Top 10 UFA Safeties:
1 - Jordan Babineaux (re-signed by Titans)
2 – Sean Jones: in-the-box safety, excellent clutch playmaker, not great in coverage but has 14 INT in last 3 years (signed by Lions in late June)
3 – Brandon Meriweather (signed by Redskins)
4 - Reggie Nelson (re-signed by Bengals)
5 - Haruki Nakamura (signed by Panthers)
6 - James Sanders: versatile safety with good speed and range, good run-supporter (signed by Big Dead 4/6)
7 - Dwight Lowery (re-signed by Jagwires)
8 - Craig Steltz (re-signed by Bears)
9 - Oshiomogho Atogwe: will be 32, has always been liability in coverage, forced only three turnovers last year (June signing with the Eagles)
10 – Mike Adams (signed by Broncos)
Sleepers: Boy, you can tell this year's draft isn't strong for defensive backs, can't you? It took barely a week for the shelves to get pretty bare at the DB store. But James Sanders looks like he would be a quietly good pickup for someone. He's good on special teams and good enough at either free or strong safety to push both of Atlanta's starters last season. I see him as a very good "glue" player on a defensive depth chart.
Wild card: Jim Leonhard is one of those coach-on-the-field type players who can make clutch plays and help on special teams, who rarely blows an assignment. His problem is that he's 30 and coming off major leg injuries each of the last two seasons. Can you rely on him to stay on the field?
Tag you're it: Tyvon Branch, Dashon Goldson, Michael Griffin
(Also) out of the running: Thomas DeCoud (re-signed by Falcons), Atari Bigby (signed by Chargers), Erik Coleman (re-signed by Lions), Brian Dawkins (retired 4/24), Steve Gregory (signed by Patriots), LaRon Landry (signed by Jets), Kyle McCarthy (signed by Chiefs), Brodney Pool (signed by Cowboys), Tom Zbikowski (signed by Colts), Jarrad Page (signed by Dodgers. Yes, you read that right, the Dodgers. He quit football.)
Voting present: James Ihedigbo (June re-signing, Patriots), Bryan Scott, Abram Elam (signed by Chiefs 6/4), Jon McGraw, Matt Giordano (re-signed by Raiders 4/17) , Corey Lynch, Deon Grant, Tanard Jackson (cut by Bucs 4/10, signed by Redskins 4/14), Chris Hope (signed by Falcons 7/1), Alan Ball (signed by Texans 6/4), Chris Harris, Hamza Abdullah, Reshard Langford, Derrick Martin, Anthony Smith, Stevie Brown, Madieu Williams (signed by Redskins 4/11), Yeremiah Bell (released by Dolphins 3/19, signed by Jets 5/18), Sean Considine (signed by Ravens 3/24), James Butler, Sabby Piscitelli, C.C. Brown
The doctor will see you now: Melvin Bullitt (out most of last two seasons due to shoulder problems), Hiram Eugene (dislocated hip), Husain Abdullah (concussions), Dominque Barber (Lisfranc), Jon Corto (wrist), Courtney Greene (knees, re-signed by Jagwires 4/3), Tyrell Johnson (hamstring, signed by Dolphins 4/6), Jim Leonhard (torn patellar tendon), Chris Crocker (cut by Bengals 4/6, coming off knee surgery in January and has had nagging knee injuries for three years running), Nick Collins (cut by Packers 4/25, neck injury)
Gawd no: Bret Lockett, a little-used, oft-injured Patriots safety whose claim to fame is very publicly lying that he had a 5-month affair with Kim Kardashian. He had to admit he made the whole thing up, and that he'd never even met Kim, upon threat of a lawsuit. Might not want to try that kind of stunt with a celebrity whose father was a famous lawyer.
RamView’s moves: The Rams' free agent splash last season, Quinton Mikell may not have been a flop, but he didn't perform to expectations, either. He didn't play to his reputation as an elite tackler and cover man. He'll remain a starter, but cross your fingers the Rams didn't overspend on a player on the decline. That is no concern with Darian Stewart, who I'm convinced is about to become a star in this league. Under the tutelage of veteran secondary coach Chuck Cecil, if Stewart just cleans up the missed tackles that burned the Rams on some long runs last season, the Ram defense has a chance to improve by a leap and a bound, and Stewart will reach the verge of leaguewide recognition for the rest of his game. A big issue for the Rams is going to be safety depth. Craig Dahl and James Butler, neither of whom can cover a lick, are free agents unlikely to be brought back. Dahl can at least hit a little and help on special teams, but I'm surprised he hasn't joined Steve Spagnuolo in New Orleans already. (My original information was incorrect - Dahl is under contract for 2012. He should be back as safety depth.) I like Sanders the most out of the depleted market remaining at safety. Beyond adding the veteran, I have to hope Jerome Murphy can help out as a crossover guy if needed, and that the Rams get lucky again in rookie free agency like they did with Stewart. It doesn't seem too unusual for college in-the-box safeties with mid-round grades to go undrafted, though, which is exactly what happened to Stewart.
Shoot the moon: Cut Mikell, though I doubt it's cap-feasible, and draft a safety like Justin Bethel, Brandon Taylor or George Iloka on day 3 of the draft. Little question that would be a riverboat-gambler type of a move, that's for sure.
Prediction: Les Snead makes me look good and makes a play for Sanders, knowing the Falcons have a lot tied up in their young starters and won't want to shell out a lot for a backup. Keep an eye on someone like Jon McGraw, too, given the tone the Rams are going to want to set on defense.