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Free-agency preview: Defense and special teams

Feb. 28, 2008  |  Comments
Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel likely will fetch more than $10 million per season. File/AP
Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel likely will fetch more than $10 million per season. File/AP
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The NFL's free-agent signing period begins at 11 p.m. today. Here's a look at some of the top defensive players who will be available:

Defensive tackles

Let the bidding begin: Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee) and Corey Williams (Packers) were set for big paydays, but each received the franchise tag. That leaves a yawn-worthy group headed by players who ended last season on injured reserve: Rod Coleman (Atlanta, released), Brian Young (New Orleans), Chartric Darby (Seattle) and Tommy Kelly (Oakland). Coleman reportedly has met with Tampa Bay.

Bargain basement: Randy Starks (Tennessee), Spencer Johnson (Minnesota), Tyler Brayton (Oakland), Darwin Walker (Chicago, released), William Joseph (N.Y. Giants), Keith Traylor (Miami, released).

Defensive ends

Let the bidding begin: Kansas City franchised Jared Allen, who led the NFL last season with 15 sacks despite serving a two-game suspension. ? Justin Smith (Cincinnati) isn't an elite pass rusher - he only had two sacks last season and never has matched the 8 sacks he posted as a rookie in 2001 - but he's a durable player who is only 28 and likely will hit it big in a weak group of free-agent defensive linemen.

Question marks: Was Antwan Odom's first big season in Tennessee - eight sacks and seven passes defended in 16 starts - a mirage or a sign of things to come for the 26-year-old? ? What about fellow Titan Travis LaBoy, who was reduced to a situational pass-rushing role last season? ? Who thinks they can get more out of Bobby McCray after he was buried on the depth chart last season in Jacksonville?

Bargain basement: N.D. Kalu (Houston), Josh Thomas (Indianapolis), Marques Douglas (San Francisco).

Linebackers

Let the bidding begin: The dynamic Lance Briggs has been linked to San Francisco and Washington after spending a season wallowing under the franchise tag in Chicago. He seems best suited to play outside linebacker in a 4-3 defensive scheme, and at 27, he will strike it rich. ? Terrell Suggs (Baltimore), a hybrid linebacker/end, and Karlos Dansby (Arizona) have been franchised. ? The price for converted end Calvin Pace (Arizona) jumped after his breakout season in 2007, but the Cardinals reportedly want to retain the five-year veteran.

Question marks: Can Clark Haggans find a starting role after eight seasons rushing the passer in Pittsburgh? ? Will Tedy Bruschi (New England) return for a 13th season? ? Can Dan Morgan (Carolina, released) stay healthy past the opening-day coin toss?

Bargain basement: Boss Bailey (Detroit), Kawika Mitchell (N.Y. Giants), Brandon Chillar (St. Louis), DeMorrio Williams (Atlanta), Rosevelt Colvin (New England, released).

Cornerbacks

Let the bidding begin: New Orleans reportedly is the front-runner to land Asante Samuel (New England), the 27-year-old cover king who is considered the top free agent in this year's class. The Jets, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia also have been linked to Samuel, who is expected to get a contract averaging $10 million or more per year. ? Nnamdi Asomugha (Oakland) and Marcus Trufant (Seattle) were franchised, leaving Drayton Florence - who lost his starting job in San Diego last season to Antonio Cromartie - as the next best option.

Question mark: Will Brian Kelly (Tampa Bay) regret paying $435,000 to buy out the final year of a contract that would have paid him $3.2 million in base salary next season?

Bargain basement: Ty Law (Kansas City, reportedly to be released), Randall Gay (New England), Travis Fisher (Detroit), Jacques Reeves (Dallas).

Safeties

Let the bidding begin: The Super Bowl-champion Giants reportedly were interested in re-signing Gibril Wilson, but he apparently will test the market. Philadelphia and Denver have been reported as possible destinations. ? Dallas placed the franchise tag on Ken Hamlin.

Question mark: How will season-ending injuries to Yeremiah Bell (Miami) and Madieu Williams (Cincinnati) affect their value?

Bargain basement: Eugene Wilson (New England), Will Demps (Houston), Marquand Manuel (Carolina), Chris Crocker (Atlanta).

Specialists

Let the bidding begin: Kickers Josh Brown (Seattle) and Jason Elam (Denver) are set to hit the open market, though Brown could have a new deal before free agency begins. ? Restricted free agent Rob Bironas (Tennessee) is the other kicker of note. ? Punters Dustin Colquitt (Kansas City) and Michael Koenen (Atlanta) can become restricted free agents. ? Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo (Chicago) is looking for a chance to play more linebacker.

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