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With Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles scheduled to turn 34 and 36, respectively, this year, Tampa Bay needed to give itself an infusion of youth at the linebacker position during the offseason.
The Buccaneers attempted to address their linebacker position by signing Indianapolis Colts LB Cato June and drafting linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward.
The team also released Quarles, who failed a team physical. Third-year LB Barrett Ruud will replace Quarles at the middle linebacker position.
With Brooks, a 10-time Pro Bowler, turning 34 a few months ago, there’s a good chance the 2007 season will be his last with the Buccaneers.
The Bucs view LB Jamie Winborn as a player that could possibly succeed Brooks at some point, but he’s in the final year of his contract, which is one of the reasons why the team signed June to a three-year contract during the offseason.
Tampa Bay would ideally like to take Black, Hayward, June, Ruud and Winborn into the 2008 season. Although this is a talented group of linebackers, but the Bucs could still be tempted to sign a linebacker or two in free agency next year.
Listed below are some of the better free agent-to-be linebackers in 2008.
OLB Lance Briggs (Chicago) – Briggs was supposed to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but the Bears placed the franchise tag on him. As a result, Briggs is holding out for a new contract. The Bucs inquired about the possibility of trading for Briggs, but Chicago wants too much compensation. If the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Briggs hits the free agent market in 2008, you can bet the Bucs will attempt to sign him since they feel he’d be the perfect successor for Brooks. Both Briggs and Brooks play the weakside linebacker position in their respective “Tampa 2” defensive schemes. Briggs, a Pro Bowler, has notched 3.5 sacks and six interceptions since entering the NFL as a third-round pick in 2003. OLB Demorrio Williams (Atlanta) – A fourth-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Williams fits the description of a prototype Bucs linebacker. His 6-foot, 232-pound frame and speed will pique the Bucs’ interest should be become a free agent as scheduled. Williams has notched 6.5 sacks and three interceptions and is currently Atlanta’s starting right outside linebacker.
OLB Jamie Winborn (Tampa Bay) – Winborn hasn’t made his mark on Tampa Bay’s defense yet, but that could change in 2007 as the Bucs might deploy some 3-4 defensive sets in an effort to get him on the field more. Winborn, who was a second-round pick in 2001, is entering the final year of his contract with the Bucs. However, Tampa Bay has spent the offseason negotiating with Winborn’s agent on a long-term, lucrative deal. The Bucs are confident a deal could get done before the team reports to training camp on July 26. Winborn, who spent most of last season at strongside linebacker, is currently working behind Brooks at the weakside linebacker position.
OLB Boss Bailey (Detroit) – A second-round pick in 2003, Bailey is Detroit’s strongside linebacker, but if the Bucs opted to sign him they could be tempted to play him at middle linebacker because of his ability to drop back into coverage. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Bailey has notched 3.5 sacks and two interceptions during his four-year career.
MLB Teddy Lehman (Detroit) – Lehman is currently the backup middle linebacker for the Lions, which is disappointing seeing as he originally entered the NFL as a second-round draft pick in 2004. The 6-foot-2, 238-pound Lehman will spend this season under former Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, who is the new defensive coordinator in Detroit. If Lehman thrives, the Bucs could become interested in signing him next year. However, Ruud is under contract with the Bucs, and Black, a third-round pick in 2007, will compete with him, which means Tampa Bay might feel it is set at the middle linebacker spot.
OLB Landon Johnson (Cincinnati) – The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Johnson originally entered the NFL as a third-round pick in 2004. He has since recorded 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. Johnson is one of the better players on a suspect Cincinnati defense, and he’s proven to be durable while playing right outside linebacker for the Bengals.
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