Chris Wesseling

Offseason Low Down

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Free Agency Primer: LBs

Monday, February 23, 2009


Along with Gregg Rosenthal and Evan Silva, I will be producing free agency primers throughout the week. This edition will feature linebackers. Players that have been released can sign elsewhere immediately. Impending free agents must wait until February 27.

Unrestricted Free Agent Linebackers

Best Available: Ray Lewis

Perhaps the best team leader in professional sports over the last decade, Lewis turns 34 years old in May. Though he wore down a bit late in the season, Ray-Ray earned his Pro Bowl spot with a truly outstanding first couple of months. The Jets, with the Rex Ryan connection, and the Cowboys, star crazy and in dire need of strong leadership, are possibilities, but it's tough to picture Lewis in a uniform other than the Ravens. He's likely to solidify that statue next to Johnny U by staying in Baltimore.

Prediction: Ravens

Building Block: Jonathan Vilma

New Saints coordinator Gregg Williams' defense relies on pre-snap checks and audibles with the middle linebacker playing a pivotal role. Vilma, 27, did not miss a single snap in 2008 and is a top priority as the Saints' defensive building block. The former Jet would have been re-signed already were the Saints not faced with giving up their first-round pick for doing so before March.

Prediction: Saints

Class Clown: Bart Scott

Any football player with an alter ego is a candidate for class clown status, and the "Mad Backer" is always good for a colorful quote. A 3-4 inside linebacker, Scott is made to order for his former defensive boss Rex Ryan and the Jets. Scott is a terrific blitzer and would fit in alongside David Harris to give the Jets a dynamic duo on the inside.

Prediction: Jets

Bang for the Buck: Michael Boley

Boley was a disruptive, often dominant player on the rise until new coach Mike Smith arrived with a scheme unfriendly to the strong-side linebacker. He received a first round tender just a year ago, but his perceived value has dropped after getting benched in favor of Coy Wire against the run late in 2008. The Rams, where GM Billy Devaney is familiar with Boley and new coach Steve Spagnuolo knows how to utilize a strong-side backer who can blitz, are a good fit.

Prediction: Rams

Bust Alert: Channing Crowder

The Dolphins' leading tackler has been low-balled in contract negotiations because the team is targeting a bulkier, pure run-stopping inside backer. The impressive 2008 stats may land him a nice payday, but Crowder's history of knee problems and lack of big play ability don't bode well for the future.

Prediction: Cowboys

Best of the Rest

1. Eric Barton – Barton, 31, is coming off a strong year, but the Jets wanted to clear cap space ostensibly to chase Bart Scott or Ray Lewis. Barton should still land a starting job on the open market.

2. Angelo Crowell - Crowell missed all of 2008 and recently revealed that he's dealt with chondromalacia, a chronic condition that infects his kneecap, since 2006. His rehab is ahead of schedule, and he's been a versatile tackling machine when healthy. Crowell is a high-risk, high-reward signing this offseason.

3. Mike Peterson - Peterson, 33, picked the wrong year to enter free agency. He spent much of the season in Jack Del Rio's doghouse and didn't play well when he did see action. After spending all of 2008 as a thorn in the Jaguars' side, he isn't going to generate a lot of interest on the market.

4. Zach Thomas – Thomas chose the Cowboys over the Patriots and Saints last offseason, but he ended up being a poor fit for Wade Phillips' scheme. Turning 35 this spring, Thomas may have just one more starting season left in him.

5. Marcus Washington - Washington, 31, was released by the Redskins last week after his play had fallen off a cliff the past two seasons. Beset by chronic hip and leg injuries, the former Pro Bowler is no longer a hot commodity.

Others: David Bowens, D.D. Lewis, Jamie Winborn, Morlon Greenwood, Kevin Burnett, Takeo Spikes, Napoleon Harris, Brad Kassell, Dontarrious Thomas, Tyjuan Hagler, Niko Koutouvides, Marques Harris, Roderick Green, Coy Wire, Heath Farwell, Darryl Blackstock, Andra Davis, Adam Seward, Nate Webster, Paris Lenon, Antwan Peek, Keyaron Fox, Darrell McClover, Clark Haggans, Pat Thomas, Khary Campbell, Troy Evans, Gilbert Gardner, Rocky Boiman, Monty Beisel, Junior Seau, Teddy Lehman, Rosevelt Colvin

Restricted Free Agent Linebackers

1. Brandon Johnson – Johnson turned heads in Cincinnati as the star of training camp in his first season outside of Arizona. He filled in admirably when Hines Ward ended rookie first-rounder Keith Rivers' season with a vicious block.

2. Rashad Jeanty – The Bengals extended a second-round tender to their second-leading tackler, so the starting strong side linebacker will likely return to Cincy in '09.

3. Keith Ellison – Ellison rebounded a bit after a weak 2007 campaign, but his lack of playmaking ability and less than ideal size won't have teams beating down his door.

Others: Jason Hunter, Pierre Woods, Jon Alston, Ricky Brown, James Anderson, Corey Mays, Lance Laury



Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
Email :Chris Wesseling



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