground. On the small side for the safety position. He struggles when taking on blocks or playing close to the line. A zone defender who lacks the hips to cover slot receivers. Manning has been solid at strong safety and is in the top 10 in kickoff return average. According to a source, Chicago is trying to sign him to an extension.
Roy E. Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals is 6' 0", 222 lbs. A 30 year old 9th year Strong Safety, the 5-time Pro Bowler played 2010 for $750,000. Williams broke his forearm in the 2nd game of the year against Philadelphia Eagles. He missed the next four games. Then in his first game back, he re-fractured the same forearm and was forced to miss the entire season on injured reserve. Roy hasn't played a full season since 2006 with Dallas because of injuries.
Gerald Sensabaugh plays for the Dallas Cowboys. He is 6' 1", 210 lbs, 27 years old, in his 6th year. His 2010 salary was $1.815 million. Gerald is a high-energy player who's athletic and rangy. He has good instincts and some play-making ability, helping him perform well in zone coverage. He has also had injury issues. More a nickel safety than a true thumper at strong safety, Sensabaugh is slow to react at times and is not a top-end run defender. Most would consider him a marginal starter / solid backup. He recorded a 46" vertical at the NFL Combine in 2005, the highest for an NFL player on record. Gerald then started every game of his rookie season, one of few to do so. He performed well on special teams and in the playoffs and was rewarded a starting spot for the remainder of the season after Donovin Darius was injured. In 2006, Sensabaugh continued his dynamic special teams play again becoming a starter when Darius suffered a season ending injury. The Cowboys stated early in the season that signing him to an extension was a priority, but Sensabaugh never got a deal, so there’s a good chance the veteran safety will test the market.
Atari Bigby is a Safety for the Green Bay Packers. The 5' 11", 213 lb. 29 year old is in his 5th year. His 2010 salary was $1,549,680. Atari is a big hitter who can jar the ball loose and also a gambler who gets his fair share of interceptions. Solid in short zone coverage and at playing close to the line, Bigby doesn't do well in deep zone coverage. He takes bad angles and missing tackles by focusing too much on going for the big play. He is an adequate safety, but is injured too often and doesn't play enough when healthy. Bigby has played just one full season in the NFL and spent most of last season on the PUP list before being activated Week 9. He played in just two games before getting hurt again.
Sean Considine plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2010, the 6' 0", 212 lb. 28 year old 6th year Safety played for $2,000,000. A smart, instinctive player and film room junkie, Considine reads plays well, gets a great jump on pass plays and takes good angles in pursuit against the run. He has good hands and will jump routes. Sean lacks great agility and change-of-direction speed and has trouble in man coverage. He is a solid, slightly above-average safety who recorded 72 special teams tackles in five seasons, playing in 11 games for the Jaguars making 6 starts while battling injuries much of the season.
|Career Totals||71||183||60||243||2.5||21||4||3 5||0||0||2||15||0|
Deon Grant of the NY Giants is 6' 2", 215 lbs and 31 years old. This 11th year SS/Special Teams specialist played 2010 on a one-year, $855,000 contract. Deon is savvy, smart and instinctive. Gets great position in zone coverage. Has great hips and can cover slot receivers man-to-man. He is a fundamentally sound tackler who doesn't break down in the open field. The downside is he can get blocked too easily when playing the force position against the run and doesn't always play a physical game when needed. Grant is an excellent starter. The Giants used Deon as a "pseudo-linebacker" in the team's three safety set alongside Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle this past year.
Quintin Mikell, (pronounced Michael) is a 5' 10", 203 lb, 30 year old, 8th year SS who played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010 on a one-year $1,450,000 deal. Quintin is very tough and scrappy Safety with a special teams mentality. This guy piles up tackles, blitzes well and loves to mix it up. Plays with a mean streak. A Pro Bowl Selection in 2009, Mikell is a great open-field tackler as his team-leading 108 special teams tackles since joining the Eagles attests. Mikell was the team's leading tackler in 2009 and has 3 consecutive seasons with 100 plus tackles. The Broncos could do worse than replacing Brian Dawkins with his replacement on the Eagles.
Paul Oliver is 5' 11", 210 lbs. and 26 years old. The 4th year Strong Safety for the San Diego Chargers played the 2010 season for $550,000. He has good awareness and instincts on the field. Runs well, can cover a lot of ground and contribute on run support. Paul doesn't have an ideal frame for a Safety and can be out-played by big, physical receivers in the open field. Sometimes needs help as a tackler and will allow big plays in the coverage. An above-average starter, Oliver is a converted cornerback. He is one of the few NFL players to experience success out of the supplemental draft, becoming a big-play maker in the Chargers' secondary.
Gerald Alexander of the Carolina Panthers, is a 6' 2", 209 lbs, 26 year old 4th year Safety who played 2010 at $461,040. A great leaper with a nose for the ball, Gerald uses his size and explosiveness to make plays. He is versatile enough to find spot-duty all over the secondary. Not a lights-out hitter. "A hard hitting safety and a play maker" are words that have been associated with Alexander, but "Slow in coverage," "misses tackles," and "sometimes out of position" have been said as well.
Jarrad Page played for the New England Patriots in 2010 on a one-year, $1.759 million contract. The 6' 0", 225 lbs, Age: 26, 5th year Safety is a big hitter who can make receivers think twice over the middle. He is an effective run defender with good hands and the physical tools to be great in coverage and make some picks. However, Jarrad can be mistake prone because he will often bite on fakes. Page is a slightly above-average starter who started all 16 games in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, Jarrad started 5 games before ending up on IR with a shoulder injury. In September of 2010, he was traded to New England where he played in 10 games and started one.
Abram Elam of the Cleveland Browns is 6' 0", 207 lbs, at 29, is in his 5th year. He played 2010 at $1.759 million and is a high-motor type who covers a lot of ground in zone coverage. Hits hard and makes plays in the open field, showing a nasty streak. Can also return kicks. Elam has some lapses and makes some mistakes in coverage and is not very explosive on the blitz. Still, Abram is the starting SS for the Browns and is one of their biggest play-makers on defense.
As you can see, there are plenty of options for the Broncos to upgrade the Strong Safety talent through Free Agency. Personally, I want to see the "Orange Crush" reborn, but that won't happen in one off-season. It will take smart drafting and wise Free Agent moves to go from worst to first.