*Note: The title of this post states Strong Safeties, but the previous post was errantly titled with Free Safeties, but listed the Strong Safeties. Please pardon the confusion.
The Denver Broncos have a big question mark at the Free Safety position. Hall of Fame lock Brian Dawkins is 37 years old and after 15 seasons, has definitely showed the effects of Father Time. Backing him up in his 2nd season is 25 year old Darcel McBath, who has shown promise as well as fragility. A 4-12 team with the worst defense has plenty of holes to fill and the Broncos don't have enough draft picks to mend it that way. The EX-Factor (Elway/Xanders) will have to use Free Agency augment their rookie selections. Here are the available candidates for the fortification of the Free Safety position for the Broncos.
Darren Sharper - New Orleans Saints - is 6' 2", 210 lbs, and in his 14th season played for $1.575 million. Sharper is a real ball-hawk and play-maker who's dangerous with the ball. A crafty veteran who uses his experience, loves big hits and is a sure tackler. Tough in run support and smart in zone coverage. At 35 years old, Darren is slowing down a little and can get outrun when covering the deep middle of the field. Not much to say here. A 35 year old 5-Time Pro Bowler who has a Super Bowl Ring. The Broncos have enough maturity on defense. He would be a band-aid for one year, but they need to think younger.
Tom Zbikowski of the Baltimore Ravens is a Free Safety/Punt Returner. He is 5' 11", 200 lb, age: 25, in his 3rd year who's 2010 salary was $470,000. A bit undersized and not a supreme natural athlete, Tom makes up for size with a lot of grit and toughness. He is a big hitter and former amateur boxer that has great anticipation, focus, and aggression; will both make lay the lumber and pick off passes. There aren't many teams who use their starting safety to return punts, but Zbikowski is no ordinary player. The good: Well-chiseled frame. ... Intelligent and has the instincts for the position. ... Can break on the ball and is effective in zone coverage. ... Understands his role as a last line of defense and takes good angles to the ball. ... Aggressive in run support. ... Willing to take on blocks to make the play and an effective open-field tackler. ... Can lay the big hit. ... Has seen action at strong and free safety. ... Has the combination of athleticism and smarts to be effective in man and zone schemes. The bad: Athletic, but his pure speed is a concern. ... Forty time has been estimated at 4.55 and he can be caught out of position on deep passes. ... Has a slight hitch in his hip turn and loses a half-step in his transition. ... Quickness is evident as a returner, but is not always there as a defender. ... Can be too aggressive and will at times be caught in poor position against effective play-action. Tom would be a reasonably attractive upgrade for the Broncos.
George Wilson of the Buffalo Bills is 6' 0", 212 lbs, Age: 29 in his 5th year. His 2010 salary was $1.759 million. Wilson is a converted wideout who understands route-runners and displays good anticipation for interceptions. He is a play-maker and a sure tackler. George is a solid starting safety, but he can get overpowered by big, fast wide-outs. He started his career as a Practice Squad Receiver in 2004, then spent the 2007 offseason working at safety before switching to positions. He played 12 games in 2007. He has played all 48 games since, starting 17 of them. Wilson is behind Jairus Byrd on the Buffalo depth chart.
His former head coach, Perry Fewell had this to say about Wilson:
"George Wilson is really a credit to this football team and to himself as an individual that has worked really hard to make the conversion from receiver to safety and be a starter in the NFL."
Alan Ball of the Dallas Cowboys, is 6' 2", 195 lbs, Age: 25 in his 3rd year. He made $466,760 in 2010. Tall, athletic, and versatile, Alan reads plays well and is very quick getting to the ball, buzzing around the action. Provides added value on special teams coverage. One drawback is that he is very slim and lacks power; needs to put on some muscle mass. He can get manhandled by strong receivers and/or blockers.
Ball is a converted corner that is a liability against the run because of his size. He is still learning the position. His lackluster play is a large reason why the Cowboys have allowed 18 TD passes (second highest in NFL). So much that Cowboys beat writer Todd Archer predicts FS Alan Ball will be the first starter to be replaced, barring injury.
Brodney Pool of the New York Jets is 6' 2", 214 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 6th year. In 2010, he played on a one-year contract for $1.3 million. A natural free safety, Brodney diagnoses plays quickly and makes smart decisions. He isn't as effective in the box, but excels in deep support and zone coverage, where he can react quickly to the ball in the air. He has the hips and lateral quickness for man coverage but gets turned around and fails to locate at times. Played at Safety and Cornerback for the Browns from 2005-2009, then signed a one-year deal with the Jets for 2010. He might be better suited as a Strong Safety. Pool is a strong tackler and is big enough to cover opposing TE's. The Jets will want to retain Brodney, but they just locked up Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson to jumbo sized contracts and still need to address the contract status of Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, Shaun Ellis, David Harris and Antonio Cromartie. Brodney has struggled with concussions.
Hiram Eugene of the Oakland Raiders is 6' 2", 200 lbs, Age: 30 and in his 5th year. He signed a one-year contract for 2010 at $1.759 million. A very aware player of what's unfolding on the field, Hiram has the speed to close on the ball and takes good angles to make tackles. He is an instinctive reactor with solid vision. Eugene is not a very physical defender and is better against the run than in the coverage. Considered an adequate starter, Eugene is an athletic performer and proven special teams contributor who emerged as a starter at safety in 2008.
Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers is 5' 11", 200 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 4th year. His 2010 salary was $466,630. A thinking man's safety, Weddle knows his role and is rarely out-of-position in deep support. He is fundamentally sound in coverage and has plenty of speed and great range because he gets a jump on the play. Considered a good starter, Eric is versatile and the fact that he can line-up and play safety or in the slot makes him an asset to any Defensive backfield. He’s played outside and corner and is a guy that finds a way to make plays. He also hasn't reached his full potential. The Chargers traded up 25 spots in the second round to select Weddle, so they will likely sign him to a long-term extension this offseason.
Dashawn Goldson of the San Francisco 49ers is 6' 2", 200 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 4th year. In 2010, he made $550,000. The Niners gave Dashawn the starting nod at Free Safety in 2009 and he responded with 94 tackles, 4 INT's and 2 sacks. In 2010 his numbers dropped a touch, but he still had a solid year. A converted corner, he's a big, physical defensive back that has good straight-line speed which he uses to line up his opponents and deliver strong hits. Goldson is not particularly explosive or fluid and doesn't seem to adjust well in space which can make him a bit of a liability in coverage. However, he is a decent starter.
Chinedum Ndukwe (pronounced CHIN-eh-doom ehn-DUKE-way) of the Cincinnati Bengals is 6' 2", 224 lbs, Age:25 and in his 4th year. His salary in 2010 was $1.101 million. Ndukwe is a very good safety, who isn't afraid to stick his nose in against the run. He is somewhat of a liability in coverage but fills hard against the run as an "in the box" safety. is a converted wideout with top-tier athleticism and good size. "Nedu" has shown the ability to dominate some opponents. He is solid as a tackler and a good blitzer. Occasionally lacks general play recognition and relies on his speed to catch up. Could use improvement on his technique, especially on angles and against the pass. Chinedum hasn't peaked yet and could be "coached up" for better results. He was placed on Reserve/Injured list on Dec. 13th due to major injury to his left knee. Started at both Safety positions in 2010.
Michael Johnson of the New York Giants is 6' 2", 207 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 4th year. In 2010, his salary was $1.35 million. Johnson has played in 47 regular season games with 35 starts at safety and played in 5 postseason games with 1 start. He also has a Super Bowl Ring with the Giants. Originally sought to be a temporary holder of the free safety position until first rounder Kenny Phillips was ready, Johnson held on to a starting spot all season in 2008, playing games at both Free Safety and Strong Safety. He finishing the regular season second on the team with 77 total tackles and two interceptions. In 2009, played in 15 games with 14 starts – 8 at free safety and 6 at strong safety. Michael played in 2 games for the Giants this year before heading to the IR with a herniated disc in September. Had successful microdisectomy surgery by Dr. Robert Watkins in October. It is uncertain (read no news) of his recovery, but his career is finished with the Giants.
Sabby Piscatelli of the Cleveland Browns is 6' 3", 224 lbs, Age: 27 and in his 4th year. He played 2010 for $550,000. Ran a 4.44 second 40 time prior to the 2007 draft. Sabby played Strong Safety while he was at Oregon State. He started at strong safety in all but one game last season for the Buccaneers and was unimpressive, with frequent blown coverages and a number of missed tackles. He was released last month and picked up by Cleveland the following day. Reports are, the Jaguars had an interest in him as well. Piscatelli flamed out in Tampa Bay after struggling mightily in both pass defense and run support. He showed poor ball skills and even worse intangibles in his 2+ seasons. The Cleveland depth chart has him at Free Safety.
There have been two signings this year to set the standard, so I will list them that you may know the going rate.
Antoine Bethea of the Indianapolis Colts signed a four-year, $27 million contract in June. The deal includes $18 million in the first two seasons. 2011: $4.745 million, 2012: $5.025 million, 2013: $4.55 million, 2014: Free Agent.
O.J. (Oshiomogho) Atogwe of the St. Louis Rams signed a five-year, $31.6 million contract also in June. His deal contains just $4.1 million guaranteed (all of his 2010 pay ($2.1 million in salary and another $2 million roster bonus). A onetime Pro Bowl incentive of $500,000 is available throughout the life of the contract. Escalators of $600,000 can be triggered annually, but are "unlikely to be earned" after the first season. 2011: $3.5 million (+ $8 million roster bonus due on 2/21; Voidable Years), 2012-2013: $5.5 million, 2014: $5 million (+ $500,000 roster bonus due in March), 2015: Free Agent
Adrian Wilson was the highest paid Safety last year at $6,501,820 and the 2010 Franchise/Transition tag salaries are $6.5 million/$6 million respectively.
There are a few good candidates here that could improve the defensive backfield for the Denver Broncos, if they choose to go that route.
Stay tuned for more Targeting Free Agents posts in the near future.