Over the weekend, news broke that the Arizona Cardinals were targeting free agent and long-time Titans' linebacker Keith Bulluck. Was this a surprise? Not exactly, but it wasn't that long ago that Rod Graves and Ken Whisenhunt were selling the idea that current inside linebacker Gerald Hayes would be okay by the start of camp. Then we learned that Hayes underwent back surgery for a lingering problem that he's dealt with since last season. The surgery will force the starter out of camp and likely the preseason. If the problem persists beyond that time frame, the Cardinals will be in dyer need of a replacement at middle linebacker.
In the wake of all of this, I found it only necessary to see what other free agent linebackers -- if any -- were left to gawk at. Here's what I found.
2009 stats: 7 starts, 32 tackles
Trotter is likely the biggest name still left on the free agent market at inside linebacker. He's a four time Pro Bowl'er and has 10 years of experience in the league. He didn't play at all in 2008 but returned to the Eagles when they were lacking depth last season. I've seen enough from Trotter to know that he's dependable, he has a lunch-pail mentality, and he can defend very well against the run. From 1999 - 2006, Trotter averaged 108 tackles per season. I'm just not sure how much gas he has left in the tank, and he'd probably be a liability against the pass. I think he'd be a good pick up, and if the Cardinals were already considering Bulluck, why not?
More free agent linebackers are after the jump...
2009 stats: 11 starts, 34 tackles, 3 sacks
Thomas is another high-profile player that has remained on the market despite his past production. He hasn't garnered very much attention from any teams which does worry me. Thomas played most of his career at outside linebacker, which means he'd have to make a fairly big adjustment to play in the middle. He did bounce around to the inside from time to time with the Ravens and he'd still be a threat at rushing the passer. With his size and age however -- 270-pounds & 32-years old -- I don't believe he would fit in with the Cardinals defense.
2009 stats: none
I'd like to think Crowell could be the guy to step in and patch the hole at inside linebacker. He has the size and experience to make the move and will only be 29-years old when the season starts. He averaged 110 tackles during his last three seasons. Here's the problem -- he hasn't played a season since 2007. Crowell has seen the injured reserve each of the last two seasons before playing any downs. That could be a problem, but if he's healthy and can remain healthy, he'd be a solid acquisition.
Other Free Agent Linebackers
D.D. Lewis: Would probably be the best option besides the aforementioned three. He has starting experience and can play the inside well. He started for the Seahawks when they went to the Super Bowl.
Tracy White: He's a career special team's player that has bounced around from team to team. Would be okay for depth but not to start.
Junior Seau: He's almost 40-years old. Does he really have anything left? He can't play in passing situations either.
As you can see, the crop of free agent linebackers is incredibly thin. The Cardinals were banking on Bulluck to sign for a reason. Now they must re-evaluate the talent that remains or continue with what they already have. My guess is that we'll see a veteran step in or the team will wait until roster cuts are made next month. Something needs to happen soon either way.