We’re going a little under the radar for this week’s Finding a Fit feature by spotlighting 49ers NT Aubrayo Franklin. While he’s not a big name, he is one of the best pure nose tackles in the league. That’s why he stars in the fourth installment of our Finding a Fit series that will continue as long as the lockout drags on. In this series, we’re going to look at free agents and try to match them to their perfect fits. We’ll consider opportunity, skill specificity, personality, and even money as we do this.
Previous Finding a Fit features focused on Matt Hasselbeck, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Ray Edwards. Click through to check those out, and if you’d like to suggest a player for finding a fit, leave a comment or let us know on Twitter.
Franklin is a rare bird in the NFL – a run-stuffing 3-4 nose tackle who can hold the point of attack on his own and free the players around him to make plays. After starting his career with the Ravens, he hit his stride with the 49ers, earning the franchise tag when his contract expired in 2009. The 49ers anted up to keep him for 2010, but they did not use the franchise tag again in 2011. Plus, with Paul Soliai staying in Miami via the franchise tag, no other nose tackle comes close to Franklin’s level of performance. Therefore, even at age 31, Franklin will be a key free agent who should hit the lottery with a team that needs help up front in the 3-4 defense that continues to gain prominence in the league.
San Francisco – The 49ers would certainly like to keep Franklin, but they are heavily invested in defense with LB Patrick Willis and must also resign OLB Manny Lawson. San Francisco has already come up with a succession plan of moving Isaac Sopoaga from end to nose tackle to fill Franklin’s large shoes. It seems like Franklin’s price tag will prove to be too much of a gold rush for the 49ers.
Washington – The Redskins are still smarting from the Albert Haynesworth fiasco, but that free-agency failure means that Washington still has a massive hole at nose tackle. Daniel Snyder and crew have never been afraid to break the bank in free agency, and Franklin’s personality is different enough from Haynesworth to set aside any deja vu concerns. Washington is definitely in play in this scenario.
N.Y. Jets – After losing Kris Jenkins to injury two years in a row, the Jets are moving on from the former Pro Bowl nose tackle. They have competent players in Mike DeVito and Sione Pouha who have played well inside, but both of those players can contribute outside as well, which means nose tackle could still be on the need list. With Shaun Ellis entering free agency and first-round rookie Muhammad Wilkerson still raw, we expect the Jets to sign a veteran up front as a starter. The question is whether it will be a nose tackle like Franklin or an end like Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins. Still, the Jets’ recent history shows that big-name, big-dollar free agents often land with Gang Green.
Houston – The Texans move to a 3-4 defense this year, and they don’t have a standout or a proven nose tackle on the roster. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is talking up holdovers Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell, but Franklin would provide a massive upgrade as well as stability at the position. The Texans are under-the-radar big spenders, so they could be stalking horses in the Franklin negotiations.
The best fits
1. Washington – When the Redskins identify a player at a need position, the result is usually an above-market contract that players simply can’t turn down. We can see Franklin being the latest in a line of expensive expenditures.
2. N.Y. Jets – If Franklin longs to play for a contender, the Jets offer the best combination of opportunity and money. Plus, if raising his profile is a goal, Rex Ryan’s team is the best place to do so. But the emergence of young players up front for Gang Green keeps this move from being an absolute necessity for the Jets.
3. San Francisco – If for some reason the market doesn’t play out the way Franklin wants, or if the lockout lingers and cuts off the free agent market at the knees, the 49ers would certainly welcome Franklin back.