Free Agent Preview: Linebackers


By PFC Writer G Mallory Jr.

Hope springs eternal for all 32 NFL teams after this weekend’s Super Bowl. No matter how bad your team was in 2008, they are now on even slate with everyone else in the league (yes, even you Lions fans). The time to improve begins first with free agency and then the draft. The most successful teams seem to build in the draft. However, there has been a new trend over the past few years of teams finding success from free agency. Look no further than the 2008 season and two of the most surprising teams, the Miami Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons. Both teams went from double-digit losses in 2007 to playoff teams in 2008. Atlanta’s addition of free agent Running back Michael Turner gave them offensive stability and allowed rookie Quarterback Matt Ryan to flourish. Miami’s acquisition of Quarterback Chad Pennington landed them as AFC East winners beating out the likes of the New England Patriots and Pennington’s former team the New York Jets. Lets take a look at some of the top free agents for 2009.

Linebackers:

Terrell Suggs (Baltimore Ravens):

This former rookie of the year has been a key contributor in the success of the Baltimore Raven’s staggering defense. His versatility allows him to play Linebacker or Defensive End which makes him perfect for a 3-4 defense. At only 26 years old he is in the prime of his career and may have many suitors for his services including the New York Jets (whose Head Coach Rex Ryan worked with Suggs last year), Cleveland Browns, and Denver Broncos. Last year, Suggs recorded 68 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. One of his cons is that him playing the 3-4 for many seasons may hamper his success if he goes to a team that runs the 4-3. He is likely to stay in Baltimore and as even suggested that he and fellow Ravens linebackers Bart Scott and Ray Lewis give Baltimore a “hometown discount”.

Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens):

The heart and soul of the Ravens, Lewis has been instrumental for the Ravens this entire decade. Leading them to a Super Bowl may have immortalized his status in Baltimore. Despite his age (33) he is still one of the most feared and respected linebackers in the NFL. Last year he racked up 117 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions showing he still has a lot to offer for a team. The question is how long can he play at such a high level. This factor may make teams leery on signing him to a long-term deal with heavy bonuses. The Dallas Cowboys have been rumored to be interested in his services. He is likely to remain a Raven.

Bart Scott (Baltimore Ravens):

If Scott played for any other team besides the Ravens he would be much more recognizable. He may be the most underrated player on the Ravens defense despite his teammates being fully aware of what he means to this team. At 6 foot 2 and 240 lbs he has both the size and speed to do well at both pass and run defense. One area of concern with Scott is how well he can do without the support of his Pro Bowl defensive teammates. If asked to anchor a team and be their best defender can he do it? A native of Detroit, Scott may be pursued by the Lions who are on the record for looking for bigger linebackers. Scott may be a perfect fit. Of the 3 Ravens linebackers, he is likely to be the odd man out and end up with another team in 2009.

Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans Saints):

On a team known for their explosive offense, Vilma provides stability for the Saints on defense. After his first few seasons, Vilma looked like a hall of fame caliber player. Injuries slowed his progress and with the addition of LB David Harris, the Jets saw Vilma as expendable thus trading him to the Saints in 2008. There were many concerns as to how Vilma would bounce back from an injury-heavy 2007 season. He recovered well and recorded 132 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles and an inception. At age 26, his youth alongside his production makes him an attractive option for teams in need of a middle linebacker. Last year, the Detroit Lions were in negotiations with the Jets to trade for Vilma so they may be players for him again in 2009. There were indications that the trade fell through because Vilma did not want to play for Detroit so this may hamper his likelihood of landing in Detroit this year. New management and coaching may change his mind however. The Dallas Cowboys are also in need of a middle linebacker. Although Vilma doesn’t have the big name like Ray Lewis, he may be the smarter choice for a team looking for a young middle linebacker to build around.

Other notable free agent linebackers include: Karlos Dansby, Michael Boley, Mike Peterson, Eric Barton, Willie McGinest, Channig Crowder, and Angelo Crowell.