NFL Notebook: No safety net this year

Despite what isn't considered a strong safety class in the draft, there are a number of veteran safeties that have been released. What's going on? A couple of NFL coaches theorize. Plus, the end market appears to be changing and plenty of other notes from around the league.

INDIANAPOLIS – Remember the old saying "safety first?" Well, apparently, unless your name is Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, neither do a lot of teams.

The past two weeks have seen the releases of four safeties - Erik Coleman (Atlanta), Bob Sanders (Indianapolis), O.J. Atogwe (St. Louis) and Eugene Wilson (Houston) - who were all starters for their respective franchises within the past two years. And things could get a lot worse when, or if, free agency begins.

Counting the players released so far, and the pending unrestricted free agents, 25 of 32 teams could lose at least one safety who started 10 or more games the past two seasons.

"It hasn't quite become a disposable position, but there's a lot of turnover," one NFC coach told The Sports Xchange here. "Unless you've got a real playmaker, a guy who legitimately makes a difference in what you do ... it becomes like musical chairs. It's not easy to find the next Reed or Polamalu out there."

Especially this year. There were five safeties chosen among the top 50 players in 2010 - including first-round picks Eric Berry (No. 5 overall, Kansas City) and Earl Thomas (Seattle, 14th) - but the position might struggle some this season to approximate that number.

"I don't know that there's anyone like that," Denver coach John Fox, who might be replacing both starting safeties (Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill), said. "But we'll see. It's still early and there's a lot of work to do."

Arguably the top safeties coming into the combine were Rahim Moore (UCLA), Quentin Carter (Oklahoma) and Tyler Sash (Iowa), and all have some concerns. Suffice it to say that none of the safety prospects to this point has a Berry- or Thomas-type grade.

The end result: It's unlikely that Iowa's Christian Ballard will be chosen ahead of Clayborn. Provided, of course, that Clayborn checks out physically fine. But there is plenty of interest in Ballard, and one reason is that he is among a pretty impressive group of potential 3-4 "base" ends in the 2011 draft class.

It's worth noting that the 3-4 teams - and even with the various switches of defensive fronts likely to take place because of coaching changes, there still figure to be about 15 franchises who use the 3-4 in 2011 - might not have as much trouble this year locating ends to play in their "base" fronts.

The past few years have featured a lot of undersized ends who projected to 3-4 outside linebacker, and this year's class certainly has its share of those players. But there are some pretty interesting 3-4 end prospects - guys who can line up at the so-called "five technique" spot and play well - and that is a draft rarity.

"It's always been hard to find those (guys)," said Kevin Colbert, the director of football operations for the Steelers, and a man who selected Ziggy Hood in the first round in 2009 to fill the end hole. "The 300-pound end who can (anchor) against the run ... it's just hard to fill. Everyone wants the 260-pound upfield pass rusher. But with the 'spread' offenses being used so much in colleges now, defenses have had to counter, and we're getting a few more (3-4) ends now than we used to."

There are even some talent evaluators, both in the out of the league (like Rob Rang and Chad Reuter of The Sports Xchange), who feel that Auburn tackle Nick Fairley might be able to line up at a "five technique" spot in the NFL. The top 3-4 end prospect, though, might be Marcell Dareus of Alabama, who played the position some in college. Other guys to watch: J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Cameron Jordan (Cal), Corey Liuget (Illinois) and Muhhamed Wilkerson (Temple), and Jarvis Jenkins (Clemson) among others. A few scouts on Thursday night also noted that the mid- and late-rounds could have good 3-4 end prospects.

PUNTS

  • Best educated guess on the fate of Washington Redskins unhappy defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth by a number of people here close to the situation? He will not be traded, at least not quickly, and perhaps not at all. Some feel Haynesworth will be back in Washington in 2011, mostly sitting on the bench, perhaps playing in spots, and will be made an example of while collecting (owner) Dan Snyder's money.

  • The two-year contract extension to which Chicago coach Lovie Smith agreed on Thursday night is worth at least $5 million per year.

  • Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum confirmed that former first-rounder Vernon Gholston reached the 20-percent snap threshold required to trigger a bonus and that the Jets "will have to do something with his contract pretty soon." Translation: Despite his flattering assessment of Gholston, and his contention that "the arrow is still pointing up," Tannenbaum is preparing to release the former Ohio State standout.

  • The Falcons are mulling the release of onetime first-round defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson, although nothing appears imminent.

  • Cleveland team president Mike Holmgren lauded quarterback Colt McCoy, and the youngster could go to camp as the Browns' starter. But Holmgren emphasized that McCoy must add bulk and arm strength in the offseason.

  • A Bengals official reiterated here the team has no plans to trade quarterback Carson Palmer, despite the veteran's threat to retire if he's not dealt away.

  • New Oakland coach Hue Jackson continues to find it tough to fill his defensive coordinator spot. The Jets declined Jackson's request this week to interview secondary coach Dennis Thurman.

  • Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said that new owner Stan Kroenke hasn't made any major changes since purchasing the club from the heirs of Georgia Frontiere, but noted Kroenke has been "very supportive of us." Said Spagnuolo: "He has some ideas, but he lets us do our jobs. He knows what he doesn't know."

  • Unless Green Bay officials are fibbing, there won't be a trade of quarterback Matt Flynn. There has been plenty of speculation the Packers might entertain offers for their backup.

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