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The first few hours of free agency will be nuts as always. In the time it took me to type that sentence at 4:00 ET, the 652 folks I follow on Twitter made 134 tweets -- and I type quickly. It's the kind of pace that is generally reserved for the Red Wedding and Sharknado. And it broke Twitter for a few minutes earlier today.
I'll do my best to keep up with that superhuman pace in the coming hours and days, bringing you the latest defensive free agent signings, releases and trades (should there be any) here with a running blog of sorts. With rare exception, the reports and analysis here will be on confirmed signings and moves only. I'll leave the speculation and rumors to the beat writers and agents.
For now, I'm planning on updating this feature multiple times a day with the most recent news on top. I'll timestamp things to make it easier for those who check in more often than others. Once the pace slows down, I'll rework the feature into a more evergreen flow for reference later in the spring.
Here we go...
March 15 notes
julius peppers signs with green bay
At first glance, the Packers-Peppers partnership doesn't seem like a great fit. Peppers has little experience in a two-point stance and isn't likely to be comfortable in a true 5-technique role either. The edge rushing outside linebacker role is already ably filled by Clay Matthews. But you can never have enough pass rushers and former first rounder Nick Perry has been a disappointment. Expect Dom Capers to find a strong rotational pass rushing role for Peppers at minimum and there's good reason to believe Capers will be able to teach an old dog like Peppers some new 3-4, zone blitz tricks.
What it means for IDP owners: The partnership isn't good for Peppers' fantasy value. He'll likely be reclassifed to outside linebacker. If Capers does use him in a role that keeps him at defensive line, that usage won't support good statistical production either.
roman harper signs with carolina
Harper has always been a boom-bust safety, making more than his share of splash plays -- both positive and negative. The Saints transitioned him to a transitional role last year after drafting Kenny Vaccaro, then let him go this offseason despite Vaccaro's ACL injury and the knowledge that they were losing Malcolm Jenkins. Harper wasn't a part of the day one safety signing extravaganza either, settling into the second wave of signings and choosing a relatively low cost deal with a divisional rival. It's not yet clear if he'll have more than a rotational role with Charles Godfrey and Robert Lester.
What it means for IDP owners: There's not much tackle opportunity behind Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Carolina. And there's no guarantee Harper will play on passing downs. That likely leads to more variance than we saw from Harper in New Orleans and a slot in the matchup cloud DB tier.
brandon spikes signs with buffalo
This move took a few hours to be confirmed, but there were clear indications that the Bills had prioritized a thumping inside linebacker -- and probably Spikes in particular -- when they revealed that Kiko Alonso would be moving outside during a press conference yesterday. Spikes is a good match for Jim Schwartz, who likes his middle backers strong between the tackles. Spikes may be given a chance to play on passing downs, but his primary duty will be to stuff the run. Behind Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, Spikes should be a physical force if his knee issues are behind him.
What it means for IDP owners: Spikes has been a dominant run defender when healthy and he'll play behind a very strong defensive tackle duo. If he wins an every-down job, he'll be a valuable fantasy option. Unfortunately, I've felt the same for three years with Spikes in New England and he's not been durable enough to take full advantage.
chicago re-signs charles tillman
Tillman didn't find a very welcoming market -- possibly because he refused to consider a switch to safety -- and a rumored move to join Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay never materialized. The Bears are a comfortable spot for him and he can still be productive if he avoids the injury bug that's started to nag him in the same way it did London Fletcher during the former Washington linebacker's slow decline.
What it means for IDP owners: Tillman's value isn't what it once was, but he will continue to have CB2+ upside unless his role changes.
antonio smith signs with oakland
This isn't a headline signing, though Smith is still a valuable contributor to an NFL defense. I'm including it here because it may be a sign that the Raiders are considering more 3-4 looks. Dennis Allen has experience with 3-4 playbooks and has said he'd like to use some hybrid fronts in the past. Smith and LaMarr Woodley could survive as a 4-3 tackle and end, but their best fit is in an attacking 3-4 front. That would allow some rotational and hybrid roles for Justin Tuck and Sio Moore.
What it means for IDP owners: Nothing...yet. But it might be too soon to assume a new positional classification for Woodley. Keep an eye on the plans for Moore, too.
March 14 notes
Baltimore re-signs Daryl Smith
Smith was courted by Denver, but the Broncos ultimately couldn't offer him what the Ravens could. Smith will return as the anchor of the Baltimore run defense and continue to be an every-down player. With a healthy offseason, Arthur Brown should join him. There are a few options left on the market for teams like Denver, which may now be looking to Nate Irving as their full time middle linebacker.
What it means for IDP owners: Though he wasn't helped by the high assist to solo ratio so many AFC North backers have, Smith was an nice addition for fantasy owners last year. His value shouldn't change much this year, but I expect we'll see Arthur Brown begin to cut into some of his coverage and range tackles.
Wesley Woodyard signs with Tennessee
The Broncos never seemed interested in bringing Woodyard back. Though he also considered the Patriots, Woodyard decided on Tennessee, where he'll join an athletic, but underachieving group of linebackers. Ray Horton likes his inside linebackers aggressive and athletic in all phases. That description fits Woodyard well. What we don't know yet is what Horton thinks of the inside backers Tennessee used last year. The Titans were aggressive in their pursuit of D'Qwell Jackson and have now added Woodyard. We'll soon know if that means Horton didn't like what he saw of Zach Brown or Zaviar Gooden. I think it's most likely that we'll see Woodyard and Brown as the starters. As noted above, the Broncos will likely start Nate Irving at middle linebacker unless they address the position in the draft.
What it means for IDP owners: I may be overthinking the Tennessee situation, particularly with regard to Brown, but I'm not ready to write any names -- other than Woodyard -- in ink on the Tennessee depth chart. Assume that Woodyard and Brown will be starters, with Woodyard a near lock to play every down. Also assume that Akeem Ayers is likely to play a hybrid outside linebacker role.
LaMarr Woodley signs with Oakland
The Raiders couldn't find the money or the sales pitch to keep Lamarr Houston in Oakland, but they've since splurged on two veteran pass rushers whose best play and health are likely behind them. Woodley joins Justin Tuck as new additions to the Oakland line. Expect Woodley to play weak side end and Tuck to play strong side end, but both are capable of handling both spots. The defensive line makeover isn't yet complete, but the Raiders are paying both Woodley and Tuck as 700+ snap players.
What it means for IDP owners: Woodley will be reclassified as a DL. That bumps his value -- in theory. He has had serious issues with hamstring and other soft tissue injuries in recent years and will be tough to project to 700 snaps. Consider him a low floor, high variance matchup DL2.
Jason Hatcher signs with Washington
Hatcher drew attention from multiple teams after it became clear that the Cowboys didn't have the cap space to bring him back. It's a major change in role for Hatcher, who will go from a penetrating, 3-technique to an 5-technique end who may be asked to 2-gap frequently.
What it means for IDP owners: Hatcher has a fantasy-friendly 5-technique skill set, but he won't be nearly as valuable for IDP owners as he was as a defensive tackle. Someone will benefit from the vacant 3-technique job in Rod Marinelli's scheme, but there's not an obvious bet on the current depth chart. Tyrone Crawford has some upside, as does the recently signed Terrell McClain, but neither offers the same pass rushing ability that Hatcher did.
Dallas interested in Julius Peppers
The market for Peppers and fellow veteran Jared Allen never really developed. It's unclear whether the Peppers interest is serious in Dallas or not. There's clearly room for another defensive end on the Dallas depth chart -- Jeremy Mincey and George Selvie would be the likely starters if the season started today. But the Cowboys are so strapped for cap space that they may not be able to bring Peppers aboard even if the interest is mutual.
What it means for IDP owners: Nothing yet. If Peppers signs, there are lots of snaps available for him but it's not a great situation.
Brandon Spikes visits Buffalo
This note isn't about Spikes as much as it is the Buffalo depth chart. At a press conference today, Bills' GM Doug Whaley told reporters that new addition Keith Rivers would play strong side linebacker, with Kiko Alonso moving to the weak side. That all but confirms that Jim Schwartz -- after saying his defense couldn't be labeled as a 3-4 or 4-3 -- plans to use a 4-3 as a base defense.
What it means for IDP owners: Moving Alonso outside is big news. It also strongly suggests that Mario Williams will be classified at DL and Marcell Dareus at DT. Alonso's stats last year were much better than his play and he benefited from a very favorable home stat crew. He was a prime candidate for regression this year. Weak side linebacker is a reasonable spot for him and he'll still be an every-down linebacker and valuable fantasy option. Brandon Spikes, should he be signed, and Ty Powell, an impressive small school pass rusher with some all-around skill, are the would-be middle linebackers for now, with Nigel Bradham also in the mix. It's unlikely any of the three would be a clear every-down linebacker.
March 13 notes
Make sure you scroll down to see all the entries in this running feature. Early next week, I'll be reworking this feature to make it easier to search blurbs by position and importance.
There are still a handful of players who can be key contributors to a defense left on the market. Julius Peppers and Jared Allen are potential difference makers on the defensive line, as are Henry Melton and Jason Hatcher. Daryl Smith is the most attractive linebacker still available, with Wesley Woodyard and Brandon Spikes possibly falling into value signing range now. The defensive backs have been mostly picked over, but Charles Tillman, Antonio Cromartie and Chris Clemons are among many names on the secondary market that should draw attention.
Darrelle Revis signs with New England
Though it took a $12 million offer, this is a coup for the Patriots. Revis is a major upgrade on Aqib Talib and will allow Bill Belichick a lot of flexibility in coverage. Revis will also positively affect the New England pass rush.
What it means for IDP owners: Revis has never racked up great tackle stats and isn't likely to in New England unfortunately. Revis' presence will give a small boost to the value of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, but not enough to boost them into their already high tiers. Alfonzo Dennard is the best bet to start opposite Revis and benefit from a higher target count, but keep an eye on Logan Ryan, too.
Chris Clemons signs with Jacksonville
Some free agent dominoes are easy to read. Clemons reuniting with his former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley after his release was one. Clemons was a rotational player for Seattle in his first year back from a late 2012 ACL tear, but was productive on a per-snap basis. He'll step into a good opportunity in Jacksonville, who have added Red Bryant and re-signed Jason Babin in the past week.
What it means for IDP owners: Clemons knows the defensive scheme and is another year removed from his ACL repair. There won't be elite fantasy upside here and he'll be better in sack heavy scoring systems, but put Clemons back on your IDP radar as a matchup DL2 option or better. In Seattle, the loss of Clemons should mean a higher snap count for Cliff Avril.
Willie Young signs with Chicago
The Bears have now overhauled their defensive end group, adding Young a day after grabbing LaMarr Houston. Houston will be an every-down, all-around strong side end. Young will complement him as an edge rushing weak side end. Young didn't have a statistically impressive 2013 season, but proved he could play 800 snaps and frequently pressured the pocket. His upside will be even better if the Bears can find a way to bring Henry Melton back.
What it means for IDP owners: Chicago is a fine landing spot for Young. He should see 700+ snaps again this year. There's 40-8 potential for Young, though a risk of high weekly variance. His floor expectation will improve if Melton comes back as a penetrating force at defensive tackle. In Detroit, look for Devin Taylor to seem more rotational time on a strong defensive line. If the Lions do not add another defensive end between now and the end of the draft, Taylor could grow into a DL2 caliber fantasy option.
Justin Tuck signs with Oakland
Tuck didn't generate much attention on the early market and the Giants weren't motivated to bring him back. But the Raiders gave him $11 million over two years after losing Lamarr Houston. Tuck has durability concerns but played over 900 snaps last year. He'll be expected to play a similar number of snaps for Oakland, where he'll be the lone defensive lineman of any experience.
What it means for IDP owners: Tuck will get enough snaps to compile numbers. If he is healthy enough to be productive, he'll slot into the DL2 tier (with an even higher ceiling). Unfortunately, that's a big if. There's also concern about the number of pass rush opportunities he'll see on a struggling team without another pass rush presence to keep offenses from focusing on him even if he's in form. The loss of Tuck will likely mean more playing time for Damontre Moore, who flashed nice pass rush upside in a limited role last year.
Joe Mays signs with Kansas City
Keith Rivers signs with Buffalo
Darryl Sharpton signs with Washington
A trio of lesser signings that are notable only in that three teams with needy depth charts at linebacker made moves very early in free agency. None of these players will be more than a rotational player barring an injury. And their rotational snaps won't be guaranteed should their respective teams add a linebacker in the draft.
What it means for IDP owners: Don't overreact to any of these signings. These are replacement level talents who will struggle to put up consistently strong tackle numbers even if their role increases.
330 PM ET | March 12
DeMarcus Ware signs with Denver
It didn't take long for the Broncos to close the deal with Ware, who ended up getting more from Denver than he would've had he stayed with the Cowboys. The 10 million dollar per season contract means Ware is seen as an anchor pass rusher for the Broncos and they have no concerns with the neck and shoulder and elbow injuries that have hampered his play at times over the past two seasons. If Von Miller can recover fully from his torn ACL by opening weekend, the Denver pass rush will be formidable.
What it means for IDP owners: Ware should project to 800 snaps in Denver. In a perfect world, the Broncos will face lots of passing attempts with bookend stud pass rushers. That would make Ware a lock to stay in the elite tier of fantasy defensive ends.
Giants re-sign Jon Beason
There was a brief Beason-Broncos flirtation earlier today, which seems only to have accelerated the process of Beason staying in New York. As noted earlier, Beason's instincts and reaction time are intact but last year showed that he cannot execute sideline to sideline or in coverage. There's a chance that the extra year of healing and recovery will revitalize Beason, but the odds aren't great. Still, Beason was the arguably the best linebacker on the roster in New York and the Giants haven't drafted the position aggressively in years.
What it means for IDP owners: I'm obviously lukewarm on Beason's upside, but the relative weakness of his surrounding cast and the likelihood of high opportunity will keep him in the LB3 with variance tiers.
Tampa Bay released Darrelle Revis
No surprise here. The Bucs were going to get another team to take Revis and his contract in trade. They'll move forward with Alterraun Verner and a mix of developing talent around him. Revis will be heavily pursued on the market. He didn't lose much in coverage after recovering from his ACL injury. Much of the narrative about his contract and the way in which he was used (or misused) in Tampa obscured his strong play. The Twitterverse is abuzz with speculation that Revis will land in New England.
What it means for IDP owners: I would like to have seen Revis in an aggressive mix of man and Tampa-2 zone coverage concepts. I think he would have slotted in my elite cornerback tier. Much will now depend on where he signs, including a possible bump in value for the cornerback he will play with next year.
Jeremy Mincey signs with Dallas
The Cowboys cap situation will forced them to make a tough decision on DeMarcus Ware, who wasn't about to do the team any favors by taking a pay cut. With Jason Hatcher also likely to sign elsewhere, the Cowboys are trolling for low cost defensive linemen and they quickly moved on Mincey this afternoon. Mincey has been up and down over the past two seasons, since putting up eight sacks in Jacksonville in 2011. I expect we'll see the Cowboys add more bodies to the depth chart, but Mincey would start opposite George Selvie if the season started today.
What it means for IDP owners: Mincey is 30 years old and hasn't been consistent, even in a rotational role. Rod Marinelli tends to get the most from his talent, however, and the scheme may provide Mincey enough pass rush opportunity to consider him in a matchup DL2 tier in sack heavy scoring leagues.
Seattle released Chris Clemons
It took an extra day, but the expected release of Clemons was confirmed today. The Seahawks have a deep depth chart and chose to reward Michael Bennett with a big contract, leaving Clemons as the odd man out. Seattle is also rumored to be pursuing Jared Allen. Clemons was a productive member of Seattle's rotation, however. He joins Allen on the veteran edge rusher aftermarket.
What it means for IDP owners: More on Clemons when he signs with a new team. This shouldn't change the Seattle rotation and IDP values much.
1000 AM ET | March 12
The defensive line and defensive back market sorted themselves quickly yesterday. The linebacker market, as usual, has been a little slow to develop after a couple of early splash signings. Yesterday's rush of signings followed a multi-day negotiating period. The next few hours to days to weeks will process the next few waves of free agents. With the signings slowing down -- well, it's all relative, right? -- I'm going to start adding some discussion of confirmed visits and some speculation on reported interest from teams on the remaining headline defensive free agents.
DeMarcus Ware visiting Denver
Many teams reportedly reached out to Ware after his release yesterday afternoon. But the Broncos secured the first visit, have a championship caliber team to sell and the cap space to make an offer Ware cannot refuse. It's not yet a foregone conclusion that Ware will join the Broncos, but the writing is on the wall. Ware has durability concerns, but if the Broncos can limit his snaps and scheme his pass rush opposite a (hopefully) healthy Von Miller, it's a great fit for the veteran edge rusher.
What it means for IDP owners: Much depends on Ware's health and the health of Von Miller if Ware signs with Denver. The Broncos are as good a fit as any schematically for Ware, so he won't fall out of the top tiers unless he's physically unable to play enough competitive snaps. More on Ware to come after he makes a decision.
Denver signed Aqib Talib, interested in Jon Beason, Daryl Smith
The Broncos aren't playing around during the first 48 hours of free agency. They spent big money on T.J. Ward, sealed another big deal with Talib later in the evening, are working hard to add DeMarcus Ware and are looking to upgrade their linebacker unit. Wesley Woodyard is taking visits elsewhere and doesn't seem to be in the team's plans. Beason is a bit of an odd fit. He's an elite linebacker between the ears, but his body can't execute any longer. Smith would be a better fit if the Broncos can make the contract work.
What it means for IDP owners: Danny Trevathan was never a realistic option in the middle and Woodyard doesn't have the size to hold up between the tackles. Both Beason and Smith would deserve attention from IDP owners should Denver sign one, but Smith would be a much higher upside play. There remains mutual interest between Smith and Baltimore, so it's too soon to rush to judgment on Arthur Brown becoming an elite fantasy option -- though I expect Brown to be a much improved IDP regardless of Smith's landing spot.
Wesley Woodyard visiting New England and Tennessee
The Broncos don't seem interested in Woodyard. At minimum, they're courting other alternatives. It's not too surprising. Denver was concerned about Woodyard's durability, may prefer to invest their cap space at other positions and Danny Trevathan is a similar player. Woodyard is headed to New England first, where he would join a versatile linebacker group, and also has plans to visit Tennessee, where he'd improve an athletic, rangy group of underachievers.
What it means for IDP owners: More on Woodyard when he signs. Both New England and Tennessee would keep his IDP value high.
Seattle interested in Jared Allen
Early yesterday, the Broncos, Bears and Seahawks were the most commonly connected teams to Allen. The Broncos are prioritizing Ware and multiple writers with Chicago connections are reporting that the Bears interest in lukewarm at best. That leaves Seattle, who could have Allen fall into their laps at a value price. Allen isn't a dominant pass rusher any longer, but the Seattle situation would fit him perfectly. The Seahawks could provide an extra fraction of a second to close the deal in the pocket due to an elite secondary and the ability to play a rotational role in a scheme that would limit an offense's ability to double team him.
What it means for IDP owners: Allen is never going to return to his 50 solo tackle days, but he'll have double digit sack potential if he goes to Seattle. More on Allen when he makes his decision.
900 PM ET | March 11
Jairus Byrd signs with New Orleans
The Saints quickly moved to replace Malcolm Jenkins with Byrd, who will team with Kenny Vaccaro to form one of the best coverage safety duos in the league. Byrd and Vaccaro are flexible, interchangeable fits for Rob Ryan's multiple blitz, multiple coverage playbook. Byrd is also a strong hedge if Vaccaro isn't ready early this season and enables the Saints to keep Rafael Bush in a reserve role. With Byrd now officially off the Bills' depth chart, the favorites to play safety in Buffalo are Da'Norris Searcy and Aaron Williams.
What it means for IDP owners: Byrd won't have any more tackle upside in New Orleans than he did in Buffalo. Vaccaro, if healthy, has a chance to become an elite tier safety. He'll see plenty of time around the box with Byrd playing deep and should see lots of big play opportunity. Should the Bills not add another safety, Da'Norris Searcy should be in line for full time duty once again.
Chicago released Julius Peppers
This was rumored for most of the month and a foregone conclusion after the Bears paid LaMarr Houston big money. Peppers joins DeMarcus Ware on the pass rusher aftermarket and should see strong interest. The Bears will be looking to add more bodies to the line, having already revealed plans to have Shea McClellin move off the line and work at strong side and middle linebacker this offseason.
What it means for IDP owners: Like Ware, the IDP value of Peppers will depend on where he signs. Don't write either out of the top 2-3 tiers of defensive ends just yet for 2014. I don't understand the McClellin move. It's likely a desperation move, though he may not be a complete liability as a base defensive strong side linebacker and nickel pass rusher. Dynasty owners should watch the progression of Cornelius Washington this summer, but expect the Bears to add another lineman.
Alterraun Verner signs with Tampa Bay
Verner was connected to lots of teams this week, but the Bucs were arguably the best fit available to him. Lovie Smith's scheme uses primarily zone concepts, with just the right mix of man coverage to fit Verner's style. Darrelle Revis hasn't been released yet, but that will happen as soon as the Bucs confirm that there's no trade market for him.
What it means for IDP owners: Verner ran up good stats based on strong zone cover play and high opportunity in Tennessee. The style of play is a good fit for continued fantasy production, but the surrounding cast (especially LaVonte David) could cut into some of his tackle opportunity.
Mike Mitchell signs with Pittsburgh
It was a great day to be a safety in the NFL, as nearly every player in the top 2-3 tiers found a home and a long deal with good guaranteed money by nightfall. Mitchell will replace Ryan Clark in Pittsburgh. He isn't a perfect player, but his physical and athletic style of play should be put to good use by Dick LeBeau. The Panthers have some work to do -- as they seemingly always do -- to bolster their secondary again this year, but Mitchell is not a huge schematic loss.
What it means for IDP owners: Probably not much. Mitchell has some matchup upside in Pittsburgh, but isn't likely to have a major statistical effect as a Steeler. The most attractive fantasy option in the Carolina secondary may not be on their roster yet.
400 PM ET | March 11
Michael Johnson signs with Tampa Bay
Johnson was rumored to reunite with Mike Zimmer early in the process. The Vikings quickly decided Johnson was too costly and elected to re-sign Everson Griffen to a big contract last week. Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier will ask Johnson to play the run on the way to the quarterback, something he did very well, if inconsistently, for Zimmer in Cincinnati. It's a good fit for Johnson, who joins a line with an improving (and recovering) Adrian Clayborn and a dominant Gerald McCoy.
What it means for IDP owners: Johnson lands in a prime spot for big play production should he play consistently enough to take advantage. It's good news for Clayborn, who won't see much attention opposite Johnson and McCoy. And if the contract size wasn't enough, it's further confirmation that the Vikings are hitching their pass rush wagon to Griffen and Brian Robison. Griffen has been an attractive sleeper for the past two seasons. He quietly put up solid numbers in 700 snaps last year and should be poised to become an every-week fantasy starter.
Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner signed by Cleveland
When the Browns released D'Qwell Jackson and decided not to tag T.J Ward, the back seven was a mess. Aside from an overrated Joe Haden and the high ceiling, but unproven Barkevious Mingo, there wasn't much clarity on the Cleveland depth chart. That changed with a quickness this afternoon, after the Browns gave big money to Dansby and Whitner. Dansby will be the anchor and veteran presence Mike Pettine needs to run his multiple front defense. Whitner, though arguably way overpaid here, is a good fit as well. He'll look better if the Browns follow through on the rumors to add Darrelle Revis.
The Dansby signing leaves the door open for a huge jump in playing time for Kevin Minter in Arizona, especially if Daryl Washington's off-field issues result in further suspensions. The Niners quickly moved to replace Whitner, signing Antoine Bethea.
What it means for IDP owners: Dansby goes to a target rich environment and a favorable stat crew. He didn't play to his birth certificate last year and will have the opportunity to stay near the top of the linebacker tiers in Cleveland. Craig Robertson was never a viable upside bet this year anyway. Minter should now be rostered in all leagues where you hold at least five linebackers. There's no guarantee he'll pan out, but he is now likely to get the chance we expected he'd see before the Cardinals added Dansby last year. Whitner's value gets a marginal upgrade in tackle heavy leagues. The Cleveland statkeeper will likely pad his line with an extra 10-20 assisted tackles.
T.J. Ward signed by Denver
The Broncos made do with Duke Ihenacho, Rahim Moore, Mike Adams and others in recent years, but have continued to search for a strong two way safety option for some time. Contract details have yet to be released but Adam Schefter is tweeting that the Broncos are adding Ward. It's a strong move for a team who has defensive holes at each level of the defense. Ward could fit at either safety position.
What it means for IDP owners: Ward lands in a prime fantasy slot, especially if he plays the traditional strong safety role. His value may drop slighlty if Ihenacho is the starting strong safety and/or the Broncos sign a solid inside linebacker, but Ward should see plenty of opportunity.
DeMarcus Ware released by Dallas
Ware wanted resolution on his status by this afternoon. Unwilling to take a pay cut, the Cowboys cut him loose despite their poor depth on the defensive line. There are clear durability concerns with Ware, who's battled through neck and arm weakness and recently had elbow surgery. The Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have lots of work to do to rebuild their offensive line. Ware and Anthony Spencer (free agent, still recovering from microfracture surgery) are gone, leaving George Selvie as the lone end of any experience.
What it means for IDP owners: Ware is likely to attract attention quickly. If there's a battle for his services from good teams and smart front offices and he signs a sizable contract, it's a reassuring sign about his health -- and potential IDP upside. There's also big opportunity to be found on the Dallas roster. A chance at 700+ snaps under the tutelage of Marinelli in a scheme that wants its ends to pressure the quarterback as a primary focus is a IDP-rich opporutnity.
Lamarr Houston signs with Chicago
I'm a big Houston fan. There's been a renaissance of sorts among 3-4 ends. J.J. Watt is the physical freak that sets the bar here, but there are a large handful of monster 5-technique ends that dominate against the run but are athletic enough to affect the pocket. Houston has earned a spot in that large group of players behind Watt. Houston is a big upgrade at left defensive end for the Bears and could also see time inside. Even if Julius Peppers stays in Chicago, expect Houston to be an every-down contributor.
What it means for IDP owners: Houston's value holds in Chicago and could increase. He'll see 800+ snaps regardless of how the Bears handle the Peppers situation.
malcolm jenkins signs with philadelphia
Jenkins isn't an elite player, but he'll upgrade a Philadelphia secondary that's been forced to use Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson in coverage and struggled through the durability worries of Patrick Chung, Nate Allen and Earl Wolff. Jenkins will be an immediate every-down player. It's not a surprise that Jenkins left New Orleans, but the Saints went from a deep depth chart of Jenkins, Roman Harper, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush to a group that may rely heavily on Bush, who's best fit is as a rotational player, and Vaccaro, who's recovering from a torn ACL.
What it means for IDP owners: Jenkins has a chance to emerge from the matchup cloud tier. If Vaccaro recovers well, he'll be an elite tier player. It's not yet certain who will play alongside either Jenkins or Vaccaro. Both teams will be adding bodies to the safety depth chart in the next two months.
Perry Riley signs with Washington
As recently as this weekend, it looked like Riley would sign elsewhere, leaving a massive hole in the middle of the Washington defense. Surprisingly, given the high dollar deals signed by Donald Butler, D'Qwell Jackson and Karlos Dansby, Washington seems to have gotten off cheaply with a three-year, $13 million dollar contract before free agency officially opened. There's still a hole next to Riley, but this signing gives Washington something to build upon in the coming weeks.
What it means for IDP owners: Riley has never developed the range or coverage ability to be an elite tier IDP option. The opportunity and stat crew make him a high floor fantasy player, however. If Washington doesn't add another strong linebacker alongside him, Riley's value will only increase.
Atlanta signs Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson
The Falcons experimented with more 3-4 looks last year, using Kroy Biermann in a Leo-like role and standing Osi Umenyiora up at times. The additions of two-gapping talent like Soliai and Jackson is a strong indication of more 3-4 fronts in 2014. The linebacker depth chart will support the change in philosophy, with Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon capable inside backers. With the sixth pick in the draft, the Falcons are also in prime position to add an elite edge rushing prospect to complete the transition.
What it means for IDP owners: Don't worry about Worrilow and Weatherspoon. Any philosophical change won't disrupt their value much. But big play owners should be watching the Falcons draft closely for upside plays.
Antoine Bethea signs with San Francisco
The Niners wasted no time in replacing Donte Whitner. Bethea will be a great fit in San Francisco and a strong mentor for second year safety Eric Reid. Bethea is a solid two-way safety and will allow the Niners to use more interchangeable concepts should they choose. That could put Reid up closer to the line of scrimmage more often.
What it means for IDP owners: We'll have to wait for Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio to add details about the expected usage of Bethea and Reid before knowing for certain. I doubt either player will be used as a traditional strong safety. That, plus the presence of tackle monsters NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, will keep either player from rising above the matchup cloud tier of defensive backs.
Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel. Reading the Defense will be a regular feature this offseason with free agent commentary, draft prospect previews, tier discussion, links to our offseason IDP roundtable podcasts and much more. Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our IDP podcast here.