Free Agent Market For 4-3 Outside Linebackers

Our list of 2015 free agents provides a comprehensive position-by-position breakdown of which players are eligible to hit the open market this year. However, that list of names doesn’t include much context or additional information about those players. So, with March’s free agent period fast approaching, we’ll be taking a closer look this month at the free agent market for each position. Today, we’ll turn our attention to linebackers. Having already covered 3-4 outside linebackers in our look at edge defenders, today’s focus is on 4-3 OLBs. Let’s dive in….

Top unrestricted FAs:

If a team surveys the free agent market this winter in search of an outside linebacker, that club would be much better off running a 3-4 scheme than a 4-3 system, given the talent available at each spot. While there are a handful of above-average 3-4 OLBs expected to be available two weeks from now, the top tier of 4-3 OLBs is led by Weatherspoon, who missed the 2014 season with a ruptured Achilles and sat out over half of the 2013 campaign as well, due to knee and foot injuries.

While he may not be the most reliable player here when it comes to health, Weatherspoon is still just 27 years old, and averaged 110 tackles per season in 2011 and 2012. And it’s not as if the other players in this group are slam dunks to play 16 games either — Durant and Briggs also missed significant chunks of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with injuries of their own.

If these players stay healthy, they should all but solid contributors for new or old teams in 2015, but taking into account concerns about health, age (Briggs), and inconsistency (Smith), I don’t expect any of them to find a big payday on the open market.

Other unrestricted options:

There are a few interesting names here, including Herzlich, who played just 304 defensive snaps for the Giants in 2014, but graded out as one of the best run defenders at the position, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Casillas was a part-time contributor down the stretch for the Super Bowl champion Patriots. Hayes has 70 career starts on his résumé. Thomas and Williams each racked up 85+ tackles, and Anderson is only a year removed from a season of 100+ tackles himself.

Still, if the players in our first tier weren’t exactly impact performers, that applies to doubly to most of the guys on this list. Some could hold their own as starters, but most will be reserves, part-timers, or special teams contributors.

As a housekeeping note, Bynes would have been eligible for restricted free agency, but the Lions have announced they won’t tender him an RFA offer. While he could still return to Detroit, Bynes appears poised to have the opportunity to test the open market.

Restricted FAs:

Lamur earned the most playing time of anyone in this group, by far, but in 900+ defensive snaps, he graded as a below-average in pass coverage, run defense, and as a pass rusher, per PFF, which ranked him 39th out of 40 players at the position overall. The Bengals may have viewed his performance more favorably, but it remains to be seen whether it was enough to earn an RFA tender.

Besides Lamur, most of the other players on this list made more of an impact on special teams than on defense, though Johnson was the one exception. In addition to recording 11 special teams tackles, Johnson was also forced into action on defense during the second half, logging 251 snaps. The Broncos won’t want him starting at linebacker, and he certainly isn’t their top priority in free agency, but he’s a solid depth piece, and I expect the team to bring him back — we’ll see if Denver values him enough to make him an RFA tender offer, or if the club tries to re-sign him for less.

Previous looks at the 2015 free agent market:

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