In the last installment of our position-by-position free agency primers, we will look at the safeties. The Ravens will likely have holes to fill at safety, but they aren’t going to be in the market for a high-priced free agent, not with Ed Reed returning in 2012 and not after strong safety Bernard Pollard fit in so well in his first season in Baltimore.
But Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski, reserve safeties whom the team drafted in 2008, are free agents and could leave for expanded roles elsewhere. The Ravens might consider signing a cheap backup who can also play special teams, but they may also look to the draft for players who can play dual roles.
In terms of the top free agents, the 2012 safety class is not as impressive as the cornerbacks. But there are intriguing players who will garner interest around the league, including a pair of former first-round draft picks in Washington’s LaRon Landry and Cincinnati's Reggie Nelson (formerly of Jacksonville).
But Thomas DeCoud re-signed in Atlanta, and Tennessee and Oakland used the franchise tag on Michael Griffin and Tyvon Branch, respectively, keeping two other safeties of note from becoming free agents.
Here is a look at the top free agent safeties on the market and where they could wind up in 2012.
1. LaRon Landry: This strong safety was a franchise tag candidate, but the Washington Redskins tagged tight end Fred Davis instead, leaving Landry unprotected. He has missed 15 games the past two seasons.
2. Reggie Nelson: Nelson didn’t live up to his first-round billing in Jacksonville, but he had a solid 2011 season in Cincinnati. His game still needs plenty of refining, but he brings good range to the back end.
3. Bob Sanders: Sanders, the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, has played 11 games in four seasons since winning the award. A huge injury risk, he could be a cheap, low-risk, high-reward signing.
Potential suitors: San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints.
4. Dwight Lowery: After the Jacksonville Jaguars acquired Lowery via trade before the 2011 season, the former Jets defensive back started a career-high 11 games, picking off two passes and defending eight.
Potential suitors: Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans.
5. Jim Leonhard: Leonhard, once a fan favorite in Baltimore, followed Rex Ryan to the New York Jets in 2009. The 29-year-old has struggled with injuries, missing eight games combined in 2010 and 2011.
Potential suitors: New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots.
Other notable free agents (2011 team in parenthesis): Brodney Pool (New York Jets), Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski (Baltimore Ravens), Craig Stelz and Brandon Meriweather (Chicago Bears), Jordan Babineaux and Chris Hope (Tennessee Titans), Mike Adams (Cleveland Browns), Gibril Wilson (Cincinnati Bengals).