Free agency preview: ILB

Packers may seek free agent, move Barnett outside

Nick Barnett, Green Bay's first-round draft pick in 2003, has performed well at middle linebacker in each of the past three seasons. Still, many feel he is out of place in the middle, and can be more of a playmaker at one of the outside linebacker positions.

The Packers likely will select a linebacker in the NFL Draft in April, but they may also pursue a free agent to improve the competition, especially at middle linebacker. lists some veteran inside linebackers scheduled to become unrestricted and restricted free agents on March 3:

• Minnesota Vikings ILB Sam Cowart paced the Vikings in tackles with 101. He'll be 31 before the start of free agency and might not fit into the new defensive scheme.

• San Francisco 49ers ILB Derek Smith is the player the 49ers want to hold onto. He led the team in tackles for the fifth straight season. He ended up being the team's best player.

• San Diego Chargers ILB Matt Wilhelm is a restricted free agent. He hasn't proven enough for another team to make a push for his services.

• Detroit Lions ILB Earl Holmes was having an outstanding season until he was sidelined with a knee injury in November, and the Lions' run defense suffered. He'll turn 33 before the start of next season and there is a question how much he has left in the tank.

• Indianapolis Colts ILB Gary Brackett stepped into a starter's role and ended the regular season with three interceptions and a team-leading 131 tackles. As a restricted free agent the Colts will have a good chance at retaining his services.

• Cincinnati Bengals ILB Nate Webster, an unrestricted free agent, will likely not be back. He missed the entire season because of a knee injury.

• San Francisco 49ers ILB Saleem Rasheed missed time in 2005 because of knee surgery. He's been a backup the majority of his career.

• Houston Texans ILB DaShon Polk became a steady player on a shaky defense. He finished with 92 tackles and 3.5 sacks. In the middle of needing to revamp the roster, Polk is a player the Texans will try to keep.

• Indianapolis Colts ILB Rocky Calmus spent the season on injured reserve after needing surgery to repair a torn hamstring. The Colts took the time to rehabilitate him through the season is a sign he's a player they're interesting in re-signing.

• Indianapolis Colts ILB Rob Morris, a former starter, accepted his role as a backup fairly well and proved to be a valuable resource when needed. He was also one of the team's best special teams performers.

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