This was supposed to be one of the very last free agency breakdowns by position, but the field has changed so drastically in the last day or so that we're doing it now. GGN moderator rexthejet asked what options are left in free agency at Safety after the franchise tags have been applied. The simple answer is not very much at all.
One of the thinnest positions in NFL 2012 free agency just got a heck of a lot thinner. Tyvon Branch of the Raiders, Michael Griffin of The Titans, and Dashon Goldson of the San Francisco 49ers all have been franchised by their respective teams. This means that unless another team sells most of the farm to get one of these players via trade, all of these top tier safeties will be remaining with their former teams through the 2012-13 season. Also notable is that young productive DB Thomas DeCoud has re-signed with the Atlanta Falcons instead of testing the market, making the field even thinner.
To be perfectly honest, this is discouraging. Safety was already in high demand in a shallow FA talent pool. The draft is not a strong class for Safeties by any stretch either. As John B mentioned, demand will in turn increase contract pricing of Safeties in a year where we are in very questionable cap standing. Not only are there less Safeties, with the four top options gone before free agency is even close to officially starting, the few remaining options will be incredibly costly.
Also removed from the list in addition to these four names off the market are restricted free agents such as Darian Stewart from the Rams. Getting a Safety will be pricey enough without matching offers and sending draft picks away. As always, this list is constructed by market demand, not by who is the best fit for the Jets. Worth noting is that Jim Leonhard, Brodney Pool, and Donald Strickland (who sometimes plays Safety) are all hitting the market this offseason. There are many NFL free agency lists out there, but only NFL.com claims Leonhard is one of the 5 notable options remaining at Safety. I like Leonhard more than most, but that is a statement to how thin this herd is. Many fans and followers of Gang Green also expect S Eric Smith to be cut in between seasons.
Potentially departing (or re-signing) Jets mentioned above are not included either. You know who they are already. List after the jump. Comment on who you'd like on the Jets, if any of them at all, below.
#1: LaRon Landry -Washington
Landry will widely be considered to be the top remaining option at Safety with the removal of Branch, DeCoud, Goldson, and Griffin from the market. Landry is a great talent with the right mix of experience under his belt and youth left in the tank, however he also benefits statistically from being the clean up guy on a pretty lousy team. Eric Smith was one of the Jets top statistical producers last season, largely because of the position he plays, yet few Jets fans would advocate pursuing him.
Don't get me wrong, Landry is far more talented than E Smith. But some team is gonna pay right out the butt for the combination and an overrated name and a depressingly picked over market at this position. I prefer Mike T not be bamboozled into giving out another unjustified contract. Landry suffered an Achilles injury recently, and has forwent surgery. I think whatever team buys up Landry, when even the Redskins are steering clear, is foolish.
#2: Reggie Nelson - Cincinnati
The former Florida product has really been a consistent force at Safety throughout his young career. Nelson is probably the best buy at Safety this year and will command a very large salary as the healthiest young top tier option available. Nelson is a solid tackler, relatively healthy year after year, disruptive in the backfield when called upon the blitz, and he generates turnovers by interceptions and fumbles.
Nelson is a very complete, athletic, productive Safety who any team would be lucky to have. I don't think it's realistic at this rate that the Jets would sign Nelson, but it's a nice dream to have.
#3: Jordan Babineaux -Tennessee
Not to be confused with older brother and Falcons DT Justin, Jordan B. heads a long list of relatively unappreciated Safeties who will suddenly become valuable commodities in the face of great need at the position versus very weak supply. Babineaux spent much of his 8 season as a solid Safety for the Seahawks until Earl Thomas beat him in competition for the starting safety role. Babineaux is pretty consistent, and has game saving tendencies that Jim Leonhard and Dwight Lowery seem to display while Eric Smith lacks.
Jordan is experienced, but it appears if the Titans are letting him hit free agency after one year that he might be on the decline.
#4: Sean Jones -Tampa Bay
If you're going to buy a Safety in the 30 and over bracket, this is probably who you should roll with. For a guy who isn't much of a household name, Jones had done pretty well for himself over the course of 8 seasons. Jones is a large guy who typically plays Strong. He's a very effective pass defender and also can be a turnover machine. Jones is very effective at seeing the contracts he signs out to the end, even sometimes taking pay cuts upwards to half of a million dollars. However, once his contracts expire teams don't seem to pursue him with any enthusiasm. Some will pay out to land a solid guy like Jones this offseason, but his production looks about ripe to slip, and he's getting old.
It's worth noting that at this point, many analysts consider possibly departing Jets players such as Jim Leonhard or Brodney Pool to be the next best options. I don't necessarily agree, all things considered, but there is weight to their arguments. We'll skip over those options as we are already familiar with them.
#5: Dwight Lowery - Jacksonville
Lowery probably isn't the 5th most demanded Safety left, but the talent pool for the position is a total crap shoot and not a buyers market by any stretch. Many will overlook Lowery because he's often incorrectly labeled a CB despite having played both Safety positions extensively both in school and as a professional. Lowery is an average Safety, but this is offset by the sheer versatility in football skills that the still-young Dwight possesses. Lowery is about as good as you can expect an all-purpose DB to be, and he will be rewarded for it with a contract.
#6: Abram Elam -Dallas
Unless you're a very new fan, or you don't follow the roster that actively, you already know who Abe is. Abram played capably for us before following Mangini to the Browns, and eventually following Rob Ryan to the Cowboys. Now, you may be asking "Is the Safety field really that picked over that Elam sits so high on the remaining names?" The short answer is a resounding yes. Elam is one of the few remaining names with both experience and remaining youth. On three different teams over the last four season, Elam has never missed a game and started at Safety in all but one of them. Elam also is a bit of a forced fumble machine.
He may be painfully middle of the pack, but Elam is consistent and will be sought after by many Safety needy teams. I think the Cowboys try to retain him at the end of the day.
#7: Craig Steltz -Chicago
I have no freaking clue who this guy is, but apparently after warming the bench for the Bears for almost four years, Steltz was called upon to fill in at Safety at the end of the last season for five games. Steltz performed so capably with 52 tackles, 1 full sack, and 2 forced fumbles in such a brief period of time that many expect Steltz to be in demand this offseason, or at least be reward by the Bears with a new look and contract.
#8: Husain Abdullah -Minnesota
The younger Abdullah (his brother Hamza is also an NFL DB free agent, but largely a statistically stagnant reserve) was an UDFA who has worked his way into a starting FS role with the Vikings and starts every game, when he isn't suffering from injury issues. Abdullah is a young, mediocre starting Safety with a high upside (and downside) who potentially could have a long, productive NFL career. Hopefully the Jets pass on another below average project Safety.
#9: Chris Harris - Detroit
Harris is a career NFC DB who, until last year, was a very consistent starter with equally consistent pass defense and turnover numbers. Harris was an above average Safety with a knack for statistical production, but 2011 was a little different for him. After the first 3 games of 2011 for the Bears, in which Harris was a virtual ghost on the field, Chicago cut Chris loose, and he was almost instantly scooped up by the Lions. Harris rebounded a bit, pulling down over 20 tackles an interception and a forced fumble in 5 games. Harris is almost 30 and clearly on the downward spiral, like many of the remaining available Safeties.
#10: TIE Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura - Baltimore
Two backup Baltimore players will be hitting the open market in a few days, never good news for weary Jets fans under the regime of Rex Ryan. These are two players who are called upon in almost every Ravens game to contribute, but they contribute very little in terms of production sitting behind more prolific Safeties. Both men are likely better fits for Special Teams than as a Jets starter, but the demand for both men will be higher than typical due to the market conditions this year. I see one of the Ravens Safeties getting a chance, whether deserved or not, to step out of the shadows of other Baltimore players. Like many Safety options, I feel neither would be a good idea.
Gibril Wilson - Cincinnati:
A formerly effective DB who has seen his stock suddenly plummet as the Bengals begin to phase him out for younger players. Wilson might still be an option for a Safety-needy team.
James Sanders - Atlanta:
The former Patriots DB has produced on the field, but he rarely starts anywhere near a full season. Sanders is a below average DB on the decline who will be called upon by a team in far more dire circumstances than the Jets.
Brandon Meriweather - Chicago:
The Bears attempted to give Meriweather a shot after the Patriots cut the Safety loose in spite of having pretty much no secondary and very little at Safety backing it up. It really says something when the Patriots pick up the Jets throwaways at Safety, and still get rid of Meriweather. Even more telling is how flatly Brandon performed for the Bears. Meriweather is just about done with football.
Chris Hope - Tennessee:
Hope has a had a very productive and storied career for the Steelers and Titans. Hope started every game he was in since 2003, and was a tackling monster as well as a constant turnover threat. Hopes solid career began to unravel last year as he only started in 2 games for the Titans. In 10 games Hope only totaled 25 combined tackles and one interception, an enormous drop off as Chris was gradually relegated to backup Safety.
Mike Adams - Cleveland:
Adams is the opposite of Hope. After having a very erratic and relatively unproductive career for the Browns and San Francisco as a backup and situational player for both teams, Adams started every single game for the Browns last year for the very first time at age 30. He is now going into his 9th season. Adams is like the Brandon Lloyd of defensive players, picking a very strange time to have a breakout year after a fairly lackluster career for a pro.
Jon McGraw - Kansas City:
Many of you might not remember the days where DB McGraw was a situational and ST players for the New York Jets. McGraw produced 4 turnovers and 109 combined tackles in his first three years in the league for our troubles. McGraw has moved on to be well below average with other NFL teams. He's never played a full season, and the most games he's ever started in a year is 9. His statistical production has taken a large jump over the past few years with the Chiefs, but he's now 32 and a very erratic and frequently underperforming player.
CC Brown - Jacksonville, Dominique Barber - Houston, Erik Coleman- Detroit, James Ihedigbo - NE, Jarrad Page - Minnesota, Bob Sanders - SD, Atari Bigby - Seattle, Craig Dahl - St. Louis, Courtney Greene - Jacksonville, Bryan Scott - Buffalo, Derrick Martin - NYG, Deon Grant - NYG, Sean Considine - Arizona, Sabby Piscitelli - KC, Nathan Jones - NE, Hamza Abdullah - Arizona, Tyrell Johnson - Minnesota, Reggie Smith - SF, Matt Giordano - Oakland, Anthony Smith - Tennessee, Madieu Williams - SF, Steve Gregory - SD, Corey Lynch - TB, Paul Oliver - SD.
There are also countless active CB's in the NFL who have either been or are capable of being hybrid Defensive Backs like Dwight Lowery is. Keep this in mind when considering free agency options.