Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

Top 8 free-agent linebackers

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NFL free agency begins March 14 – the first day of the new league year. Here is our list of the top 8 free-agent linebackers.

Top Free Agents

8. Preston Brown


2017 Team: Bills
2017 Salary: $1,762,000
2017 Stats: 114 tackles

Brown‘s greatest strength could be his availability, as he hasn’t missed a game in four seasons for the Buffalo Bills. That’s not to say he doesn’t possess a solid skill set, and at just 25 years old, he could still improve.

In fact, Brown could be a steal for a team that sees his potential if surrounded with better talent. Like most younger players, Brown needs to learn the subtleties of coverage if he’s to be an effective three-down player, but he’s shown flashes in this area, and at his floor, he’s a solid two-down run stuffer.

7. NaVorro Bowman

2017 Team: 49ers/Raiders
2017 Salary: $1,360,000
2017 Stats: 127 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT

The biggest name on this list, Bowman proved he can still perform following his midseason move to the Oakland Raiders.

The former All-Pro isn’t the player he used to be; injuries have sapped his athleticism somewhat, and he isn’t the force in coverage he was early in his career. However, his instincts and technique in run support are elite.

Bowman is far from ancient at 29, but teams could be concerned that his previous significant injuries mean he’s fast approaching a steep cliff.

6. Anthony Hitchens


2017 Team: Cowboys
2017 Salary: $1,797,000
2017 Stats: 84 tackles, 1 FF

Hitchens is a versatile linebacker who filled in admirably for the Dallas Cowboys‘ defense when Sean Lee was sidelined, playing well against the run and displaying good leadership.

The 25-year-old’s youth could be a big factor, as will his solid showing in coverage while playing with a less-than-stellar supporting cast.

5. Tahir Whitehead

2017 Team: Lions
2017 Salary: $3,050,000
2017 Stats: 110 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT

Whitehead bounced back from a poor 2016 to become one of the best players on the Detroit Lions‘ defense last season.

Run defense is the former fifth-round pick’s specialty – which, as is the case with a lot of players on this list, is probably why he’s being allowed to hit the open market.

Whitehead still has room to grow, but his coverage ability is unlikely to improve to an average level. Still, he’s an ascendant talent in a relatively weak market.

4. Demario Davis


2017 Team: Jets
2017 Salary: $900,000
2017 Stats: 135 tackles, 5 sacks

Davis was a machine for the New York Jets this past season, easily producing the best year of his career and rarely taking plays off.

The Jets’ defense wasn’t great, which contributed to Davis’ statistical boost, but he played at a high level in all facets of the game and is one of the few linebackers available who is just as good in coverage as in run defense.

While teams could be concerned about Davis playing his best ball in a contract year, his pass-rushing skills and lack of glaring flaws will make him an enticing target.

3. Avery Williamson

2017 Team: Titans
2017 Salary: $1,797,000
2017 Stats: 92 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 FF

One of the more underrated linebackers in the league, Williamson has received little fanfare over his career, likely because he’s played for an underwhelming Tennessee Titans defense.

At 25 years old, Williamson will likely have a strong market as teams further prioritize youth and speed in the middle of their defenses. A well-rounded playmaker, Williamson is a solid jack of all trades who can stay on the field for all three downs.

2. Zach Brown


2017 Team: Redskins
2017 Salary: $1,550,000
2017 Stats: 127 tackles, 2.5 sacks

Brown is set to hit free agency for the third straight season. His curious inability to find a permanent home could be due to the fact his skill set isn’t valued as highly as it once was; he dominated at the line of scrimmage, racking up tackles like few other players in the league and setting the tone for his defense.

Teams will have to overlook his deficiencies in the open field, as he lacks the speed and fluidity to comfortably cover more athletic tight ends and running backs, though his pass-rushing skills help offset this weakness.

1. Nigel Bradham

2017 Team: Eagles
2017 Salary: $4,000,000
2017 Stats: 88 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF

Three things are inevitable in life: death, taxes, and a massive free-agent boost for Super Bowl-winning players. Few members of the Philadelphia Eagles are set to hit the open market this offseason, with Bradham being the biggest name.

He excelled after being forced into a more significant role after Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending injury. He can struggle in run support, but his top-tier coverage skills make him a highly valuable asset in today’s NFL.

The 28-year-old has been a consistent force for six seasons, and will likely be one of the hottest free-agent targets.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(Contract figures courtesy: Over The Cap)



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