2014 NFL Free Agent Linebackers
By: Roshan Bhagat
Brian Orakpo [OLB, Washington Redskins] - Deterred by only health and elite athletic ability, Orakpo enters the offseason a free agent on the heels of a successful 10-sack season relatively unscathed. Given his age and the premium on pass rushers, Orakpo will be one of the top prizes in free agency. Though Washington struggles to manage cap room, they may be able to prolong contracts by converting base salary to guaranteed bonuses to be pushed out over the long-term. If they are able to free up enough resources, Orakpo will be the priority with the franchise tag as a tool of leverage.
Jason Worilds [OLB, Pittsburgh Steelers] - After a disappointing start to his career, Worilds began heating up in the second half of last season, finishing the year with 7 sacks in his final 8 games. Now, the Steelers are forced to at least consider re-signing him. For a team struggling with the cap, Pittsburgh may encounter difficulties if teams believe his dominant stretch is “the jump.” Given the scarcity of pass rushers, it's possible Worilds—coming off his rookie contract—could find a strong bidding for his services.
Donald Butler [ILB, San Diego Chargers] - Though he missed nearly four games this season to injury, Donald Butler provided the team with a consistent force in the middle of the defense. With ample size and athletic ability, Butler is exactly the type of linebacker the Chargers want at his position. Coming off of his rookie contract, expect the organization to begin long-term negotiations sooner rather than later.
Jon Beason [MLB, Carolina Panthers] - After coming to New York in a trade mid-season for what turned out to be a mere 7th round selection, Jon Beason provided the defense with glue in the middle. His experience, productivity, and ability to communicate are tremendous assets at the position that issues significant ripple effects through the defense. With a perfect fit for both sides, expect the Giants to work out a deal that keeps Beason in New York for the long haul.
Karlos Dansby [ILB, Arizona Cardinals] - Something in that water in Arizona transformed Dansby back into an elite player in the middle of the Cardinal's defense. With 121 tackles, 6 sacks and 4 interceptions, there was no mistake that Dansby was among the league's elite. However, at age 32, Dansby again finds himself in a position to leverage an elite season into perhaps a final payday. Through his interactions with the media, he's stated that he'd love to remain in Arizona, but will take a couple months to mull over the decision.
Daryl Smith [OLB/ILB, Baltimore Ravens] - Coming to Baltimore on a one-year contract, Daryl Smith finally received a little more attention for his stellar play for the better part of the last decade. Flying to the football, he gave the Ravens an inside presence that eased the transition away from Ray Lewis. Though he still doesn't have the accolades of an elite player, the mutual interest should precede Smith's return to Baltimore on more favorable terms for Smith.
Brandon Spikes [ILB, New England Patriots] -Though he most likely won't be a day one free agent acquisition, his skillset should afford him a modest role in a defense. Based on the end to his season with a little IR controversy, the two-down linebacker is less likely to return to New England.
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