(CBS Local/CBS Detroit) The NFL’s new league year begins on Wednesday, March 13th, and teams can begin officially signing free agents at that point. (They can negotiate beginning today.) As with every year, there are some big names hitting the market. So over the past few weeks, we have been be looking at the top free agents available at each position, while trying to pair them with the teams that need them the most.
Linebackers have become almost hybrid-safeties out of necessity in today’s game, due to how pass-heavy offenses have become. Gone are the heavier, battering-ram inside linebackers, built to stonewall running backs in the hole. In their place are slightly smaller but much faster guys, who can cover backs out of the backfield and carry tight ends down the seam. The free agent class this year is an interesting one in that respect, as there are some big names on the market.
Jamie Collins, LB, Cleveland Browns
Collins was a late addition to the free agent market after the Browns decided to release the 29-year-old just two years after giving him a four-year $50 million extension. He had a strong season last year, with 104 tackles, 13 for loss and four sacks, but he graded out as just average (62.3) in Pro Football Focus’ rankings.
Collins has fallen from his peak in New England, but he’s still a solid option for teams needing an all-around presence in their linebacker corps. There hasn’t been much chatter yet on possible destinations, but there was a report that his former team sniffed around trading for him at last year’s deadline. A reunion in New England would seem to make sense, of course, as that is where he had his best year. But it also wouldn’t surprise to see the Chiefs, who struggled in run defense, try to pick up Collins as an answer.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Mosley, a former first-round pick, hits the market after the Ravens elected not to use the franchise tag. The word is that the team would like to re-sign him, just below the franchise tag price. It’s easy to understand why. Mosley grades out as an elite run defender, while showing solid coverage skills.
Ravens fans were excited when the team announced a press conference for this morning that would announce the re-signing of a new player, but that guy was not Mosley. Instead it was tight end Nick Boyle. Mosley, who will be 27 come next season, is likely to garner a lot of interest among teams that need an inside linebacker. The Browns and Bengals both have needs at that spot and would love to steal someone away from a division opponent. The Chiefs, as mentioned above, need to improve their run defense. The best fit is probably Baltimore, but this will be an interesting free agent to watch.
Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings
Barr is another guy who is likely to draw a lot of interest come Monday’s negotiating period. PFF has him listed as their third-best linebacker available, behind Mosley and Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks. Barr was the most efficient pass rushing linebacker in PFF’s grades last season, garnering 23 quarterback pressures on just 94 pass rush snaps. He was also solid in pass coverage, outside of the game against the Rams in which he got beat for three touchdowns.
The team rumored to be in the lead for Barr is the division-rival Detroit Lions. Barr would be an upgrade at the linebacker spot for head coach, Matt Patricia, and could pair well with Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Philadelphia Eagles
Hicks has struggled with injuries during his career in Philly. But when he has been on the field, he’s been one of the better linebackers in the league. He ranked at the top of PFF’s list of free agent linebackers, with a grade above 80, for the second time in his short career. He’s still young at 26 (soon to be 27) and is the best cover linebacker on this list.
So that would, in theory, mean the Eagles are keeping him right? Well, the 2018 Super Bowl champs are a little tight on cap space and have decisions to make on several injured players this offseason. In addition to Hicks, the team has to decide what to do with running back Jay Ajayi and corner Ronald Darby. Not everybody can be paid, and Hicks could be on the move. That said, Hicks is a key piece for the Eagles, and GM Howie Roseman usually finds a way to lock those guys up.