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The 2012 edition of free agency in the National Football League is two weeks old, and while the biggest splash so far this year came on the offensive side of the ball when the Denver Broncos agreed to terms with quarterback Peyton Manning, there’s been plenty of movement on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Let’s take a look back at some of the prominent free agent signings on defense so far this year and what they could mean for the fantasy prospects of these players, beginning up front with the defensive linemen.
The crown jewel of free agency on the defensive side of the ball in 2012 was probably outside linebacker Mario Williams of the Houston Texans, who is headed back to playing defensive end in a 4-3 front after signing a six-year, $100 million megadeal with the Buffalo Bills. That is the richest contract ever given to a defensive player in the NFL.
The move back to defensive end for Williams, who had five sacks in five games last year before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season, is the best possible news for the seventh-year pro’s Individual Defense Player (IDP) value, as Williams will return to DL1 status after one season playing outside linebacker in Houston’s 3-4 setup.
The Bills didn’t stop retooling their defensive line with the addition of Williams, as the team also agreed to terms with defensive end Mark Anderson, who tallied 29 tackles, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles for the New England Patriots in 2011, to a four-year, $27 million contract.
The 28-year-old Anderson is a pass-rush specialist who has never amassed 35 tackles in his six-year career, and that limited role caps his fantasy upside. However, Anderson showed last season that he can be something of a fantasy asset, finishing as a DL3 in Default IDP Manor Scoring, so at the very least Anderson should be worth a late look in IDP drafts this summer, especially in fantasy leagues that award highly for sacks.
Veteran defensive end Robert Mathis, who racked up 43 tackles, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles during the Indianapolis Colts’ nightmarish 2011 season, will be sticking around for the rebound in Indianapolis after inking a multi-year contract extension, but the nine-year veteran’s IDP value could be in for a big swing even though Mathis is staying put.
The Colts transition to a “hybrid” 3-4 defensive front under new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano could mean a positional designation as a linebacker by some fantasy providers, which would put a huge dent in Mathis’ IDP value. However, if Mathis retains his DL eligibility, a la Terrell Suggs in Baltimore, then the 31-year-old should continue to maintain the high-end IDP DL2 value he’s had for the past several seasons.
Mathis isn’t the only grizzled veteran that chose to remain where he was in free agency this season, as defensive end John Abraham re-upped with the Atlanta Falcons by signing a three-year, $21 million contract extension. The 33-year-old, who had 35 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles in 2011, clearly is no longer the player he once was and may see his snaps limited significantly in 2012, but as last year’s Top 25 fantasy finish at his position showed he’s not quite done yet, and he remains worthy of consideration as a mid-range IDP DL3.
Finally, IDP owners looking for a sleeper among this year’s crop of free agent defensive linemen may wish to cast their glances to shores of Lake Erie and the Cleveland Browns signing of seventh-year pro Frostee Rucker to a five-year, $21 million dollar contract. Rucker, who had 44 tackles and four sacks a season ago in a rotational role with the Cincinnati Bengals, has emerged as a solid two-way end, and the increased snaps he will reportedly see opposite Jabaal Sheard with the Browns could portend IDP DL2 upside that can be had on the cheap.
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