Editor's Note: Jeff Howe will break down one position of the free-agent class each day. However, free agency won't begin until the NFL has a new collective-bargaining agreement. On Wednesday, he covered cornerbacks.
Even though the season ended sourly for Patrick Chung, he epitomizes the bright future the Patriots have at the safety position. Brandon Meriweather, who made the Pro Bowl in a down year, and the always-reliable James Sanders are under contract for 2011, and the Patriots also have a few younger safeties whom they like at the bottom of the depth chart, including Sergio Brown, Bret Lockett and Josh Barrett.
There could still be some turnover at the position with the possibility that Meriweather or Sanders could be moved this offseason, either in a trade or salary dump. And then there's Jarrad Page and Brandon McGowan, who will be free agents.
So, while the Patriots have to be optimistic about the safety position, there could be change on the way. Here's a glance at the 2011 class of free-agent safeties.
Head of the Class
1. Eric Weddle was considered one of the great Pro Bowl snubs of 2010, and that case was furthered even more when he was selected as a Second Team All-Pro. Defensive backs don't typically receive much attention due to San Diego's scheme, but Weddle was a really solid player who should command a nice chunk of change.
2. Michael Huff is like many players who have gotten lost in Oakland, but he had his best season in 2010 with career highs in tackles (94), sacks (four), interceptions (three) and forced fumbles (three). Huff was a force at Texas, which made him the seventh pick in the 2006 draft, and if he's put in the right situation, he could turn into a superstar.
Diamond in the Rough
Dawan Landry, the older brother of Redskins safety LaRon Landry, has continued to get better in Baltimore's secondary and might command middle-of-the-road money in free agency. After learning the game from Ed Reed for five seasons, Landry should have the wherewithal and increasing talent to emerge as a solid player in the NFL.
Fit for New England
Tom Zbikowski is tough. We know this because he fought in a professional boxing match at Madison Square Garden in 2006. He's also smart and reliable, and he's got a good work ethic, which is demanded by the Ravens. Zbikowski has also been able to fill in for starting duty due to Ed Reed's fluctuating health status in recent seasons. And finally, Zibikowski played at Notre Dame, which has always been on Bill Belichick's radar. The Patriots don't need to land a starter in free agency, but they'd do just fine with scooping up Zibikowski as a third- or fourth-stringer.
1. Bernard Pollard — you know the guy — had a surprisingly solid season with the Texans in 2009, but he fell off in 2010. Pollard can be a reliable backup.
2. James Ihedigbo, who grew up in Amherst, Mass., and was a stud at UMass, has been a special teams extraordinaire for the Jets. It would be surprising if they let him walk because head coach Rex Ryan has spoken so highly of Ihedigbo for the last two years.
3. Lawyer Milloy, who turned 38 in November, just won't go away. He was very reliable for the Seahawks in 2010, and he's been able to kick around the league a whole lot longer than many probably expected.
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