Who’s Out There? Safeties

The Ravens could add a free-agent safety to provide depth in the secondary.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Categories: 2012 Offseason, Garrett Downing

With Ed Reed roaming the defensive backfield, the safety position has been a strong point for the Ravens for the last decade.


But as Baltimore gets ready for the 2012 season, safety is a position with some uncertainly.

Reed is signed through next season and expected to return, but Ravens brass also acknowledged last month that he has not officially said he’ll be back.

Even with Reed returning, safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura are both unrestricted free agents and could end up signing elsewhere. Strong safety Bernard Pollard is signed through next season and expected back as the team’s starting strong safety.

With the Ravens potentially losing Nakamura and/or Zbikowski, they could look for other veterans to bring in through free agency.

Here is a look at who might be available:

Tyvon Branch, Oakland Raiders
Unrestricted (5th Season); 25 years old; 6-foot-0; 205 pounds
2011 Season: 109 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Branch is a budding star at safety for the Raiders, and they want to do everything possible to keep him in Oakland. There is talk that Branch could be a likely candidate for the franchise tag, especially if the Raiders decide not to franchise running back Michael Bush. If Branch is not franchised and ends up on the free-agent market, he will command top dollar as a strong safety. With Pollard signed through next year, it’s not likely the Ravens would pay big money for another strong safety.
(Upside – Budding Star; Downside – Price)

Thomas DeCoud, Atlanta Falcons
Unrestricted (5th Season); 26; 6-2; 192
2011 Season: 86 tackles, 4 interceptions
The Falcons have 17 free agents this offseason, and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff said that they will realistically plan to re-sign about eight of them. It’s unclear if DeCoud is included in those eight players expected to sign an extension. He played well as the Falcons starting free safety last season and would command more money than what the Ravens could pay for someone who will likely back up Reed.
(Upside – Proven Talent; Downside – Price)

Reggie Nelson, Cincinnati Bengals
Unrestricted (5th Season); 28; 5-11; 206 pounds
2011 Season: 85 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions
Nelson had arguably the best season of his career playing with the Ravens’ AFC North rival Cincinnati. Now, the Bengals are trying to work out a contract extension with Nelson, who is reportedly one of the team’s top priorities to re-sign.  The Bengals have plenty of cap space this offseason, so they could likely work out a deal with Nelson and still have flexibility to bring in other free agents.
(Upside – AFC North Familiarity, Proven; Downside – Price)

James Sanders, Atlanta Falcons
Unrestricted (7th Season); 28; 5-10; 210
2011 Season: 41 tackles
Sanders signed a one-year contract last preseason with the Falcons after playing his first six seasons in New England. He played well in a backup role and when called upon to be the starter. He could provide some depth for the Ravens and has past experience as a starter. Sanders isn’t expected fetch a big contract on the market.
(Upside – Price; Downside – Limited Starting Experience)

Abe Elam, Dallas Cowboys
Unrestricted (8th Season); 30; 6-0; 212
2011 Season: 68 tackles, 1 forced fumble
In his first season with the Cowboys, Elam started every game and played well at strong safety. He has bounced around during his seven NFL seasons, also spending time with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. At this point in his career he likely wouldn’t get a long-term contract on the open market, but he could provide some depth and experience in the secondary for a couple of seasons.
(Upside – AFC North Familiarity, Price; Downside – Age)

Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans
Unrestricted (6th Season); 27; 6-0; 203
2011 Season: 75 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
The former first-round draft pick has been a starter since his rookie season and is one of the top safeties set to become a free agent this offseason. But he might not even hit the free-agent market, as he is still a candidate to get the franchise tag by Tennessee. If Griffin does become a free agent, then the kind of contract he would command is likely much more than the backup role the Ravens are looking to fill.
(Upside – Proven, Top Talent; Downside – Price)

Laron Landry, Washington Redskins
Unrestricted (5th Season); 27; 6-0; 220
2011 Season: 48 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Landry is another player who seems somewhat unlikely to become a free agent. The Redskins are reportedly trying to decide whether to franchise the veteran safety. Landry has been a starter since his rookie season, but injuries have cut short his last two years. Landry has missed a combined 15 games over the last two seasons.
(Upside – Proven, Top Talent; Downside – Price, Injuries)

Dashon Goldson, San Francisco 49ers
Unrestricted (6th Season); 27; 6-2; 200
2011 Season: 67 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 6 interceptions
The 49ers free safety had arguably the best year of his career and was an important part of a San Francisco defense that ranked as one of the best in the NFL. It seems like an almost certainly that Goldson will be back in San Francisco – either with a contract extensions or franchise tag – and he recently told a radio station he would be “very shocked” if he wasn’t with the 49ers next year.
(Upside – Top Talent; Downside – Price)

 

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