Free agency this year has no shortage of quality linebackers, the position you the readers voted as the number one need for the New England Patriots. I agree 100% with that vote and with that in mind and free agency set to start this Friday, let’s take a look at who’s available at the linebacking position. I also include defensive ends who would project to outside linebacker in the 3-4, hence the inclusion of Julius Peppers.
Patriots Hitting the Free Agent Market: OLB Tully Banta-Cain (UFA), OLB Derrick Burgess (UFA), OLB Pierre Woods (RFA)
I would suspect that Banta-Cain and Woods are locks to return to the team. Pierre Woods is a restricted free agent and I don’t suspect that he would garner too much interested from other teams, at least not enough to give up draft picks for him. Tully Banta-Cain had a career resurgence this past season after a disappointing stint in San Francisco. He led the Pats with 10 sacks and was their most consistent linebacker. It appears that it just appears to be a good fit between the team and the player, and Banta-Cain has indicated that he would like to be back with the team.
Top 5 Linebackers on the Free Agent Market:
1. ILB DeMeco Ryans (RFA)
2. OLB Karlos Dansby (UFA)
3. DE/OLB Julius Peppers (UFA)
4. OLB Elvis Dumervil (RFA)
5. DE/OLB Aaron Kampman (UFA)
Unfortunately for the Patriots, my top-rated LB is a restricted free agent and will likely command first and third round pick compensation to pry him from Houston. The Texans are forming a formidable defense and will want to keep a linebacking corps consisting of DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing together. Karlos Dansby in a New England uniform would be a dream come true, and I was hoping the Pats would draft him when he was coming out of college. Unfortunately, he is going to cost a pretty penny, and with the Vince Wilfork deal needing to get done and Tom Brady’s contract looming (not to mention Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski are RFA’s), it unlikely the Pats will sign him. However, it would help solidify the position for years, as there would be no questions surrounding him about converting to a 3-4, as he played that defense in Arizona. Julius Peppers has that question mark hanging over his head, along with his age and contract size being a factor. Besides the Bears, the Redskins are now throwing their helmet into the ring to bid for Peppers, and if they’re involved, you can probably forget the Pats winning a bidding war. That leaves Dumervil and Kampman from the top 5. Again, Dumervil is restricted and I highly doubt Denver will let him leave, especially to a conference rival. Kampman is probably looking to play end again after trying his hat at OLB in Green Bay’s 3-4. He did not like the conversion and I would suspect that given an option, he will stick with a 4-3 team. However, he appears to be the most likely candidate from my top 5 to possibly wear a Patriots uniform. Before he got injured he started adjusting well to his new position and has a high motor and is a great locker room leader.
Possible Patriots: ILB Monty Beisel (just kidding!), DE/OLB Aaron Kampman (UFA), OLB Jason Taylor (UFA)
Sleeper: OLB Mike Vrabel (UFA)
Vrabel could return to the Patriots in a limited Junior Seau-type role and help provide leadership and coaching to rookies the Pats will surely draft for the position. He has said that he wouldn’t oppose returning to the team and I think could still provide some solid downs and contribute, albeit not as a starter.
For a full list of free agent linebackers (minus anyone who gets cut), click here.