We're just a little over two weeks away from the start of free agency in the NFL. It'll be a very different offseason compared to what we're used to, though. With it looking all but certain for 2010 to be an "uncapped" season, the landscape of free agency changes. There will be fewer unrestricted free agents. Some teams will be under strict restrictions in terms of their ability to sign these UFA. And we could see an increase in trades with the increase in restricted free agents due to the rules in place in the current CBA for an uncapped season.
The nose tackle position, in particular, is always limited in quality players. It's a hard position to play and a hard position for NFL teams to fill. And with more and more teams switching to the 3-4 defense (the Bills are the latest, by the way), it's getting even tougher to find a legitimate starting nose tackle.
Below are some of the potential free agent nose tackles:
Jason Ferguson - Ferg is 35 years old and recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle. He's said that if he does continue with his playing career, he only wants to do so with the Dolphins. But it's unknown at this point if Ferguson will play football in 2010. Last we heard from him, he called it a "toss up" that he'd return, saying that he "doesn't want to hold them up" - meaning the Dolphins and their plans for the NT position this offseason. Hopefully he returns for one more year, but we'll see.
Vince Wilfork - Wilfork is the biggest name on the free agency market at his position - as of now. But the Patriots would be crazy to let one of the top defensive linemen leave New England. Wilfork, though, has been very vocal about wanting a long-term deal and not the franchise tag. But Adam Schefter is reporting that there's a "standoff" between the Pats and Wilfork brewing as the sides try to work towards a new contract. The Pats could decide to slap the franchise tag on Vince regardless of how much Vince doesn't want to accept it, giving the two sides until the summer to reach a long-term agreement. If the Pats gamble and decide not to use the tag, Wilfork has alrady publicly said he's love to play in Florida. The former University of Miami star would be a welcomed site in Miami. But the Pats would never let that happen, would they?
Aubrayo Franklin - The standout 49er nose tackle is quietly among the best in the game. He's only 29 and is an unrestricted free agent. But it's expected the Niners will use the franchise tag on their big man in the coming days while they try to work out a long term agreement.
Casey Hampton - The big Steelers nose tackle will be 33 by the time next season kicks off but is still an elite nose tackle. He has been a mainstay in Pittsburgh for years now as the anchor of their 3-4 defense. The Steelers would be crazy to let him go and the two sides are expected to engage in extension talks. Hampton, like Wilfork, has publicly declared his dislike of the franchise tag. He said it would be "a slap in the face" if he is tagged. If no long term deal is reached by the franchise tag deadline, will Pittsburgh take a chance and use the tag on Hampton? I definitely think Miami needs to monitor this situation.
Ryan Pickett - The 6'2, 330 pound Packers nose tackle would be a wanted man in free agency. He anchored Green Bay's top ranked rushing defense last year. But he has also said he wants to remain in Green Bay and the Packers are said to be in talks with Pickett on a long-term deal. Hopefully it doesn't get done, though. Pickett would be an excellent fit in Miami. But I'm not holding out hope.
Barry Cofield - Cofield is an interesting option. He might need to bulk up a little to man the nose in a 3-4 (he currently measures in at 6'4, 306) and he is a restricted free agent. But I doubt the Giants will use a top tender offer on Cofield. New Dolphins LB coach Bill Sheridan was the defensive coordinator last season with the Giants. So he'll know firsthand about Cofield. Is he stout enough at the point of attack to handle the nose? Sheridan would be the guy to know. Just keep an eye on this situation just in case.
Those are probably the only guys out there would would be obvious upgrades to what the Dolphins currently have at nose tackle - basically just Paul Soliai. There are also some decent nose tackle prospects in the draft - guys like Tennessee's Dan Williams, North Carolina's Cam Thomas, Alabama's Terrence Cody, and Central Florida's Torrell Troup. And we'll have more on these guys as the draft nears and we see what - if anything - the Dolphins do to address the nose tackle position in free agency.