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Thursday, February 14, 2008

OT, Other Re-signings: Impact on 2008 Offseason

With tackle Travelle Wharton signed, and the impending signing of Jordan Gross, the team will have to find another way to toughen up inside, if they intend to do so. It also means the most likely way the team can make an impact in free agency is on the defensive side of the ball. In both situations, their options are fleeting and expensive.

The team has set out to improve the running game, which improved to 14th overall but lacked consistent pop in games that quickly got out of hand, but it'll do it with a lot of pieces intact, with both tackles likely returning. As well, the team will likely return center Justin Hartwig; they receive a net loss by cutting him in 2008, unless it's after June 1; the team could've used one of its two June 1 exemptions on Hartwig and chose to use it on Mike Wahle.

So, with Ryan Kalil being a much-improved piece at the end of 2007, is he or Hartwig the center? Will one play left guard? If so, right guard, vacated by the still-under-contract Jeremy Bridges when he was benched at the end of the year, may be the only available upgrade. That's assuming the team doesn't stick Geoff Hangartner in; Hangartner, a starter all of 2006 at center, is RFA and likely to stay, but for all of his steady, smart play, he's underpowered and won't deliver the punch needed.

The team may pop for a bigger player like Alan Faneca, but there's only one of him to go around and the league wants him as a whole. Past that there's two Colt guards (the underpowered Jake Scott and his unheralded teammate Ryan Lilja, both of which would be smarter to stay, but might make an OK contribution in the zone scheme), two highly aged former Pro Bowlers (Larry Allen, Ruben Brown), an all-nickname backup (Pork Chop Womack, occasional starter for the Seahawks), and the guy he occasionally replaced (touted, but troubled, former NCSU star Sean Locklear).

Unless the team makes a drastic subtraction to the defensive line - trading Julius Peppers or Kris Jenkins, for instance, or cutting Ma'ake Kemoeatu - the team doesn't have a lot of options to move, so it'll probably move quickly. The DT trio of Jenkins, Kemoeatu, and Lewis seems to want to stay intact; if not, they could use Lewis as a starter and leverage the cap space and/or collateral to help buy an end. It may not need to do so, and may just try to buy an end outright.

But who? With Terrell Suggs and Jared Allen franchised, the team may have a move with the Bengals' Justin Smith, who struggled in 2007 during his franchise tag year (41 sacks in his 2001-06 seasons; 2 in 2007), but that may be risky; one-year wonder, Titan DE Antwan Odom, had 8 sacks from nowhere last year; Bears DE Alex Brown is unhappy and could be had for a second day pick; other than that, the market is low, expensive, and DE Mike Rucker actually looks like a good value pick in the market.

The problem is, Rucker won't improve the pass rush, and the team desperately needs some edge rush. To complicate things, DE may be the team's best bet in the draft, too; a draftee would likely cost less than a free agent.

With Lewis, Harris, and the two OTs wrapped up, the team has a lot of its higher profile free agents under wraps (assuming Gross does get in, of course), which does help promote the idea of splurging on one high-impact, tough, line-strengthening free agent, and makes other needs less critical.
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