The inside linebacker group in free agency this year is a mix of unrestricted and restricted at the top, along with those in their 30s and those just entering their prime.
Denver’s got the most work to do in free agency overall, and especially at linebacker.
BRANDON MARSHALL, DENVER
Despite being in the NFL since 2012, Brandon Marshall is only a restricted free agent, meaning the Denver Broncos hold the trump card with him. He’s been a full-time starter the last two years, and a workhorse at that. He’s a very solid run defender and good in coverage as well, and he’s only 26 years old.
DANNY TREVATHAN, DENVER
The Broncos have a lot of high-end free agents scheduled to hit the free-agent market, and Danny Trevathan is one of them, joining the likes of Marshall, Brock Osweiler, Von Miller (franchised) and Malik Jackson. Trevathan has been a starter for the Broncos the last three seasons, although injury limited him to only three games in 2014. He ranked just ahead of Marshall in Pro Football Focus’ grades, but Marshall stayed on the field for markedly more passing downs. But if there’s a starting free agent the Broncos might have to do without, Trevathan could be at the top of that list.
DERRICK JOHNSON, KANSAS CITY
Derrick Johnson has spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, becoming one of the greats in franchise history. He has nearly 1,000 career tackles and has more than 100 in each of the last five seasons in which he played 15 or more games (he missed 15 games in 2014 with injury). He’s still playing at a high level and had more than 1,000 snaps in 2015, but because he’s 33 years old it’s unlikely any team is going to offer him a long-term, megabuck contract.
PAUL WORRILOW, ATLANTA
Paul Worrilow has been a full-time starter for the Atlanta Falcons in each of his three seasons, but he had a down year in 2015, which will hurt his free-agent stock. He’s still averaging about 120 tackles per season, but he is primarily a run defender (and wasn’t as good there in 2015) and he’s a restricted free agent that received a qualifying tender from the Falcons – both factors that will drop his value in free agency.
JERRELL FREEMAN, INDIANAPOLIS
After falling below the 100-tackle mark in 2014, Jerrell Freeman brought his average back up with a 112-tackle season last year. He is a solid all-around inside linebacker, but teams will have to gauge if 2014 was a sign of things to come or if 2015 proves he still has several good years in front of him. He will turn 30 in May, but a contract in the neighborhood of three years seems reasonable for a quality starter on the inside.
The releases of DeMeco Ryans and Daryl Smith add to the depth of the position in free agency, but Ryans is 31 and is no longer producing 100-tackle seasons as he did often before the 2014 season while Smith is 33 but has had 100-tackle seasons each of the last three.