Who's Out There? The Linebackers...

Posted Feb 24, 2010 positional free agency snapshots: Linebackers

We’ve made our way through all of the offensive positions, as well as the entire defensive front in our journey through the 2010 unrestricted free agency preview. Today, it’s time to turn our attention to the linebackers.

Designed to be the play-makers in the 3-4 defense, the linebacking core consists of four athletes with distinctly different positional responsibilities. For this reason, we’ll divide the linebackers into two free agency snapshots – inside and outside.

First, let’s at a quick look at the outside linebackers.

Kansas City looks to be at a crossroads when it comes to its outside linebacking position. Tamba Hali looks to have a firm grasp on one of the outside spots, but who lines up opposite from Hali is anything but a sure thing for 2010.

Last year’s starter, Mike Vrabel, finds himself as an unrestricted free agent this offseason. There are currently varying reports floating as to what the Chiefs and Vrabel decide to do for 2010. Do the Chiefs make a run to bring Vrabel back? If not, is Andy Studebaker ready for a full-time role as a starting linebacker?

Past the questions surrounding the starting position opposite Hali, depth concerns also enter the picture at outside linebacker as well. If the season started today, Pierre Walters would likely be the back-up to both outside linebacker positions. Walters is a young developmental player who played in just 39 defensive snaps last season.

Whether or not the Chiefs younger outside linebackers can fill a larger role in 2010 remains to be seen, but even if they can Kansas City is still short a body or two at the position.

Here are some candidates for hire should the Chiefs decide to fill at outside linebacker via unrestricted free agency. Free Agency Snapshot

Position: Outside Linebackers

Degree of Need: Significant

Chiefs Under Contract (2): Tamba Hali, Pierre Walters

*Chiefs Without Contracts (2): Mike Vrabel (UFA), Andy Studebaker (ERFA)

Chiefs Who Opened Camp in 2009 (6): Monty Beisel (multiple LB positions),Hali, Turk McBride, Studebaker, Vrabel, Walters

*(UFA) – Unrestricted Free Agent; (RFA)—Restricted Free Agent; (ERFA) – Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Whose Out There (restricted free agents excluded)?

Essentially, the outside linebacker preview is a cross-over with our look at the defensive ends. Many of the players listed there have experience as both a 4-3 end and 3-4 outside linebacker. Follow the link to review the options.

One candidate missing from the above list is Scott Fujita. He’s included in the snapshot of the inside linebackers. Let’s move on to that look.


Kansas City’s leading tackler in 2009 (Demorrio Williams) is under contract and set to return for 2010, but past Williams there are a number of question marks looming for the Chiefs at inside linebacker. Some fans would even argue that Williams is also in the grey area.

One of the bigger question marks on the list is Derrick Johnson.

Johnson’s 2009 season doesn’t need to be reviewed for very many Chiefs fans. We saw the former first-round pick make plays for the Chiefs (see season finale at Denver), but in a much more limited role than we’re accustomed to associating with Johnson. Essentially, Johnson was restricted to playing only in nickel formations.

Most everyone expects the Chiefs to tender Johnson, but what happens from there is certainly up for grabs. Does DJ go to the trade block? Does another team match the Chiefs tender? Are the plans for DJ to take over a starting position or retain his 2009 role?

These are questions that require direct answers before the free agency period begins – and that’s just surrounding the status of one player. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been forced to learn personnel at a rapid pace since landing in Kansas City.

A look at the 2010 UFA inside linebackers… Free Agency Snapshot

Position: Inside Linebackers

Degree of Need: Moderate

Chiefs Under Contract (3): Jovan Belcher, David Herron, Demorrio Williams

*Chiefs Without Contracts (2): Derrick Johnson (RFA), Corey Mays (RFA)

Chiefs Who Opened Camp in 2009 (8): Monty Beisel (multiple LB positions),Belcher, Weston Dacus, Johnson, Mays, Corey Smith, Zach Thomas, Williams

*(UFA) – Unrestricted Free Agent; (RFA)—Restricted Free Agent; (ERFA) – Exclusive Rights Free Agent

Whose Out There (restricted free agents excluded)?

Larry Foote (6-1, 239; age: 29) – After spending his first seven years in the NFL as a starting linebacker with Pittsburgh, Foote was released by the Steelers last May when the club was unable to deal him in a draft day trade. The move cleared way for former first-round pick Lawrence Timmons to take on a larger role for Pittsburgh.

Foote ended up signing a one-year deal in Detroit, going on to start in all 14 games he appeared in and log 99 tackles. The veteran is expected to land somewhere as a starter and has the experience of playing in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes, which improves his versatility.

Even though he played for the lowly Lions a year ago, most considered Foote a bright spot for a defensive unit that struggled otherwise. Not necessarily a play-maker, Foote is view by most as a sure tackler and solid overall inside linebacker.

News out of Detroit has Foote seeking a multi-year deal. He’s expressed frustrations in the negotiating process with Detroit, but both the club and player seem to be having on-going talks.

Karlos Dansby (6-4, 250; age: 28) – The Dansby watch is a lot like the Julius Peppers watch – ever-changing. First it was reported that Dansby had a free agency wish list, only to be reneged shortly afterward with a message that he’s open to signing anywhere.

Wish List:

No Wish List:

Regardless of what the latest happens to be regarding Dansby, it seems safe to say that he won’t be a member of the Arizona Cardinals next year. With that, Chiefs fans will naturally connect the dots between the Chiefs need for upgrades on the defensive side of the football and Todd Haley’s tie to Dansby in Arizona.

Dansby’s versatility is what seems to have many teams interested. Most scouting reports across the country believe Dansby can play effectively in multiple defenses as a solid tackler, as well as an effective coverage linebacker and pass rusher. For the Chiefs purposes, Dansby played in Arizona’s 3-4 defense, which was introduced in Kansas City by former defensive coordinator (for both teams) Clancy Pendergast.

The latest on Dansby is that the Colts, Dolphins and Giants are interested. There are probably more teams than that giving Dansby a serious look.

Scott Fujita (6-5, 250; age: 30) – Fujita’s connection to Kansas City is too strong not to include him, even though he played outside in New Orleans. The connection worth mentioning isn’t because of Fujita’s prior stint with the organization, but rather his fondness for Chiefs linebackers coach Gary Gibbs.

Gibbs served as the Saints defensive coordinator for three seasons (2006-08) and Fujita credits Gibbs as a key member in resurrecting his career.

In that above link, Fujita also says he’s grateful to Bill Parcells. That certainly fits the bill with many inside Arrowhead. Plus, Fujita and Todd Haley crossed over with one another in Dallas (2005).

The Cowboys were making the move to a 3-4 in 2005 when they traded with the Chiefs for Scott Fujita (irony?). In his only season with Dallas Fujita tallied 58 tackles, 2.0 sacks and two forced fumbles while starting the final eight games at strong-side outside linebacker.

If the Chiefs were to go after Fujita, which position would he call home? Monty Beisel boasted a similar positional resume when Kansas City signed him a year ago.

Gary Brackett (5-11, 235; age: 29) – Sometimes the undersized make the best inside linebackers. The Chiefs tried to bring in an older version of the undersized in Zach Thomas a year ago, but that move didn’t work out. Could a second try at an undersized tackle-machine pay a dividend for the organization?

Brackett has registered 99 or more tackles in each of the past five seasons with Indianapolis, and if the Colts are serious about pursuing Dansby where does that leave Brackett? A defensive captain for the Colts, Brackett prefers to re-sign in Indianapolis, but will it happen?

Nick Greisen (6-1, 250; age: 30) – Greisen signed a one-year deal with Denver last year, but Chiefs fans wouldn’t remember him in a Donkey uniform because he missed the entire 2009 season due to a knee injury suffered in training camp. Greisen was slated to serve as a backup inside linebacker and special teams player in Denver.

Specifically brought in to add depth for Denver’s switch to the 3-4, would Greisen be worth a look to do the same in Kansas City (if healthy)? Prior to arriving in Denver, Greisen spent two seasons in Baltimore as the primary backup to Ray Lewis.

There are a handful of other players who could be candidates to fill a linebacking role in Kansas City. They include…

  • Danny Clark, N.Y. Giants (6-2, 245; age: 32)
  • Ryan Fowler, N.Y. Jets (6-3, 250; age: 27) *with Haley in Dallas
  • Matt Wilhelm, San Francisco (6-4, 245; age: 29)
  • Paris Lenon, St. Louis (6-2, 235; age: 32)

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