Ray Lewis, UFA, Baltimore Ravens
With over 1,500 tackles, 31 sacks, and 28 interceptions during his 13 seasons, Lewis isn’t just a Pro Bowl player and Super Bowl winner, but also a future Hall of Famer. Since entering the league, Lewis has been a force and helped the Ravens to be one of the league’s best defensive units year in and year out. He’s been in Baltimore his entire career so it’s hard to imagine him with another franchise. The Ravens will make him an offer that should lock him up until almost the end of his career and rumor has it that he is close to signing an extension.Eric Barton, UFA, New York Jets
While Barton’s ’07 productionwas down, he was playing for a defense that didn’t get much help from the offensive unit. Brett Favre’s arrival has improved the offense, which has also helped alleviate pressure on the defense. Barton made 100 tackles and 4.5 sacks in ’06, probably his best season since he left Oakland, and he is on a similar pace this season with 73 tackles and 1.5 sacks through ten games. There are a fair amount of teams that could look to acquire Barton and save some money.
Karlos Dansby, UFA, Arizona Cardinals
Dansby is becoming a consistent linebacker in the NFL. In his last three full seasons, he has tackle totals of 89, 82, and 99. He has also tallied at least three sacks in each of his five seasons as a pro. His three interceptions last season tied a career high and Dansby is young and athletic. So far in ’08, he has made a pair of picks, has three sacks, and has made 70 tackles. He isn’t in the same class as some of the linebackers on this list, but he may eventually be pretty close. Dansby will appeal to several teams because of his age, size, and potential.
Mike Peterson, UFA, Jacksonville Jaguars
Peterson had played in just 15 games over the course of the last two seasons, but he played ina ll but one game this season. When healthy, he is one of the better middle linebackers around. He has six seasons in triple-digit tackles and the three seasons he failed to reach that mark were injury-shortened years. In ’05, his most recent full season, he also had six sacks and three interceptions. His health concerns will scare some teams away, but Peterson may still have some quality seasons left in him.
Bart Scott, UFA, Baltimore Ravens
Even though Scott was an undrafted free agent, he has managed to become a quality linebacker. While he has benefited from playing alongside Pro Bowlers like Ray Lewis, he has also helped them benefit from his own contributions. He had just one sack last season as the Ravens defense struggled more than usual, but he showed in ’06 that he is capable of over 100 tackles and 9.5 sacks. He has added a sack in ’08 and has 50 tackles at this point. The Ravens will probably pay Scott enough to keep him around, but they may let him go if they are unimpressed with his play this year.
Jonathan Vilma, UFA, New Orleans Saints
Vilma has returned from a serious injury and is making a good impression with his new team in New Orleans. He has 79 tackles and an interception through week eleven. Prior to his shortened ’07 season, Vilma had registered 108 tackles or more in three straight seasons, including 173 in ’05; he also has six interceptions in his four seasons of work. Vilma is quick to the ball and consistently makes the right play. At 26 years of age, he will be a point of interest for several teams if he hits the market.
Jordan Beck, UFA, Denver Broncos
Monty Beisel, UFA, Arizona Cardinals
Michael Boley, UFA, Atlanta Falcons
Angelo Crowell, UFA, Buffalo Bills
Channing Crowder, UFA, Miami Dolphins
James Farrior, UFA, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tyjuan Hagler, UFA, Indianapolis Colts
Leroy Hill, UFA, Seattle Sehawks
Willie McGinest, UFA, Cleveland Browns
Carlos Polk, UFA, San Diego Chargers
Sam Williams, UFA, Oakland Raiders