Now, onto the list of 2014 Notable Free Agent Linebackers.
Comments and analysis added after the original posting of the article are listed in PURPLE.
Age listing as of March 10, 2014.
Players are ranked based upon incoming 2014 Free Agency value, not post-signing value.
1. ILB Donald Butler, San Diego Chargers (25) - Unrestricted FA
*Re-signed by the Chargers (7 years @ $48 million, $28 million guaranteed) - 2/28/2014
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: Butler's NFL career got off to a rough start when he suffered a torn Achilles during his 2010 rookie season. And while injuries have still been an issue for him, he's managed to improve his play in each of the last three seasons. He's been the proverbial IDP sleeper since arriving in the league, but has failed to fully produce at the level he's capable. I feel like I say this every year, but I think this is the season Butler finally emerges as a LB1. If he stays healthy, a 90-95+ solo tackle season is completely within reach and I'm drafting him with that expectation in mind.
2. ILB Karlos Dansby, Arizona Cardinals (32) - Unrestricted FA
*Signed by the Browns (4 years @ $24 million, $14 million guaranteed) - 3/11/2014
Potential Landing Spots: Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns
Fantasy Impact of Signing: Fantasy owners have to be fairly pleased with this turnout. He will be the key cog in Mike Pettine's 3-4 defense moving forward and should be able to build upon the numbers D'Qwell Jackson was producing in Cleveland. He's a virtual lock to be taken amongst the top 5-15 fantasy linebackers this year.
3. ILB Jon Beason, New York Giants (29) - Unrestricted FA
*Re-signed by the Giants (3 years @ $17 million, $7 million guaranteed) - 3/12/2014
Free Agent Analysis
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: Beason is definitely not the same type of elite player he use to be before two serious leg injuries, but he remains a top talent between the ears which helps make up for his loss of quickness and speed. He probably doesn't have the sideline to sideline range as this point to put up top 15 numbers, but he's smart enough and the tackle competition around him is low enough for him to have LB2- upside.
4. D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland Browns (30) - Unrestricted FA
*Released by the Browns - 2/26/2014
**Signed by the Colts (4 years @ $22 million, $11 million guaranteed) - 3/6/2014
Fantasy Impact of Signing: Jackson's release by the Browns came as a surprise to many. He was the leader of the their defense over the last several seasons and filled up the stat sheet along the way. However, when one looks more closely, there are some serious chinks in the armor; he was slow to ball at times and failed to shed blocks as needed in a predominately 3-4 scheme. That said, it was a bit surprising to see him land in Indy. Both he and Jerrell Freeman will be every down linebackers and likely be owned in most fantasy leagues. However, I don't expect Jackson to be anything more than a low ceiling LB2 and Freeman's value takes a slight hit with the signing as well.
5. ILB Perry Riley, Washington Redskins (25) - Unrestricted FA
*Re-signed by the Redskins (3 years @ $13 million) - 3/11/2014
Free Agent Analysis
March 10th News Update: Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington reports free agent ILB Perry Riley will re-sign with the Redskins.
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: After initially looking far apart in contract talks, Riley and the Redskins managed to come to terms in fairly quick order over the past two days. $13 million was a lot less than Riley originally was asking for but I'm sure he found the market to be much less welcoming than he originally expected. He's not particular great against the run or the pass, but stands as the only viable tackle threat on the Redskins defense currently. With London Fletcher retired, there's a good chance Riley benefits greatly from the lack of tackle competition and launches himself into a LB2+/LB1- role.
6. ILB Daryl Smith, Baltimore Ravens (31) - Unrestricted FA
*Re-signed by the Ravens (4 years $16.1 million) - 3/14/2014
Free Agent Analysis
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: Smith returns to the Ravens and will continue to be the defensive leader and an every down player in 2014. Despite a top 10 finish last year, I expect Smith to be overvalued heading into this season. His 5 sacks and 3 INTs were both career highs and aren't likely to be repeated at those levels. Additionally, Arthur Brown figures to cut into some of Smith's production. For those in leagues that don't reward for assisted tackles, Smith should be dropped down a couple tiers as his assist to solo tackle ratio last year was off the charts. His best value is in the LB25-35 range.
7. ILB Brandon Spikes, New England Patriots (26) - Unrestricted FA
*Signed the Bills (1 year @ $3.5 million) - 3/14/2014
Free Agent Analysis
Fantasy Impact of Signing: This move makes a ton of sense. Shortly before this signing, the Bills announced that Kiko Alonso would be moving to the outside which left a big gap at middle linebacker. Spikes was perhaps the most physical, run-stopping linebackers left on the market and should be a good fit for Jim Schwartz' defensive scheme. Spikes' inconsistency in pass coverage as prevented him from being an every down player in years past which has made it difficult for him to be anything more than LB3/4 matchup play. There's a chance the Bills give him another shot at nickel duties, but I'm not holding my breath. He's definitely worth a shot though as your late round LB3 or LB4.
8. ILB Wesley Woodyard, Denver Broncos (27) - Unrestricted FA
*Signed by the Titans (4 years @ $15.75 million, $4.75 million guaranteed) - 3/14/2014
Free Agent Analysis
Potential Landing Spots: New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans
Fantasy Impact of Signing: The Woodyard signing is another that makes a lot of sense. Horton's system demands linebackers to be quick and athletic both against the run and the pass. Expect Woodyard to play every down next to underachieving Zach Brown (although there's a chance the Titans draft someone to replace Brown this year). We've seen that Tennessee is one of the most target rich environments in the league which could very well help Woodyard see a return to his previous fantasy dominance. He's shaping up to be one of the higher ceiling LB3s.
9. ILB Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints (31) - Unrestricted FA
Free Agent Analysis: Once a top-notch fantasy option, Vilma's production has fallen off drastically in recent years. Injuries, suspension, and declined play have made the former first round draft choice largely irrelevant in fantasy circles. Although he still manages to get drafted in deeper leagues based on name recognition, he should largely be ignored. The Saints are highly unlikely to sign him and for a player soon to be 32, he doesn't have a ton to offer a team except veteran presence as a backup stopgap.
Potential Landing Spots: ?
10. ILB D.J. Williams, Chicago Bears (31) - Unrestricted FA
*Re-signed by the Bears (1 year @ ?) - 3/11/2014
Free Agent Analysis: In a very similar vein to Jonathan Vilma, Williams' career has taken quite the downturn over the last handful of seasons after previously being one of the better linebacker options in the league. Injuries and age have made Williams predominately a two-down player, but the Bears saw enough good from Williams last year to peak their interest in bringing him back for at least one more season. Regardless of that happens or not, Williams will likely remain an LB4 matchup-type option moving forward.
Potential Landing Spots: Chicago Bears
March 10th News Update: The Chicago Tribune reports the Bears are on the verge of re-signing free agent LB D.J. Williams.
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: Williams returns to Chicago on another one year deal. Although Williams was naturally seeking a multi-year contract, it looks he settled on re-upping with the Bears for one additional season. He will serve as competition for sophomore player Jon Bostic in the middle of the defense. Both players' fantasy values will be stunted unless they find a way to nudge themselves into an every down role. Treat Williams as a matchup-play LB4.
1. OLB Jason Worilds, Pittsburgh Steelers (26) - Unrestricted FA
*Transition Tagged by the Steelers - 3/3/2014
**Re-signed by the Steelers (1 year @ $9.754 million) - 3/4/2014
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: After three years lurking the shadows, Worilds was finally able to showcase his skills on a full-time basis in 2013. He rewarded the Steelers with 8 sacks in his last 11 games and posted a respectable 55 total tackles during that span as well. Worilds signed his transition tag which will keep him in Pittsburgh for at least one more season, but it's highly probably the Steelers lock him up long-term. That said, he'll be the centerpiece of the defense moving forward and has a good chance of posting LB3-/LB4+ numbers for fantasy owners.
2. OLB Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins (27) - Unrestricted FA
*Franchise Tagged by the Redskins - 3/3/2014
Fantasy Impact of Re-Signing: Orakpo had arguably his best season as pro last year and is undoubtedly the Redskins top priority re-signing this off-season. For the time being, they have locked him up with the Franchise Tag, but one would figure they try to sign him to a long-term extension sometime in the immediate future. Orakpo's been extremely consistent since entering the league, registering between 8.5 and 11 sacks in four of his five season (he lost basically an entire season due to injury). There's reason to believe his ceiling is actually higher than that especially with Ryan Kerrigan playing extremely well on the opposite side. That said, Orakpo makes for a solid LB3+/LB2- in big play slanted leagues, but is still more of a LB4+ in balanced leagues.
3. OLB James Anderson, Chicago Bears (30) - Unrestricted FA
Free Agent Analysis: Anderson served as the one steady option among the Bears linebacking core that suffered through injury, inexperience, and inconsistency during the 2013 season. He was actually the first Bears player other than Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs to lead the team in tackles since Barry Minter did in back in 1999. His return to Chicago is questionable at this point. He's likely seeking a long-term deal which the Bears may be hesitant to give him considering their significant needs at other defensive positions. Anderson has produced when given the chance and is a smart player, so he has a decent shot at landing a starting job again. If he can snag a three down role, he will remain a LB3-LB3+ option in all likelihood.
Potential Landing Spots: Chicago Bears
4. OLB Erin Henderson, Minnesota Vikings (27) - Unrestricted FA
*Released by the Vikings - 2/7/2014
Free Agent Analysis: Henderson was moved from weak side linebacker to middle linebacker last season as the Vikings struggled to shore up their run defense. By season's end, it became apparent that Minnesota never wanted Henderson to man the middle and that he was only moved there out of necessity. He was eventually demoted to the weak side late in the season. After multiple DUIs in a relatively short period, he was released this off-season. Although he comes with a lot of baggage, he's only 27 and he shown strong enough on-the-field play to warrant some interest from teams. Tampa Bay could be a possible landing spot as he has a connection to new Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Potential Landing Spots: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. OLB LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers (29) - Unrestricted FA
*Released by the Steelers - 3/10/2014
**Signed by the Raiders (2 years @ $12 million) - 3/13/2014
Fantasy Impact of Signing: The team/scheme change for Woodley is good news for the IDP fantasy community as he will now be reclassified as a defensive end. He will slot into the weak side opposite the Raiders other newly-signed veteran Justin Tuck where he should see 40+ snaps a game. His injury history and lack of experience in a three point stance make Woodley a somewhat risky pick, but owners desperate for a DL2 could do worse.
6. OLB Shaun Phillips, Denver Broncos (32) - Unrestricted FA
Free Agent Analysis: Phillips has posted above average numbers on the stat sheet over his career and actually reached double digit sacks for the first time since 2010 last year. However, if you dig deeper his pressure metrics tell the story of a less effective player (ranked 62nd in disruption rate). He's expected to re-sign with the Broncos, but his snap counts tailed off drastically late in the season and I would expect him to be a part-time player in 2014. He's probably not going to be worth much in fantasy circles this year.
Potential Landing Spots: Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers
Are there any other 2014 Free Agent Linebackers that you think should be included in this conversation? If so, please let me know by posting a comment below or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hit me up on Twitter.
Last Updated: March 17, 2014 Related Posts: