Posted 12/27 by Jene Bramel, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Hopefully most of our weekly readers are celebrating 2006 championships this
week. Best of luck to those with title games this weekend.
Situation Watch 2007
Best of luck to those of you preparing for a Week 17 Championship game. We'll
wrap up our 2006 season with a look at the coming offseason and some key situations
and important NFL free agents to watch that could significantly impact the IDP
landscape in 2007.
Unrestricted Free Agency Tracker
For IDP purposes, three defensive linemen stand out as must watches this offseason
- Dwight Freeney, Justin Smith, and Vonnie Holliday. Freeney, despite a down
year in Indianapolis, is still going to command megabucks as the best pass rusher
on the market. Whether he gets it from the Colts or not remains to be seen.
If Freeney gets a change of scenery, he could hugely benefit. The Colts don't
have the defensive tackles to force teams to single block Freeney at times.
When teams try get away with thin protection schemes (read: the Cincinnati Bengals),
Freeney is still entirely capable of being a one man wrecking crew. And the
Colts hardly ever blitz their LBs and force opposing OL to make a quick decision
to pick up a blitzing linebacker or provide outside help on Freeney. Should
Freeney move a more aggressive scheme with better tackles, watch out.
The prospects of Justin Smith and Vonnie Holliday are also tied closely to
their situation. Smith is almost certain to play elsewhere in 2007 since the
Bengals have sunk a large portion of their cap into re-signing their stud offensive
linemen and have watched third year end Robert Geathers reemerge as a possible
pass rushing force this season. Although he isn't an explosive pass rusher,
Smith is a very good all around defensive end and is going to attract some healthy
offers. He'll need to be surrounded by some pretty solid performers to improve
upon his 6-9 sack yearly production. Vonnie Holliday has become a very consistent
IDP option in the three-technique DT role in Nick Saban's defense. Holliday
will probably be re-signed by Miami this offseason unless Saban leaves to take
a college coaching gig or a team that uses the three-technique regularly in
its defensive scheme (eg. any of the Tampa-2 teams) ponies up with a big contract
The UFA linebacker class of 2007 is a very interesting one. There will be two
Tampa-2 WLBs who may or may not be products of their schemes (Lance Briggs and
Cato June), two MLBs with vastly different skill sets (London Fletcher and Kawika
Mitchell), and possibly the best all-around defender in the league (Adalius
London Fletcher, should he change teams, is probably the best bet to retain
his current value as he'll likely be signed to start as a MLB/ILB wherever he
goes. The value of the others could change drastically. Move Cato June out of
the Tampa-2 and he'll struggle on the field and in the boxscore. His owners
need to hope that he lands in the same scheme should he leave Indianapolis.
Lance Briggs could suffer the same fate, but he's probably closer to Will Witherspoon
than David Thornton in that he's physical and talented enough that he could
survive in a new environment. Still, should he move to a WLB role in a stack
4-3 scheme, he'll struggle to repeat this season's LB1 numbers. If Adalius Thomas
leaves Baltimore, it will likely be to assume an OLB role in a 3-4 defense and
put him squarely in the "league and scoring system dependent" category
of most other 3-4 OLBs. Kawika Mitchell is the big unknown. If he lands in a
plum MLB role (eg. New Orleans), his value gets a sizable bump. If he stays
in Kansas City or signs with a similar team where he may no longer have nickel
backer responsibilities, his value will continue to drop in 2007.
Interestingly, the most compelling stories of the 2007 UFA period will likely
be ones of redemption. The Seahawks' Ken Hamlin is likely to be re-signed to
a big contract in Seattle, a little more than a year after a life-threatening
head injury. He should hold solid IDP value. But the two players serious IDPers
should keep an eye on in the spring and summer of 2007 are Michael Lewis and
Adam Archuleta (who will likely be released rather than paid a big roster bonus).
Lewis and Archuleta may not be stud cover safeties in the mold of a Troy Polamalu,
but both are legitimate NFL safeties and will find work next year. In the right
situation, both could return to their prior DB1 statlines. Watch out for Bills
CB Nate Clements. He'll need to fix his tackling issues to have value in any
system but Clements had over 80 solo tackles in 2004 and has solid ball skills
in coverage. If he lands in another Tampa-2 system or across from a solid cover
corner, he could rebound in 2007.
Are the Bengals any closer to moving to
a 3-4 front?
It didn't appear that the Bengals had the personnel to pull off the switch
prior to 2005 but they apparently coveted Manny Lawson in the first round of
the 2006 draft, who they were clearly looking at as a 3-4 OLB. Could the Bengals
make the switch this offseason? Despite some improvement in 2006, the Bengal
defensive unit may be in more of a mess than last offseason Justin Smith may
be gone in free agency, Odell Thurman's future is far from decided, Robert Geathers,
Landon Johnson and Caleb Miller are restricted free agents, and David Pollack
will be forced to retire after spinal fusion surgery. And it's entirely possible
that the Bengals look for a new defensive coordinator if they miss the playoffs
Still, the Bengals are closer to making the move than they were at this time
last season. They have a number of solid 3-4 end candidates on the roster and
plenty of depth at linebacker with or without Thurman. They'll need to find
some bodies at NT and coach Geathers up at LB while deciding who plays inside
and outside, but a switch could be made. For now, nothing is certain except
that the Bengal defense will see a lot of discussion again this offseason
LB Want Ads - Only studs need apply
Entering last offseason, there were a number of MLB/ILB jobs wide open for
someone to come in and have huge IDP value. Some worked out very well (HOU,
ARI, STL), some not so well (NO, TEN, DET). The carousel will be coming around
again in 2007. The Saints, Titans, and Lions are still looking for a stabilizing
influence in the middle and the right player could have big value in those situations.
Also, loyal FBGers should already know to watch the Charger ILB situation closely.
There's already been a bit of a wrench thrown in the works, though, as San Diego
signed backup Matt Wilhelm to a five year deal last week. Both Wilhelm and Stephen
Cooper now have matching five year deals and it's become clear that Wilhelm
may figure just as highly in the Chargers' future plan as Cooper. That's a big
change from the early offseason of 2006, when Wilhelm was tendered next to nothing
in the RFA market while Cooper was tendered a very high compensation number.
It'll be very interesting to see who performs better if Wilhelm lines up at
LILB and Cooper at RILB. Cooper is pretty clearly the better all-around linebacker
but may line up in the worse position. And IDPers should also watch the 49ers
offseason plans closely. The team may still move back to a 3-4 front and refuses
to commit to a younger option at MLB/ILB. There hasn't been a consistently solid
IDP option in San Francisco in years. With any luck, we may get one in 2007.
Another Tampa-2 scheme on the horizon?
While there aren't expected to be many coaching changes this offseason, Chicago
defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is already rumored to be at the top of the
list of prospective new coaches. Rivera has been a big part of the success of
Lovie Smith's aggressive Tampa-2 scheme over the past two seasons and could
bring a similar flavor to a new club next year. Prior to his hiring in Chicago,
Rivera coached defensive backs in the highly aggressive Philadelphia defensive
scheme, which relied on a lot of man coverage, so it's not clearly evident that
he'll bring T2 concepts as a head coach. With Rivera's name already getting
play in the local Pittsburgh and Arizona media, though, an IDP lover can't help
but be a little excited about the prospects of a guy like Karlos Dansby as a
WLB in a Tampa-2 scheme.
For those of you new to IDP leagues, the offseason is every bit as important
as the preseason and regular season to your championship prospects. We'll be
active this offseason in the IDP Forum on the FBG message boards discussing
free agent movement, coaching and scheme changes, the impact of drafted players
on their new teams, as well as following all the important news and notes from
minicamps and training camp. Reading the Defense will return in mid-April with
a look at the best IDP spots for a rookie defensive player to land during the
Have a great offseason and best of luck to those with championship games this
Confused about defensive terminology or have something you'd like to see broken
down? RTD welcomes all questions (and comments) by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Best of luck in Week 17.