NFL free-agent preview: Linebackers

NFL free-agent preview: Linebackers
March 7, 2013, 11:45 am
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Here's the second in a series of looks at impending free agents and how they might fit in with the Patriots' needs. Yesterday we hit on the defensive backs. Today we're looking at linebackers.

PATRIOTS DEPTH CHART
OLB: Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, Dane Fletcher
ILB: Brandon Spikes, Mike Rivera

PENDING FREE AGENTS
ILB: None
OLB: Tracy White, Niko Koutouvides, Jeff Tarpinian
 
OVERVIEW
The Patriots are in a great spot with the guys they have coming back. One of the lost stories of 2012 was the injury to Dane Fletcher and how his absence impacted the Patriots' third-down defense. Fletcher would have been on the field more than Spikes, who isn’t an accomplished guy in coverage. Mike Rivera actually isn’t a bad backup to Spikes in the every-down defense. If there was a chance to get a guy like Michael Boley, though -- a smooth cover guy who could back up at the outside positions and be versatile -- it may be worth a tire-kicking. Each of the three pending LB free agents the Patriots have are primarily special teams guys.
 
TOP-TIER
OLB: Paul Kruger, Connor Barwin, Justin Durant, Michael Boley, Erin Henderson
ILB: Brian Urlacher, Rey Maualuga, Dannell Ellerbe
 
MID-LEVEL
OLB: Shaun Phillips, Darryl Smith, Antwan Barnes, Manny Lawson
ILB: Nick Barnett, Tim Dobbins, Chase Blackburn