Here is a list of select Defensive Linemen who currently have the opportunity to become unrestricted free agents at that time. These players can re-sign with their current teams at any time and can begin to negotiate with other teams beginning on March 9th.
Cliff Avril/DE/Lions (6’3, 260): Avril, a five-year veteran, has provided consistent pressure on the Lions’ defensive line, perhaps the team’s strongest unit. The former Purdue Boilermaker has registered at least 8.5 sacks in each of the last three seasons, finishing 2012 with 9.5. His 2012 numbers, albeit strong once again, were slightly down from his career-best 2011 season in which he finished with 11.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and interception which he returned for a touchdown
Michael Bennett/DE/Buccaneers (6’4, 274): Undrafted out of Texas A&M — where current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman coached him for a year — Bennett had the best year of his career in a contract year, starting all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career. Bennett has increased his tackle, sack and forced fumble totals each season, ending 2012 with 41 tackles and nine sacks.
Dwight Freeney/DE/Colts (6’1, 268): The Colts have already publicly acknowledged that they will not bring back Freeney, who has spent his entire 11-year career in Indianapolis. The Colts’ 2002 first-round pick, at 33, still could provide a lot as a situational pass rusher. Freeney has recorded double-digit sack totals in seven out of his 11 seasons, finishing five in 2012, his first year playing as a stand-up linebacker in Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense.
Michael Johnson/DE/Bengals (6’7, 270): Increased playing time has resulted in increased production for Johnson, a four-year out pro out of Georgia Tech. The 26-year-old Johnson set career highs in tackles (52) and sacks (11.5) in 2012, starting 15 of 16 games for Cincinnati. If he doesn’t ink a long-term deal with the Bengals this week, he could be a strong candidate to receive the franchise tag. UPDATE: The Bengals placed the franchise tag on Johnson
Paul Kruger/DE/Ravens (6’4, 270): A pure pass rusher, Kruger really came on during the 2012 stretch run, helping to recharge a struggling Ravens defense before the playoffs. In just six starts — 15 games — Kruger was a force. He had nine sacks and 42 total tackles during the regular season, but he really flashed during the playoffs, finishing with 4.5 sacks (two in Super Bowl XLVII).
Henry Melton/DT/Bears (6’3, 295): A 2009 fourth-round pick out of Texas, Melton, also a candidate for the Bears franchise tag, was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2012. The 26 year old finished the season with a career-high 44 tackles and six sacks. *The Bears placed their franchise tag designation on Melton, 3/4
Randy Starks/DT/Dolphins (6’3, 305): *Update- the Dolphins applied their franchise tag to Starks on 3/4. Since arriving in 2008, Starks has been a key cog on the Dolphins’ defensive line, switching back and forth between playing outside in a 3-4 and inside in a 4-3. He has started all 16 game three of the last four seasons (started 15 0f 16 in 2011) and hasn’t missed a game during his tenure with Miami. A Pro Bowl selection following the 2010 and 2012 seasons, Starks finished last season with 27 tackles, 4.5 sacks and an interception.
Osi Umenyiora/DE/Giants (6’3, 255): The 31-year-old Umenyiora, a two-time All-Pro, hits the open market this offseason after playing out a seven-year contract extension. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck ahead of him in New York’s defensive line rotation, Umenyiora could be looking to move on after starting just four games in 2012. The 10-year veteran has 75 career sacks, and he finished with six sacks in 2012.
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