Free Agent Preview: Defensive Tackles

Posted Mar 1, 2013

With the exception of cornerback, no position on the Rams got a more dramatic makeover last offseason than defensive tackle.

After another year of languishing near the bottom of the league in run defense in 2011, new coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead made bolstering the interior of the defensive line one of their top priorities.

As such, the Rams said goodbye to previous starters Justin Bannan and Fred Robbins. Even backups Gary Gibson and Darell Scott were shown the door as the Rams blew up the position and decided to start from scratch.

When free agency opened last March, the Rams moved quickly to grab big, powerful Kendall Langford from Miami with the intent of switching him from his five-technique spot in the Dolphins’ 3-4 defense to making him a pure defensive tackle in a 4-3.

The Rams also went out and signed veteran Trevor Laws in hopes that he could add another veteran presence.

By the time the NFL Draft rolled around, the Rams maneuvered their way down to the 14th spot and snatched up another physically imposing defensive tackle in Michael Brockers, giving them a set of twin towers to plug in the middle of bookends Chris Long and Robert Quinn.

Add in a returning from injury Jermelle Cudjo and promising undrafted free agent Matt Conrath and the depth chart looked entirely different at defensive tackle.

The results were mostly positive and, at worst, offered quite a bit of hope for the future of the position as the Rams made great strides against the run and finished 15th in the league, allowing 117.5 yards per game on the ground.

With free agency set to open on March 12, the Rams don’t appear to have any dire need to add more help at the defensive tackle spot considering Langford, Brockers, Cudjo and Conrath all remain under their control.

Of that quartet, the Rams only have to make any sort of decision on Cudjo, who is scheduled for restricted free agency but likely won’t require any more than the lowest tender offer.

While Langford took some time to adjust to his new position in a different defensive scheme, he also came on strong at the end of the season and finished with 57 tackles, two sacks, 20 quarterback pressures and eight quarterback hits.

Brockers, meanwhile, performed well as he is only scratching the surface on his immense potential by posting 63 tackles, four sacks, 13 quarterback pressures and four quarterback hits on his way to All Rookie honors for his position.

Cudjo flashed some of his potential in recording a sack with 39 tackles in spot duty while Conrath didn’t play most of the way after an early season injury but still figures into the plans for 2013.

Laws never made it on to the field after a back injury landed him on injured reserve early in camp. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.

While the Rams don’t appear to have a pressing need at the position, the status of end William Hayes could factor in to whether or not the team brings in another defensive tackle. Hayes and fellow end Eugene Sims played inside quite a bit in 2012 and their versatility made the need for a “true” third tackle a little less pressing.

Hayes is scheduled for unrestricted free agency and if he were to leave, the Rams could find themselves in need of a tackle who can push the pocket on third down.

This year’s free agent market at defensive tackle does offer some strong options for teams more in need than the Rams. Chicago’s Henry Melton is one of the best players on the market regardless of position and it seems likely the Bears will use the franchise tag to retain him if they can’t get him signed to a long term deal.

Miami’s Randy Starks, Oakland’s Richard Seymour, Tampa Bay’s Roy Miller and others offer various skill sets at different prices but figure to draw interest on the open market.

Cheaper alternatives that the Rams could explore should they lose Hayes and want to add another piece at tackle could include Detroit’s Sammie Lee Hill, Seattle’s Alan Branch and New Orleans’ Sedrick Ellis.

More likely, much like defensive end, any move the Rams would make to add depth on the interior of the defensive line would come from the draft.

Defensive Tackles

1. Henry Melton, Chicago: One of the premiere players expected to hit the market; he’s just hitting his stride at 26.
2. Randy Starks, Miami: Good pass rusher who can hold up against the run.
3. Richard Seymour, Oakland: He’s 33 but he can still be a productive part of any defensive line rotation. Versatile enough to fit in any scheme, also.
4. Roy Miller, Tampa Bay: If you need help against the run, he’s your guy. Offers little in pass rush but very stout against the run.
5. Sammie Lee Hill, Detroit: A massive player who hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity behind the depth of the Lions at his position. Offers upside.

Others to Watch: Corey Williams, Detroit; Mike DeVito, New York Jets; Alan Branch, Seattle; Desmond Bryant, Oakland; Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans; Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia.

Restricted Free Agents to Watch: Chris Baker, Washington, Arthur Jones, Baltimore.

Rams Free Agents: Trevor Laws, Jermelle Cudjo (Restricted).