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2010 NFL Free Agent Linebackers

By: Roshan Bhagat

Age as of 9/1/10. “(UFA-CBA)” represents a player that will become an unrestricted free agent if a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is put into place. Otherwise, free agents will be considered with a more realistic outlook of a 2010 season without a CBA in place.

Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals (29)
Dansby has played pretty well for the Cardinals, but isn’t making the number of impact plays we’ve seen out of him in the past. Quite frankly, the linebackers as a unit have been a big problem for the defense this year. At the top of his game, Dansby is one of the better scheme-diverse linebackers in the league and will likely have a number of teams lined up ready to woo him this offseason if the Cardinals don’t make an early offer. After their exit from the postseason, Dansby said that no contract negotiations have begun and wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t playing in Arizona next season.

Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Locking the young middle linebacker up should be a priority for the Buccaneers and with all the cap room they have, it’s a little surprising they couldn’t get it done midseason. Ruud is one of the league’s best pure tacklers and has great instincts. Ruud’s new deal should be in the area of what Bart Scott received the past offseason (6 years, $48 million) from the Jets. He’s the leader of the defense now and will consistently be among league leaders in tackles for the next several years, as he is again this year. There hasn’t been much said about Ruud and a long-term extension over the last few weeks, unless it’s happening totally behind closed doors.

DeMeco Ryans, Houston Texans (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Ryans has been a stalwart for the Texans, displaying consistency from game-to-game and year-to-year. With rookie sensation Brian Cushing next to him, the Texans have a number of good pieces in the front 7. Ryans would like a long-term contract with the Texans, and Houston will almost definitely re-sign Ryans to keep intact the foundation of Ryans-Cushing-Williams front 7. Though he’d like a long-term extension in Houston rewarding him for his consistency, he would be willing to play elsewhere if another team wows him with a better deal.

Kirk Morrison, Oakland Raiders (28) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Morrison has been a fixture for in the Raiders starting lineup for his entire five year career now. Morrison is as sure a tackler as any in the league, amassing 100 for his 5th straight year. He doesn’t make many big plays from MIKE linebacker, but is the most consistent down-to-down player the Raiders have. Of all their priorities this season, Seymour and Morrison should be 1-2 on the list, respectively. If they lose Morrison, the porous run defense will become that much worse.

Shawne Merriman, San Diego Chargers (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Merriman isn’t nearly the same player he was prior to his injury, which is to be somewhat expected. He lacks the explosiveness he had in the past, but some of that should return after this offseason as it continues to heal. Down the stretch of the season, Merriman also played with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. The last few years have been a series of unfortunate events for Merriman. Hopefully a full offseason will help him regain his health and increase his sack total from 4, back closer to the double digits. For the Chargers, they won’t have to offer Merriman nearly as much even if he is to become an unrestricted free agent. They’ll most likely have the option of re-signing him to a low-risk, high-reward type of deal. They also drafted pass rusher Larry English in the first round last year, who had a pair of sacks this year.

Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Davis started his career on a sour note at safety, but has since converted to become a superb outside linebacker. Next to Jon Beason, the Panthers have a very nice young corps that they should be able to maintain over the next decade. Prior to his injury, Davis continued his success from last season, giving the Panthers great production out of his position. His presence is most sorely missed in coverage where he had 2 picks and 5 deflected passes before the torn ACL in his right knee. The Panthers should still bring him back for next year, but probably on a shorter contract to make sure Davis hasn’t lost his agility in and out of cuts that made him great in coverage.

D’Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
If Jackson had held his pace, he would have been the league leader in tackles, averaging more than 9 per game. He is still one of the cornerstones of the Browns defense and could really help elevate a defense capable of putting together a fine performance, as they did several times in the season, including a big victory versus Pittsburgh. The Browns will continue to chart his progress, but will most likely sign him this offseason as he could be one of the best linebackers in the game if he returns to the field healthy.

Thomas Howard, Oakland Raiders (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Howard’s sideline-to-sideline range has helped him become the coverage backer he is today. Yet year after year, the Raiders finish near the bottom of the pack in run defense. Not to put the blame solely on Howard, but his play definitely reflects his inadequacies in playing through blockers. Howard is a nice blitzer and does a nice job of knifing through blocks to make plays in the backfield, but when he misses, he leaves a big void wide open behind him. Howard doesn’t have the bulk to go head on and stand up guards and that could be a big reason why Oakland pushes him down on their list of priorities.

Other Notable Free Agents:

James Anderson, Carolina Panthers (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Antwan Barnes, Baltimore Ravens (25) – Restricted FA
Bertrand Berry, Arizona Cardinals (35)
Chase Blackburn, New York Giants (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Gary Brackett, Indianapolis Colts (30)
Ahmad Brooks, San Francisco 49ers (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Tedy Bruschi, New England Patriots (37)
Keith Bulluck, Tennessee Titans (33)
Danny Clark, New York Giants (33)
Angelo Crowell, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (29)
Keith Ellison, Buffalo Bills (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Larry Foote, Detroit Lions (30)
Omar Gaither, Philadelphia Eagles (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Chris Gocong, Philadelphia Eagles (26) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Clint Ingram, Jacksonville Jaguars (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Rashad Jeanty, Cincinnati Bengals (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Brandon Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Akeem Jordan, Philadelphia Eagles (25) – Restricted FA
Cato June, Houston Texans (30)
Rocky McIntosh, Washington Redskins (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Matt Roth, Cleveland Browns (27) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Scott Fujita, New Orleans Saints (31)
Jason Taylor, Miami Dolphins (36)
Zach Thomas, Kansas City Chiefs (37)
Pisa Tinoisamoa, Chicago Bears (29)
Stephen Tulloch, Tennessee Titans (25) – Restricted FA (UFA-CBA)
Mike Vrabel, Kansas City Chiefs (35)

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