Howard would be a good pickup. He's exactly what the Falcons want in a right side DE. He has the strength and size (6-3/275) to play the run, but has good quickness off the edge. Howard is not super productive this year. He's on pace to finish with 5.5 sacks, but it's not too bad when you consider other guys are the more productive guys on that team (Will Smith is on pace for 9 sacks and Tony Bryant 6.5). Howard had 11 last year, but previously had posted double digit sacks before only once in his rookie year way back in 2000. In that 3-year "drought", he recorded 19 in 40 games, which averages out to be about 7.5 in a single 16-game season. Not bad, but not exactly $12 million signing bonus caliber production.
Last year, the Saints were really close to trading Howard to Dallas for one of their #1s. But I also heard that the Saints were even contemplating accepting a #2 for him. I think Dallas passed on the deal because they thought they could get a DE like Marcus Spears in the draft which was the type of guy they wanted (who could play in both the 3-4 and 4-3 unlike Howard). Reportedly, the Eagles and Raiders offered picks. Eagles offered their #31 pick, while the Raiders offered players (including Charles Woodson).
I suspect the Saints may tag Howard after this season like they did last year, but with the mindset that they will trade him. Will Smith is coming on as their top pass rusher. Charles Grant is having a subpar year (coming off 2 straight double digit sack seasons and on pace for only 4 this year), but both are young and only going to get better.
Howard's trade value has definitely dipped in the past 6 months, so much so that the Saints would be lucky at this point to get a high #2 pick for him. This from KFFL's archives:
Cowboys | Howard Has Big Price Tag Request - from http://www.KFFL.com
Tue, 15 Mar 2005 14:29:45 -0800
ESPN.com's John Clayton reports the Dallas Cowboys were a little bit surprised once they heard New Orleans Saints DE Darren Howard is looking for a long-term deal that would pay him a $16 million signing bonus. Howard is looking for a six-year, $33 million deal.
He couldn't get close to that now. Not with this year's class. Abraham is the only DE on the market that could possibly command that type of money. And no team in their right mind would fork up a $10 million bonus to a guy that is almost 30 (will be in Nov. 2006) that is probably going to be a 5-8 sack/yr. guy the rest of his career and for most of his career. It was those salary demands that made Howard a Saint today. Not to say, Howard won't still command a bonus in the $7-9 million range just based on his position of course, but nobody is going to fork up huge $$$ for a guy that may not be a #1 pass rusher anymore.
I'd take Howard if we could have him cheaply, but that is probably not going to be the case. The team would be smarter to go after a younger player like a Raheem Brock or Jarvis Green if they want to spend money on a DE. In truth, I believe the Falcons should look for a quality DE in the draft, but getting a top notch starter is not a huge priority IMO. I think improving the rotation is much bigger. Smith was a big part of that, but has been unabe to stay healthy for most of his Falcon career. He should be gone after the year. I think the Falcons can then go out and get a middle-level FA that is a similar player to Smith like a Aaron Kampman (currently 6.5 sacks), Ryan Denney (4 sacks), or Kyle Vanden Bosch (8.5 sacks) that play the run well and can put pressure on the QB. But don't let those stats fool you, in all 3 cases, those players are unlikely to reproduce that type of production on a consistent basis, and should be paid accordingly.