Blog Entry

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 2:28 pm
Fletcher, at 37, might not have many options other than returning to Washington. (US Presswire)
By Josh Katzowitz

Leading up to the start of free agency on March 13, we're compiling the best 2012 NFL free agents by position. These are the linebackers.

While there are a ton of free agent linebackers about to come on the market -- I’ve counted approximately 80 -- there doesn’t seem to be many surefire game-changers in the bunch. London Fletcher, vastly underrated in Washington, is one such player, but other than him, you’ve mostly got solid guys who can be contributors to whichever team signs them.

Some of the better free agent linebackers have been taken off the board already, as D’Qwell Jackson has re-signed with Cleveland while Ahmad Brooks agreed to return to San Francisco. Here are the rest of those who probably will try out their fortunes on the market.

1a. Mario Williams

Breakdown: Though we have Williams as the No. 1 defensive end available, we have to give him some love on the linebacker list, as well. Simply because in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, Williams was an outside linebacker. He only played five games for the Texans last year before tearing his pectoral muscle, but with five sacks, he also proved he can be successful in a 3-4 defense, meaning every team in the league should be thinking about Williams' worth. We thought he might struggle to find his balance in the first year of Phillips' scheme, but, as a linebacker, Williams is pretty damn good also.

Possible Landing Spots: Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Titans

1b. London Fletcher

Breakdown: Fletcher is one of those players who, unless you’re paying close attention, somehow seems to rack up the tackle numbers -- and you’re not really sure how. And before you know it, he’s leading the league with 166 takedowns, like last year.  In fact, Fletcher has recorded at least 116 tackles every year since 2001, and he’s started 224-straight games. The problem with Fletcher is that he’s 37, and you have to wonder how long his durability will hold up -- as well as his penchant for making scores of tackles every season. That shouldn’t matter, however, because it sounds like he wants to return to Washington and that the Redskins feel the same way. “We want our captain back,” Redskins general manager Bruce Allen said earlier this month. The feeling apparently is mutual.

Potential Landing Spots: Redskins

Tulloch might be a good fit in Philadelphia because he knows how to play in the wide nine. (US Presswire)

2. Stephen Tulloch

Breakdown: After a solid 2008-10 with the Titans (the dude had 160 tackles in 2010), Tennessee let the Lions take away Stephen Tulloch for 2011. After recording 111 tackles, two interceptions and five passes defended last year, Detroit would like to keep him. It’ll likely cost the Lions much more than the one-year, $3.25 million deal they paid Tulloch last year. More importantly for the Lions, though, is locking up defensive end Cliff Avril, and you have to wonder if the Lions will want to shell out that much money to two defensive players. One good option for Tulloch might be the Eagles. Considering Tulloch played for years with Jim Washburn, who installed the wide nine scheme in Philadelphia last year, Tulloch would be comfortable in that system. Besides, the Eagles linebackers last year were pretty horrible, and Tulloch would be a big upgrade. Wherever he lands, one can only hope that Tulloch gets another chance to Tebow in front of Tebow.

Possible Landing Spots: Lions, Buccaneers, Eagles

3. Anthony Spencer

Breakdown: He’s pretty much the definition of one of those solid linebackers I wrote about before, and the Cowboys don’t fancy losing him to free agency. There has been speculation that the team could place the franchise tag on him, but if not, at least one Dallas reporter has speculated that Spencer could land a Chris Canty-like deal (a six-year, $42 million contract signed in 2009). The Cowboys might be averse to giving him such a long deal, because he hasn’t necessarily lived up to his first-round draft pick expectations. Spencer’s representatives and the Cowboys were scheduled to meet at the scouting combine, and if they can’t come to a long-term agreement, Dallas might just have to grit its teeth and tag him.

Possible Landing Spots:Cowboys, Dolphins

4. Curtis Lofton

Breakdown: For the past three years, Lofton has been a tackling machine, accumulating at least 118 (including 147 in 2011), and it’s clear the Falcons want to re-sign him. But when Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff says that negotiations between the team and Lofton are “amicable,” it strikes kind of a weird tone (or is that just me?). And maybe the Falcons won’t be terrified if Lofton leaves. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote last week, “There’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker?” Lofton might want more than that. Reportedly, Lofton is asking or a four-year deal worth $36 million.

Possible Landing Spots: Falcons, Eagles, Browns

5. David Hawthorne

Breakdown: With Hawthorne, you pretty much know what you’re getting. He’s good for about 110 tackles a season, five passes defended or so, and an interception or three. But it sounds like the Seahawks have a higher priority to sign running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive end Red Bryant than inking Hawthorne to a new deal. Hawthorne is only 26 years old, and he’s solid across the board. But maybe more than most of the other linebackers on the list, there’s not a great chance for him to return to his old team. The one caveat to that: now that Leroy Hill is facing another drug charge, that might open up Seattle’s interest in Hawthorne again.

Possible Landing Spots: Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks

6. Jarret Johnson

Breakdown: The Ravens, at some point soon, might have to make a choice between whether they want Johnson or Jameel McClain (see below) to return to Baltimore for 2012. General manager Ozzie Newsome had said he wants to keep both, but that will be tough for the club to accomplish. So, if you’re Newsome, who is the priority between Johnson and McClain? Well, McClain had more tackles (84-56) last season  but less sacks (Johnson had 2.5 to McClain’s 1), and the Baltimore Sun predicts the Ravens have a better chance of retaining Johnson. He is, though, four years older, which might mean Baltimore will actually go harder after McClain. “I’d like to fit in again here,” Johnson said last month, via the team’s official website. “But unfortunately this is a business and sometimes business decisions [have] got to be made. I hope to be back. I’d love to retire a Raven, but we’ll see.”

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts

7. Jameel McClain

Breakdown: At 26, McClain is a young talent who likely will command a large salary (moreso than Jarret Johnson (see above)). It doesn’t sound like there’s a great chance for the Ravens to keep him.

Possible Landing Spots: Ravens, Colts, Eagles

8. Honorable Mentions

Unrestricted: Barrett Ruud, Chase Blackburn, Clark Haggans, Joey Porter, Andra Davis, Manny Lawson, Geno Hayes, Wesley Woodyard, Dan Connor

Restricted: Dannell Ellerbe, Aaron Maybin

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Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2012 10:59 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

I agree that they had better draft a good DT from this deep class of them, but unless they get like 6 early draft picks for that 2nd overall pick they will have to sign some FAs.  They literally have no starting caliber DTs or OLBs (or WRs for that matter).  Seriously.  Neither Gibson, Robbins, Scott, Bannan, Chamberlain nor Poppinga should be starting in the NFL.  Those are most of their DTs and OLBs.  Great job Devaney!  And that doesn't include the WR position that everyone already knows about.  So between draft picks and FA, they need to pick up six players for those three positions and that doesn't include the OL or DB help that they will require too.  Realize that Lloyd and Amendola are free agents themselves so signing them would count as signing FAs.  There is no way they can draft that many starting quality players in three drafts, let alone in one.  We all hear about this draft bounty they can get for that one pick, but they do really need many starting quality players so they will have to find some in FA too.

Since: Oct 20, 2010
Posted on: March 1, 2012 5:28 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Trust me, the Rams will do something.  These writers have no clue where anyone is going to end up.

Since: Jan 5, 2012
Posted on: March 1, 2012 1:53 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

It's cute how you follow me around on here "he hate me" Kiss mwah baby!  How about YOU talk ball instead of insulting, now that's a thought huh Wink

Since: Oct 31, 2006
Posted on: March 1, 2012 1:21 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Reputation: 96
Level: Superstar
Since: Sep 11, 2006
Add FavoritePosted on: February 29, 2012 3:16 pmScore: 78 

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Interesting that the Rams aren't going to consider upgrading the two weakest (by FAR) position on their defense, DT and OLB.  I guess according to these writers, they intend on being 2-14 again...
You do realize that they will trade the #2 pick for a ton of draft picks.  Those picks will likely be DL help....which is pretty good in this years draft.

Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: February 29, 2012 3:16 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Interesting that the Rams aren't going to consider upgrading the two weakest (by FAR) position on their defense, DT and OLB.  I guess according to these writers, they intend on being 2-14 again...

Since: Jun 6, 2011
Posted on: February 29, 2012 2:49 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: there is a salary cap now

Good thing Cindy Gotti isn't running the Falcons

They'd have half their cap going to a 34 year old injury prone pass rushing specialist and a two down middle linebacker

Since: Jan 5, 2012
Posted on: February 29, 2012 1:03 pm

2012 NFL Free Agency: Linebacker Rankings

Lofton/Weatherspoon have the talent 2gether as a tandem to make great things happen.  Again, another one I'd love to see stay.....

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