Hey, Saints fans! We're carrying on with a look at players hitting free agency, by position of need, on March 9th. In case you missed it, please check out our break down of defensive line UFAs.
Let's jump right in and have a look at PFF's five highest-rated linebackers from 2015 who are hitting free agency.
Jerrell Freeman (6'0 240): Freeman (30), was an UDFA in 2008 by the Tennessee Titans and, though he didn't make the team by final cuts, went on to have a productive 3 year career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL. Since returning to the NFL with the Colts from 2012, Freeman has started in all 57 games in which he made an appearance and amassed 478 combined tackles (8/game), 12 sacks, 3 interceptions, 17 passes defended, and 9 FF (including 6 fumbles forced in 2013 alone). PFF ranks Freeman the 4th best LB from 2015 and the best run-stopper in the league. His cover skills have been better, but he's a veteran defender that can added necessary depth and savvy to a young corps. His per year salary will likely be around $7M.
Derrick Johnson (6'3 242): Though a MLB by trade, DJo has played all over the back of the line with different schemes since being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs 15th overall out of Texas in the 2005 draft (making him the second Chiefs lifer to appear in this series along with Tamba Hali). PFF's 8th ranked LB, Johnson is a solid run defender who holds up effectively in coverage. Though only playing in 1 game in 2014, Johnson has appeared in no fewer than 13 games a season since entering the league. Last year starting all 16 games, Johnson had 116 total tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended, and 2 FF. Spotrac has Johnson's annual market value at around $5.9M. He's 34 years old in November though, so barring him actually retiring sometime this year, I can't imagine he'll fetch anything more than $11M/2years. While Payton is a fan of the veteran touch in the locker room, the Saints aren't exactly in win now mode, I don't really see the former Pro Bowler (and 1x All Pro) Johnson as a Saint next season.
Danny Trevathan (6'0 237): Weak side LB Trevathan was selected out of Kentucky by the Denver Broncos in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL draft. PFF's 10th ranked LB, like Derrick Johnson (but 8 years his junior), Trevathan is a good run stopper and above average in coverage. Receiving no starts his rookie year and missing most of 2014 due to a brutal kneecap dislocation, Trevathan had an impressive 2013 season and was an important part of Denver's Super Bowl run in 2015. Spotrac gives Trevathan an annual $6M market value. Honestly, I'm not sure the Saints would bother spending that kind of money on a player when Dannell Ellerbe, assuming good health and that he's ready to suit up, just extended to 2018 (especially since Tre had his own knee issues just two seasons removed).
Tahir Whitehead (6'2 242): Whitehead (25) was selected by the Detroit Lions out of Temple (was a teammate with Muhammad Wilkerson) in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL draft. Despite missing only 2 games his first four seasons, Whitehead didn't start until 2014 and only started half of the games in which he appeared this past season. Whitehead has a combined 156 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 2 FF. Whitehead was ranked 14th among eligible LBs in 2015 and, despite defending 6 passes last year, is regarded more highly by his run stopping abilities. His statistics (and play) have shown improvement since entering the league and he still has to become more effective in his pass rush. Given that Whitehead is somewhat of a poor man's Danny Trevathan and extrapolating accordingly, I would assume he's going to get somewhere are $5.5-6M.
Bruce Irvin (6'3 245): At the age of 24, Irvin was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks 15th overall in the 2012 draft out of West Virginia. Turning 29 years old in the 2016 season, he's coming off of his rookie contract and seeing what offers he can fetch in free agency. Despite appearing in 58 games Irvin, who both sides of the LB corps and has played DE, has curiously only started 37 times (63%).Through his first four seasons, Irvin has tallied a combined 131 tackles, 22 sacks, 3 interceptions and 4 FF. PFF ranks Irvin 15th among eligible LBs for 2015 and, while above average against the run, has issues in coverage and is a mediocre pass rusher. Given his projected market value (according to Spotrac) of $8.7M, partially inflated due to his success in an outstanding defense, a) I don't realistically seeing him fetching that kind of money and b) I don't see the Saints wanting to spend anywhere near that amount for a player who's fairly one-dimensional and doesn't hold up well in coverage.
That's all for now, CSCers. Anyone on this list worth a look? Anyone I'm missing? I always like sleeper picks, so sound off below with your feedback! I'll return ASAP with the next group of UFAs the Saints might want to take a look at ahead of the start to FA.