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Although Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June are under contract with the Buccaneers through the 2009 season, there's a chance that 2008 could be Brooks' last year as a Buccaneer.
Brooks, a 10-time Pro Bowler, will turn 36 in April. While he's still a good player, Brooks missed the Pro Bowl last year for the first time in a decade and is no longer in his prime.
Should Brooks retire after the '08 season concludes, the Bucs would seriously consider moving Cato June over to the weakside linebacker spot, which would probably allow Quincy Black, a 2007 third-round draft pick, to enter the starting lineup on the strong side.
Tampa Bay will also have several backup linebackers, including Adam Hayward, Geno Hayes and Matt McCoy, under contract in 2009 assuming each of them makes the 53-man roster in '08.
Only two of Tampa Bay's 10 linebackers – Antoine Cash and Teddy Lehman – are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents next year, which is good news for the Bucs.
But that doesn't mean Tampa Bay won't be in the market for a veteran linebacker when free agency rolls around in 2009. Listed below are the linebackers that are scheduled to become free agents next year. Outside Linebacker
OLB Daryl Blackstock (6-3, 244) Cincinnati OLB Rocky Boiman (6-4, 236) Philadelphia OLB Michael Boley (6-3, 236) Atlanta OLB Antoine Cash (6-1, 223) Tampa Bay OLB Matt Chatham (6-4, 250) New York Jets OLB Dan Cody (6-5, 255) Baltimore OLB Jorge Cordova (6-1, 241) Tennessee OLB Channing Crowder (6-2, 245) Miami OLB Angelo Crowell (6-1, 246) Buffalo OLB Karlos Dansby (6-4, 250) Arizona OLB Isiah Ekejiuba (6-4, 240) Oakland OLB Troy Evans (6-3, 242) New Orleans OLB Heath Farwell (6-0, 235) Minnesota OLB Alfred Fincher (6-1, 238) Detroit OLB Keyaron Fox (6-1, 238) Pittsburgh OLB Andre Frazier (6-5, 255) Pittsburgh OLB Gilbert Gardner (6-1, 228) Detroit OLB Roderick Green (6-2, 270) San Francisco OLB Clark Haggans (6-4, 243) Arizona OLB Tyjuan Hagler (6-0, 236) Indianapolis OLB Marques Harris (6-1, 245) San Diego OLB LeRoy Hill (6-1, 238) Seattle OLB Victor Hobson (6-0, 252) New England OLB Wesly Mallard (6-1, 230) Seattle OLB Darrell McClover (6-1, 226) Chicago OLB Willie McGinest (6-5, 270) Cleveland OLB David McMillan (6-3, 250) Cleveland OLB Keith O'Neil (6-0, 240) New York Giants OLB Carlos Polk (6-2, 262) San Diego OLB Derrick Pope (6-0, 232) Minnesota OLB Brady Poppinga (6-3, 245) Green Bay OLB Bart Scott (6-2, 240) Baltimore OLB Cody Spencer (6-2, 245) New York Jets OLB Matt Stewart (6-3, 239) Arizona OLB Gary Stills (6-2, 250) Baltimore OLB Terrell Suggs (6-3, 260) Baltimore OLB Patrick Thomas (6-2, 246) Kansas City OLB Nate Webster (6-0, 232) Denver OLB Sam Williams (6-5, 260) Oakland Middle Linebacker
MLB Jordan Beck (6-2, 233) Denver MLB Monty Beisel (6-3, 244) Kansas State MLB Khary Campbell (6-2, 232) Washington MLB Tony Gilbert (6-1, 244) Jacksonville MLB Teddy Lehman (6-1, 238) Tampa Bay MLB Paris Lenon (6-2, 235) Detroit MLB D.D. Lewis (6-1, 241) Seattle MLB Ray Lewis (6-1, 250) Baltimore MLB Mike Peterson (6-1, 235) Jacksonville MLB Adam Seward (6-2, 248) Carolina MLB Mike Smith (6-1, 235) Baltimore MLB Rod Wilson (6-2, 230) Chicago
Bucs Top 5 Targets OLB Terrell Suggs – Despite having $43 million in salary cap room, Tampa Bay never really made a play for Chicago LB Lance Briggs when he hit the free agent market earlier in the offseason. One of the main reasons why was because Brooks still is on the team. That may not be the case in 2009, though. Although the Ravens deemed Suggs, a former first-round draft pick, a linebacker when they placed the franchise tag on him in February, he could be targeted as a defensive end by the Buccaneers and other teams should he not sign a contract extension with Baltimore or be franchised again next year. The Ravens could have a tough time placing the franchise tag on Suggs or even signing him to a new deal due to the fact that Baltimore also has to address contract situations for safety Ed Reed, tight end Todd Heap, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Suggs has notched 298 tackles, 45 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and three interceptions since 2003 and is considered a tremendous athlete. If Tampa Bay's front four struggles to get after the quarterback on a consistent basis like it did last year, the Bucs could be willing to hand this two-time Pro Bowler the long-term, lucrative contract he'll be looking for, and at 25 years old, he might be worth it.
OLB Michael Boley – Tampa Bay liked Boley when he entered the NFL out of Southern Mississippi in 2005. Boley has since become one of the brighter spots on an otherwise suspect Atlanta defense, notching 257 tackles, six sacks and four interceptions while playing strongside linebacker for the Falcons. Although Boley, 25, was arrested in May for an alleged battery, legal baggage hasn't necessarily stopped the Bucs from acquiring players in the past, so consider Tampa Bay interested in Boley if he hits the free agent market as scheduled next year. Click here to view highlights of Boley.
OLB Leroy Hill – Like Boley, Hill entered the NFL in 2005, but he played collegiately at Clemson. The 25-year-old Hill has made a name for himself at the pro level by starting at strongside linebacker for the Seahawks. He has notched 245 career tackles. Although he hasn't recorded an interception in the NFL, Hill has proven to be quite the blitzer, evidenced by his 12.5 career sacks while playing opposite of Seahawks All-Pro LB Julian Peterson. Should the Bucs believe that the evolution of Monte Kiffin's defense will involve more blitzing from their linebackers, Hill could become that much more attractive to them if and when he hits the free agent market next year.
OLB Channing Crowder – Crowder is considered a talented player, but he hasn't exactly lived up to expectations in terms of being a playmaker in Miami, where the Dolphins have struggled mightily in recent years. Crowder, 24, has notched 266 tackles and 1.5 career sacks. He played collegiately at Florida, so the idea of continuing to play pro football in the state likely is appealing to Crowder. However, the Dolphins are transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme and no one knows for sure if Crowder is a good fit for it. Should he want out of Miami in free agency next year, Crowder and the Bucs could have a mutual interest in working together, especially if the price is right. MLB Ray Lewis – It doesn't appear as though the Ravens will re-sign Lewis, who is 33 years old. The All-Pro linebacker has notched 1,520 tackles, 30 sacks and 25 interceptions for the Ravens since 1996. He played collegiately at Miami, so Lewis could have some interest in finishing his career in the state of Florida should Baltimore not retain him. Lewis weighs 250 pounds, which is bigger than Tampa Bay prototype linebacker, but that didn't stop the Bucs from signing former Eagles LB Jeremiah Trotter last year to serve as a backup linebacker to Ruud. If Lewis couldn't find a starting job and was willing to except a backup role in Tampa Bay, the Bucs could see value in Lewis, who is considered a tremendous leader. Although he's 33, Lewis certainly didn't play like it last year. To view some of his highlights, click here.
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