Dolphins LB Channing Crowder
During the process of identifying the Buffalo Bills' biggest positional needs, the Buffalo Rumblings community nearly unanimously listed a pass-rushing defensive end as the one spot where the Bills most desperately needed an upgrade. Tight end, center and outside linebacker closely followed. We have already begun the process of profiling potential Bills free agents; for reference now and in the future, all of these profiles will be available at this link.
With the NFL's free agent signing period set to begin less than one month from today (midnight on February 27), we here at Rumblings are now starting the process of profiling several top-notch free agents that the community has identified as potentially worthy of donning the red, white and blue in 2009. Even after signing LB Kawika Mitchell as an unrestricted free agent last off-season, the Bills still have a need for an athletic playmaker at outside linebacker (especially since Angelo Crowell's return is unlikely). One of the youngest and perhaps most under-the-radar free agent linebackers available this off-season is Dolphins inside linebacker Channing Crowder. The 25-year-old has quietly been a solid performer on a surprising Miami defense, but according to recent reports, he's on his way to pricing his way out of a Dolphins uniform and striking it big on the open market. Is signing a division rival worth it for the Bills? That's what we're here to find out.
Age 25 at start of 2009 season
6'2", 250 pounds
4-year NFL veteran out of Florida
With LB Angelo Crowell an unrestricted free agent and likely on his way out of Buffalo (despite his recent public comments), the Bills will once again be searching for an outside linebacker to play in front of the often-overmatched Keith Ellison. With several viable options available at outside linebacker this year, Miami's Crowder could be one of the first to switch teams. Though he's played inside linebacker both in college and in Miami's 3-4 defensive front, Crowder is thick enough and athletic enough to play the strong side position in Buffalo's 4-3 look. His coverage skills are slightly above average, and his strong point - plugging up holes in the running game - is something the Bills haven't had a lot of from the strong-side position with Ellison at the helm.
I'm no authority on the Dolphins, but our good friend Matty I of The Phinsider most certainly is. SB Nation's Dolphins blogger has some nice things to say about Crowder the player and Crowder the person, but offers some words of caution as well...
On Crowder's likely Miami departure
"Crowder seems to have a higher opinion of himself than the organization does. I wish him the best of luck because I do like the guy a lot. But his value to the Dolphins doesn't match his perceived value in his own head. And that's why he's likely on his way out of Miami and will land with the highest bidder on the open market."
On Crowder's on-field qualities
"He's a steady, solid linebacker. He still, even after 4 years, will take some bad routes to the ball carrier, taking himself out of the play. However, he is usually in good position and will make the tackle. But the thing with Crowder is his lack of "game-changing" plays. In 4 years as a starting linebacker, Crowder has just 1.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and no interceptions. And that's why the Dolphins are likely to let him walk."
On Crowder's off-field persona
"Channing Crowder is an interesting player - and an interesting guy. As you might know, he loves to joke around and will say pretty much anything that is on his mind - as exemplified by his declaration in 2007 that he couldn't find London on a map. But that's Channing - he jokes around and likes to have a good time. And that makes him the kind of player you like rooting for."
Does Crowder "Fit the Bill"?
If I'm speaking as a bitter, resentful Bills fan, then yes. When Crowder is described as a not-that-impactful guy that you "like to root for", that sounds like pretty much every defender the Bills currently employ. But if I'm speaking out of personal opinion, I think Crowder would be a much better player in a 4-3 scheme. I like his tenacity and his pop when he makes a hit. I like his bulk and his ability to handle the short areas of the field. I particularly like his ability to blow up linemen coming forward. He's clearly not the top linebacker on the market, and he might have an adjustment period were he to sign with a 4-3 team, but I think a new position with new responsibilities would make him a more productive linebacker than he's been through his first four years. There are other linebackers I'd undoubtedly consider first, but Crowder wouldn't be a terrible consolation prize.
Any thoughts on Crowder that you'd like to add? Take a gander at his stat line below, vote in the poll, and let's talk some about Channing Crowder this afternoon. Many thanks to Matty I for the valuable insight!