The 2009 off-season could prove a potentially kind one for teams in need of linebackers. Karlos Dansby, Jonathan Vilma, Mike Peterson and Eric Barton are just a few high-profile names who might don new uniforms next season.
With the Denver Broncos’ defensive system currently a mystery, each of these players presents intriguing characteristics tailored to a style of play ‘Orange Crush V2’ may adopt. The crop of backers potentially on the market makes for an exciting off-season indeed.
One team that the Broncos may want to give a look happens to be a team currently in the AFC Championship, with its sights set on Super Bowl glory. This team has two versatile players in particular who have the capability to play in both the 3-4 and 4-3 systems. Exactly which of the two will be on the market remains a question mark, but nevertheless, the Baltimore Ravens could very well be a source the Broncos draw from this off-season.
The Rex Ryan led Baltimore Raven defense has been a fearsome one to say the least. A tenacious, blitzing front of tacklers has often carried the team to victory when the quarterback play was sub-par at best.
This season the Ravens ranked second against the pass, third against the run, and second overall in yards allowed per game. Baltimore also finished second against the run in the previous two seasons.
While the Ravens still have the Super Bowl in their sights, the team will have to face a very familiar situation this off-season. Player departure through free agency has become commonplace in the current National Football League world and Baltimore has dealt with it before.
In 2007 the Ravens were forced to part ways with linebacker Adalius Thomas after the Southern Mississippi product had logged an 11-sack, 106-tackle season. Thomas penned a deal with the New England Patriots and a defense that had surrendered an NFL-low 12.6 points per game would have to recover.
Jarrett Johnson stepped in and filled the departed star’s shoes nicely. Baltimore’s development of in-house talent, as evidenced by Johnson and others, has been key to the consistent defensive production. The team will most likely have to rely on that development and defensive depth again this off-season.
This may be the last NFL fans see of the current Raven defensive core. Three Baltimore linebackers will hit the market starting the moment their team concludes its season. Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott will all become free agents. Chances are, the Ravens do not re-sign all three.
Players like promising rookie Tavares Gooden out of Miami can step into the system and do well, and with the depth Baltimore has on defense, it can once again afford to let another great linebacker go.
That ‘great linebacker’ probably also won’t be Ray Lewis. Lewis has been the face of the Baltimore franchise during his 13-year career and has turned in a hall of fame caliber performance. Rumors point to the Ravens keeping him in Baltimore for the duration of his time in the league.
Most likely that puts one of two skilled Raven linebackers up for grabs this off-season.
Terrell Suggs presents the intriguing OLB/DE hybrid combination as a pass-rusher. In six seasons, he has amassed 368 tackles and 53 sacks. Suggs played defensive end in college and has certainly shown the propensity to get a good, quick rush off the edge as a professional.
As far as salary goes, however, Suggs’ versatility could dictate his dollar figure depending on whether a team wants to utilize him as a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker or a 4-3 end. He may not get as much money as guys like Julius Peppers or Albert Haynesworth, and could prove a nice deal to a team in free agency. Since Baltimore can afford to replace its players with quality defenders, they may not match a large offer should one arise.
Bart Scott could be available if the Ravens decide they’d rather secure Lewis and Suggs. Scott, an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois, only recorded 1.5 sacks this season and 1 sack the season before. However, he can still put up 100-plus tackle numbers, evidenced by his 2006 campaign.
The 28-year-old (29 in August) and seven-year vet can also adapt and has the ability to play inside and outside in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive scheme.
Scott took a $12.5 million "pay cut" to return to the Ravens in 2006, passing up an enticing offer from the Browns. However, the chips may fall differently this off-season.
"I thought that’s what I was coming back for," the Ravens linebacker said of his decision three years ago. "We were going to keep the core of the defense together and win a championship. We’ll see what happens this time around. And after whatever happens [in the playoffs], we’ll see where things go." …
…It’s believed [Scott] will draw a package north of the reported five-year, $25 million deal signed by Washington’s London Fletcher in 2007, but south of the reported bloated six-year, $42 million deal the New York Jets gave Calvin Pace last off-season.
Back on January 5, ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha mentioned a possible Scott-Broncos connection in his 2009 free agent/trade projections:
Why he could be gone: Scott couldn't have asked for worse timing. He's becoming an unrestricted free agent at the same time that the Ravens have to negotiate new deals for fellow linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. As talented as Scott is -- he nearly accepted a free-agent offer from Cleveland in 2006 before making his first Pro Bowl later that year -- it's hard to see the Ravens dropping big money on all three of those players this offseason.
Where he will end up: Even though his numbers have dropped since that Pro Bowl season -- mostly because he has been asked to drop into pass coverage more often --- Scott is a playmaker who should be attractive to several defense-challenged teams. That's why the Denver Broncos make sense here. They're about as bad as it gets on that side of the football.
Whoever emerges from this picture as a free agent certainly deserves a look from the Broncos. Of course, the player available will depend on who the Ravens decide to keep and may also hinge on whether or not the team wins the Super Bowl. Other linebackers could perform just as well in Orange and Blue next season, but it couldn’t hurt to at least take a look at a member of the Purple and Black.