2013 NFL Free Agent Linebackers
By: Roshan Bhagat
Anthony Spencer (DAL) - OLB - In somewhat of a surprise decision, the Cowboys decided to use the franchise tag a year ago on a player who had totaled only 11 sacks in 32 games prior to this season playing opposite DeMarcus Ware. He rewarded the team by notching 95 tackles, 11 sacks, and 7 stuff in 14 games where many have argued his case as the team's top defender a year ago. After a season of that magnitude, it may be even more difficult for the Cowboys to pay Spencer a contract worthy of his performance and tie up such a large sum to one position. Though Spencer wants to re- sign with Dallas, maneuvering such a deal under the cap will be difficult without a sizeable hometown discount.
Paul Kruger (BAL) - OLB - With 7.5 sacks in his last 8 regular season games and 2.5 in the Wildcard Round against Indianapolis, Kruger is developing into the pass rusher the Ravens desperately need to reaffirm their reputation as an elite defense going into next year. Using proper technique with his terrific set of tools, the Ravens have found another pass rusher opposite Terrell Suggs to keep their dominant front 7 alive. Baltimore will push hard to ensure they keep Kruger next year.
Brian Urlacher (CHI) - MLB - Picking up a new scheme, rehabbing, and dealing with age, the Bears may just decide to move on from Urlacher after firing Lovie Smith. But if the Bears will still have him, Urlacher will be back with the team he started his career with. Right now, retirement seems to be nowhere in the mind of the potential future Hall of Famer. Even without the range that made him a special player in his prime, Urlacher's smarts and experience will let him continue to play at a high level regardless of what uniform he dons next year.
Shaun Phillips (SD) - OLB - Phillips rebounded from his 3.5 sack 2011 season, returning to form with 9.5 last year and re- establishing himself as one of the better all- around 34 outside linebackers in the league. At 32, the big contract is past him as he'll find if he tests the market. Ultimately, expect Phillips to return to San Diego where he started his career and continue to team up with Melvin Ingram, who looked very impressive at times.
Daryl Smith (JAC) - OLB - Playing only the final two games of the 2012 season due to a groin injury, Daryl Smith should still make a splash in free agency as one of the best 4- 3 outside linebackers in the league and a cornerstone of the Jaguars defense in recent years. Though he'll be 31 heading into next year, he remains a good athlete, strong in coverage, and reliable in playing the run. The Jaguars will pursue him this offseason and could feasibly lay the best offer on the table, but no one could fault him for wanting to finish his career playing for a contender. With so many variables at play, it's difficult to gauge what may unfold, but someone could get a steal at an underappreciated position.
Connor Barwin (HOU) - OLB - With his productivity dropping from 11.5 sacks in 2011 to just 3 in 2012, it no longer seems likely that Barwin will be in the ballpark of the franchise tag. Still, he's having one of those seasons where he's applying pressure on the quarterback, but just not getting home for whatever reason. With the pass rush behind JJ Watt hurting, the Texans won't want to lose any more in that department, which makes re- signing Barwin to a reasonable long- term extension a fair bet for both sides.
Rey Maualuga (CIN) - MLB - Maualuga has generally retained his name more on reputation than on his play for the Bengals over the past four seasons. Though he has gradually improved, he still isn't the athlete you want in coverage or the block- shedding thumper you want to protect against the run. It's likely the Bengals will reach out to his agent and open communications, if they already haven't, but with Vontaze Burfict impressing as a rookie, they may move him to the middle and roll the dice in trying to find a replacement at outside linebacker. Rey Maualuga could be a nice inside backer in the right fit and at the right weight, something he's struggled to maintain over the past few seasons.
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