Free Agent Focus: DEs

Eric Hicks

Today we shift our look from the O-line to the D-line as the Bills could be looking at a free agent to start at Left Defensive End. As current starter Ryan Denney has still yet to show the consistency to be a full time starter in the NFL. While he played better as the season wore on including picking up two sacks in the final two games of the season he just doesn't offer the consistent pass rush needed to make a good defense a great one.

Arguably the biggest name on the free agent landscape is Tennessee Titans' All Pro Left End Jevon Kearse. Kearse is one of the if not best pass rushing ends in the league, having piled up 47.5 sacks over 66 career NFL games. He'll likely gain a lot of attention on the free agent market, and at one time the Bills may have been a favorite to sign him. That was before the team decided against re-signing former head coach Gregg Williams, who served as Kearse's defensive coordinator in Tennessee his first two seasons in the league. Williams is now serving in that capacity with the Redskins, who are in desperate need for an end due to the retirement of former Bills' great Bruce Smith. Coupled with Redskins owner Dan Snyder deep pockets it seems all but a certain thing that Kearse will be playing in DC next season since the Titans' are projected well over next year's cap number and unlikely to franchise him.

Grant Wistrom would be another great fit for the Bills. He fits in with the "high motor" end mold that Tom Donahoe has drafted the last three seasons as team President. Wistrom has piled up 41.5 sacks in 91 NFL games and a strong tackler having registering 285 tackles over his career. Wistrom's price tag however might be a little too high for the Bills with Aaron Schobel and Jonas Jennings expected to become unrestricted free agents next year the Bills may not want to spend big time bucks on a free agent in hopes to re-sign the aforementioned during the season next year.

Adewale Ogunleye led the AFC in sacks last year but likely won't get many offers as he's due to be a restricted free agent. Also the Dolphins are expected to put a tender on him that any team that does want him would have to surrender a 1st and 3rd round picks for his services. All for a player that originally went undrafted by the NFL because he got injured during his senior year at Indiana but prior to Mel Kiper predicted to be a 1st Round pick. Ogunleye might be a talented but there are still some lingering questions about his success being in part because he's playing opposite Jason Taylor who is regarded as one of the top Ends in the game today.

Darren Howard is a player the Bills could have drafted in 2000 but instead elected to go for the infamous bust Erik Flowers. Howard posses' great size and speed and everything a team would look for as a left defensive end despite playing on the right side for the Saints. Although he hasn't been able to register anymore then the 11 sacks he had as a rookie Howard would give the Bills an added pass rush from the left side they haven't seen since Phil Hansen was in his prime. He also might be affordable because he is coming off an injured filled 2002 season which only saw him play in eight games but did pick up 5.0 sacks which is more then Ryan Denney, Chris Kelsay and Keith McKenzie (i.e. any End on the Bills' roster not named Aaron Schobel) combined. Though with the Saints franchising Howard the likelihood of him being signed by another team is low.

Eric Hicks might draw some interest but with reports that the Chiefs might have some interest in Jevon Kearse it shows that Hicks is far from a great pass rusher. Of course he has collected 35.5 sacks in 80 career NFL games or almost half a sack a game which would be an improvement over what Ryan Denney has done over his short career thus far. Also having played left end in the past makes him a viable option plus he probably won't command some of the higher salaries that the other aforementioned Ends might.

Lorenzo Bromell has become a journeyman the last three years having spent time with three different teams over that span but a guy to keep an eye. This is true if the Bills are looking for someone to spell Denney on obvious passing situations. As that was the role Bromell played and excelled at as a Dolphin in the early part of his career.

A lesser name player that could be a three down end for the Bills is James Hall of the Lions. Hall's strength is as a tackler but he did collect 4.5 sacks and tie for the team lead on a team last year that only had 28. Hall's game could be helped playing opposite Aaron Schobel and could be less expensive then any of the players mentioned earlier.

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