It's certainly no secret that the Denver Broncos have a gaping hole at the defensive tackle position, and assuming they are willing to spend some cash on the free agent market, they should be the top contenders for any of the big name guys out there at the position.
Kaptain Kirk has already looked at most of the available free agent defensive tackles, and now it's time to start narrowing the list down for potential targets for the Broncos.
As you know, two of the top targets I picked for the Broncos in Nick's recent FanPost were Barry Cofield and Brandon Mebane of the Giants and Seahawks respectively. Both players are due for large pay-days here whenever free agency begins, and the signings should happen quickly so these guys can get to an NFL camp as soon as possible. Of those two top of the line players, which is the better fit for the Broncos, if either?
Barry Cofield, Age 27
Here is a scouting report on Cofield from WalterFootball.com:
Barry Cofield is a great interior lineman who excels against the run and provides a decent enough pass rush.
Wam, bam, thank you for smelling great man! That sounds good enough for me, even if the Broncos only signed Cofield this offseason. Cofield should be looking for similar money to what his current teammate Chris Canty got from the Giants, which was a six year deal worth about $42 million. I don't think he's going to get Haynesworth money, or anything close to it because he's not a superstar, but he will certainly get his. Projecting something similar to what Canty received is not out of line.
Cofield has missed only one game in the last three seasons and is obviously tough as nails on the interior. Not only that, but he had a career high with four sacks this past season (contract year, obviously). This is a guy I would love to bring in, but he has some serious connections elsewhere.
The Browns are implementing a 4-3 defensive scheme as well, and Cofield is from Cleveland. The Browns will probably be looking to spend money this offseason on pass rush and a free safety, so Cofield might not necessarily be in their plans unless it's for the correct price.
St. Louis has a clear void at the defensive tackle position right now, and Cofield could reunite with former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, now the head coach of the Rams and go to a team that has a real chance of running away with the NFC West this season. That is a team really on the rise, and I think there is a decent chance Cofield will look into signing there. The problem is, the Rams have a huge void at both safety positions and could also be in line to add help at linebacker.
There's also the possibility that Cofield could stay in New York, but I don't see that happening. Chris Canty was a big investment, and the G-men have invested somewhat high draft choices in the likes of Linval Joseph and now Marvin Austin, so the need to re-sign Cofield to the deal he wants is probably a bit superfluous.
That leaves the Broncos, and probably some wild-card teams. The Broncos are probably going to have to offer Cofield the biggest contract of any team due to his connections to the others. If they offered him $50 million over the next six years, I wouldn't be shocked, but I'd be a bit surprised. That's a lot of money for a guy like Cofield, but it might be a necessary investment given our current defensive tackle depth chart.
Brandon Mebane, Age 26
Brandon Mebane has always been great against the run; this year, he added some pass-rushing skills to his repertoire, allowing him to serve as an every-down player in Seattle's defense.
I really like Brandon Mebane, but for some reason I feel like he is going to wind up elsewhere. I hope he considers Denver, and I hope we bring him in for a visit right away. We need to be on the horn with these guys immediately, and we need to have a plan of attack.
Mebane is not a stat machine by any means, but he makes plays that matter, and by that I mean he's making plays in the backfield or stopping ball-carriers for short gains. He's also only 26 years old, so he has some long term upside if the Broncos figure to spend big money on a defensive tackle when free agency opens.
The former Cal Golden Bear will need some convincing to come to Denver, but we can get it done. He is a Los Angeles, California native, so you have to look at teams on the West Coast that he might have interest in.
Let's start with Seattle, who would obviously like to make Mebane a Seahawk for a long time coming. That is probably the most logical choice when projecting where he will land because Seattle will want him to be a key part of their defense for the next six years or so, and they will probably throw a big deal his way for one of the top young free agents available this offseason.
The Chargers are close to home for Mebane, but they just drafted Corey Liuget and they still like Luis Castillo. They are never really big players in free agency anyway, so that might not be a good fit.
Oakland just made Richard Seymour one of the highest paid players in the game, and LaMarr Houston is a star in the making, so the need is not there for the Raiders whatsoever. Not to mention, they also re-signed big John Henderson.
The 49ers are interesting because they have been big spenders in the past on guys like Justin Smith, who has been solid for them as a defensive end in their 3-4 scheme. Isaac Sopoaga is not irreplaceable, and Aubrayo Franklin is set to become a free agent, though he has also been solid. The Niners could have issues on their front seven, and they might call Mebane's number to help them out.
And then there's the Broncos, who have a huge void at defensive tackle. Mebane could be the run-stuffing presence we have needed for years now, but will the Broncos give up the cash it will require in order to get him, or will they go with cheaper alternatives and wait until another draft or free agency period?
Or will it be another?
Cullen Jenkins, Age 30
The Green Bay Packers defensive end has missed 19 games in the last three seasons due to injury, but he was still very productive last year despite playing in only 11 games with seven sacks.
Jenkins' name has been mentioned with the Broncos in other parts of this offseason, but who knows what you can even believe at this point? Jenkins has been a productive player throughout his career, and he could be a slightly cheaper alternative for the Broncos on the open market, though he is still 30 years old.
Jenkins is from Michigan, but the Lions don't really make any sense due to the fact that they have the most insane defensive line in the league. If the Packers are willing to pay a reasonable price, it's probably safe to assume Jenkins would be fine spending the rest of his career with the Packers, close to his hometown of Detroit.
Mike Patterson, Age 27
Patterson is an intriguing alternative for me, because nobody really ever talks about him. He could be a nice option if he is indeed a free agent, because apparently there has been some dispute about it. Patterson is a good run defender and has missed only one game in his six years with the Eagles, and he's an ideal fit for the 4-3 defensive scheme.
He's a Sacramento native, but only really fits the 4-3 defense and I don't really see him moving off to the California coast. The most likely option is to stay with the Eagles, who figure to be aggressive on the free agent market this offseason once again.
Marcus Spears, Age 28
Spears has been unexciting in his six years in Dallas, but the Cowboys could let him go and he is still pretty effective against the run. He might be better suited to a 3-4 defensive scheme, but he didn't miss any time until this past year when he played in only eight games.
Bringing in Spears would be about a four or five out of 10 in terms of being an exciting addition to the team, and it might be better to go with a cheaper veteran player of similar caliber for a shorter length.
Justin Bannan, Age 32
Bannan is already 32, and he wasn't worth the money we were going to be paying him so we let him go before the lockout went into place. However, he was a solid player for us last year, and keeping him close to home on a two year deal might be a nice move on our part.
The option for Bannan remains to go to a contending team, possibly even going back to Baltimore to play for the Ravens. However, he is a Colorado native, he's been working out in Colorado, and he left a good situation in Baltimore to play for the Broncos last year. Perhaps the team already has told him they want to bring him back, because they have already said that to the fans and the general public.
Tommie Harris, Age 28
Harris was cut by the Bears before the lockout, a real sign of his decline in play over the last couple of years. This would be a very below average signing, but Harris is a big name who has made big plays in the NFL in his career, making Pro Bowl appearances and the like.
I think Harris will probably come at a discounted price, and I don't doubt that the Broncos would be interested in his services, even if it's just for depth. Harris will have an opportunity to start in Denver, so his agent will be calling to gauge their interest, and I think it could be mutual. You look at some of the other "washed up" defensive tackles around the league, and the price seems to be around four million dollars per season for guys like John Henderson and Shaun Rogers. Henderson signed for two years at $8 million and Rogers for one year at $4 million. I think the Broncos could get Harris for a similarly low price, perhaps along the lines of a two year deal worth $8-10 million.
Because of the low price tag and his track record, I could see this as a realistic option for the Broncos, even though Harris is not the player he once was.
Marcus Thomas, Age 25
I think the Broncos will try really hard to re-sign Thomas, who could be a starter for us. They might have to pay him starter money, which could drive them away, but I would definitely think he'll be given some kind of priority this offseason. A three year deal worth $12 million or a four year deal worth $16 million sounds pretty reasonable for Thomas and what he's done so far in his career, though on paper that seems like overpaying.
I would love to see the Broncos reel in both Barry Cofield and Brandon Mebane, but that's not realistic at all. Heck, even projecting one of those guys to land in Denver might be a stretch. I don't know that the Broncos will be willing to spend a ton of cash on the free agent defensive tackles this year, because they will want to get a good running back as well as some help for their defensive front. If the Broncos want to put big money into free agency, I could see them going hard after Cofield or Mebane, but I am not so sure that's the case.
Of the two, I think Cofield is more likely the one to sign with Denver. I think he is less in New York's future plans than Mebane is for Seattle's, and I think the Broncos would offer Cofield a fair contract, even though they totally biffed a year ago when signing Bannan, Jamal Williams, and Jarvis Green to big contracts.
My prediction right now is that the Broncos will try to re-sign Marcus Thomas so they have two insurance policy starters with him and Kevin Vickerson, our only current tackle with NFL experience. If the Broncos can lock up Thomas, I think they will go for a less expensive route, perhaps looking into Cullen Jenkins and/or Tommie Harris, as well as trying to bring back Justin Bannan. That would give them a decent five man rotation, and it wouldn't cost them a leg and an arm.
If the Broncos sign Cofield to a big contract, I think they will look to bring back Bannan and Thomas as well, but then fill out the other spots with lower priced players, perhaps some of the guys that John Fox had in Carolina.
They might be unable to bring back both Thomas and Bannan, so look for guys like Derek Landri to pop up on the radar as lower priced alternatives.
What are your predictions?