As we always do this time of year, the team here at CBS Sports has taken on the task to preview every single position's free agency class. Last week, we went through all the positions on offense. Cody Benjamin looked at the quarterbacks, Patrik Walker previewed the running backs and Tyler Sullivan laid out the wide receiver market, I walked through both the guards and centers and the tackles, and Jordan Dajani highlighted the tight ends.
This week we're moving on and covering the defense. We'll begin in the space below with linebackers. But not the edge rusher kind. Those guys will come later. Here it's about the off-ball LBs.
Ages for start of 2022 season.
De'Vondre Campbell was essentially available for free last offseason. He signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Packers... and then went out and had the season of his life, making the All-Pro first team. He's still an incredible athlete, and he finally figured out how to put his athleticism to good use in coverage last season. It would make sense that he'd want to stay in Green Bay, but there's obviously a possibility that some other team decides to break the bank for his services.
Alexander Johnson has been a very solid player for the Broncos over the last few seasons. He was limited to just six games last season but played well when he was out there, and in the two prior years he was a tackle machine who also provided some value in coverage. With the Broncos bringing in a new coaching staff, they might decide to go in another direction. Teams that play a 3-4 base defense and have a need at inside linebacker should look his way.
The Colts did not re-sign Anthony Walker last offseason, and he slid right into a starting role with the Browns in 2021. He's not a star player, but a capable one who won't hurt you in the middle of your defense. Considering how often teams ended up playing players who are liabilities in one way or another at the linebacker position, being capable is a valuable thing to be. Cleveland has already spent a lot of money on its defense, so Walker could be one of the odd men out when it comes to re-signings this offseason.
Anthony Barr has always been an extremely versatile player, but also one where the theory of the type of player he could be has exceeded the player he has been on the field -- even during the years where he was making Pro Bowls. He's a few years removed from that time now, but a team looking for a player who provides flexibility to make plays in coverage or as a pass rusher up front would be wise to give him a look.
Jamie Collins is your prototypical, "this guy has only been good on the Patriots" player. Both times he's left New England, he has struggled to live up to what he did with the Pats, then come back to the nest and found success again. Hightower has been a mainstay of the Pats defense for a decade. It would be pretty surprising if either of these guys signed with a non-Patriots team, but with the Josh McDaniels- and Dave Ziegler-led Raiders now lurking out there, it is possible.
Gus Bradley is no longer a defensive coordinator so there may not necessarily be an obvious fit available for K.J. Wright. He could always end up back in Seattle, or perhaps head to Dallas to reunite with Dan Quinn. Kris Richard is in New Orleans and the Saints are sure to have to cut some valuable players to deal with their cap issues, so maybe there's a home for Wright there.
Leighton Vander Esch did not have his fifth-year option picked up by the Cowboys, in large part due to his persistent injury issues. He's been a good player when on the field, though he has never recaptured the form that made him an immediate star as a rookie -- again, due to several injuries. He's not quite as good in coverage as he used to be because he's lost some of his mobility, but he still plays well against the run and can handle a fair share of running backs and tight ends one-on-one.