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FREE AGENT FEEDING FRENZY: Defensive Linemen

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The 2011 fantasy football campaign has concluded, and with only Super Bowl XLVI remaining to be played, soon the curtain will fall on another season of National Football League action as well.

However, for fantasy football fanatics in dynasty Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues or any owner looking to get an early edge on the competition, the offseason is basically non-existent, which means that no sooner does one season end than another begins.

Before we turn our eyes towards next month’s NFL Scouting Combine and April’s NFL Draft (which I’ll be doing plenty of myself with the IDP Draft Preview Series at IDP Manor), we must first navigate the treacherous waters of the annual insanity that is free agency in the NFL.

Player movement can have a huge IDP impact not only on the players that join new teams but also their former and new teammates, so this article will be the first in a three-part series looking at some of the prominent free agents at each of the major IDP positions, where those players might be headed, and what it all could mean for their fantasy football value in 2012 and beyond.

Robert Mathis, DE, Indianapolis: Mathis is easily the biggest “name” set to hit the open market in 2012, and the 31-year-old was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl after racking up 43 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles during the nightmare that was the Colts’ 2011 season.

The Colts are a team brimming with uncertainty at this point, and with the team potentially looking at a full-on rebuild and new head coach Chuck Pagano set to move the team away from the Tampa-2 defense it has run for years and towards the “hybrid” defense he utilized with the Baltimore Ravens, it’s very possible that the nine-year veteran will decide it’s time to move on.

Should Mathis, who has finished in the Top 20 at his position in Default IDP Manor Scoring the past four years, decide to remain in Indianapolis, it’s possible his IDP value could take a hit in the Colts new defense, dropping him into lower-end IDP DL2 territory, but if Mathis moves on and finds a new home with a team running the 4-3 he will most likely continue to be what he’s been the past several seasons … a solid, if unspectacular IDP DL1.

Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit: Fourth-year pro Cliff Avril finally put it all together in 2011, logging 36 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception while finishing as a Top 5 fantasy defensive lineman and helping to propel the Lions to their first playoff berth of this millennium.

The Lions have stated that they would very much like to re-sign Avril, and the franchise tag has been discussed as a possibility, but with the franchise tag for defensive ends upwards of $10 million and the amount of money Detroit already has invested in defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, it’s possible that tagging Avril just won’t be fiscally feasible, opening the door for his possible exit from Detroit.

However, the biggest IDP fallout from the departure of Avril (or Vanden Bosch, who could be released in an effort to cut salary and keep Avril) may not be the impact on the fantasy value of those players but on that of reserve defensive end Lawrence Jackson, who had 4.5 sacks in limited duty in 2011 and could leap into IDP DL2 territory should he be thrust into a full-time role with the Lions.

Calais Campbell, DE, Arizona: Campbell has become the latest player to buck the conventional wisdom that 3-4 defensive ends cannot be counted on for IDP purposes, and the fourth-year pro had the best season of his career in 2011, notching career highs in tackles (72) and sacks (eight) en route to finishing sixth at his position in Default IDP Manor Scoring.

It looks unlikely that Campbell will be leaving the desert, as even if he and the Cardinals haven’t worked out an extension by March 13 the team would probably use the franchise tag to retain a key cog in their defense. With that said, Campbell has now finished in the Top 25 at his position in three consecutive seasons, and at least for 2012 his IDP value as a solid DL2 appears to be secure.



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