In the fourth of a five-part series, Phil Perry and DJ Bean take a look at potential free agents in whom New England might have interest. Today: Linebackers.
The best free agent linebacker out there is Dont’a Hightower. What happens with him will determine how the Patriots proceed as it relates to their group.
In addition to a potential hole at inside linebacker with Hightower -- the Pats do have Elandon Roberts entering his second season and Kyle Van Noy returning for the final year of his contract -- the Pats should have incentive to get younger at outside linebacker. Rob Ninkovich is 33 and will be a free agent after next season. Shea McLellin, who has experience playing outside and inside, has two more years left on his deal.
Jonathan Freeny will return after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury. Barkeviovs Mingo played last season as a special-teamer and is a free agent.
Kevin Minter, 26, Cardinals: The LSU product has finished second among Arizona linebackers in tackles in each of the last two seasons, registering 81 last season and 94 in 2015.
Zach Brown, 27, Bills: After three seasons in Tennessee, Brown made the most of a one-year deal with the Bills, registering a career-high 149 tackles and earning a Pro Bowl selection. He can cash in this offseason.
Lawrence Timmons, 30, Steelers: The most consistent performer of the inside linebacker crop (100-plus tackles in six of the last seven seasons), he’s also kind of old. Timmons will be 31 in May.
Nick Perry, 26, Packers: Perry is the best pass-rusher in his prime available given that Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul and Melvin Ingram all got franchised. Coming off a career-best 11 sacks, that means Perry is going to get paid.
Lorenzo Alexander, 33, Bills: Alexander is the J.K. Simmons of football players. He’s been around a long time, you’ve seen him do different things here and there and then BAM! Whiplash. Alexander’s Whiplash was his 2016 season, when he took a one-year deal with the Bills and posted 12.5 sacks, which were 10 more than his previous career-high of 2.5. You’d have to think his next team will be his last, and he’s trying to cash in.
Julius Peppers, 37, Packers: He isn’t vintage Julius Peppers, but super old Julius Peppers is still pretty good. Last season, Peppers posted 7.5 sacks and forced two fumbles.
DeMarcus Ware, 34, Broncos: He’s a big name, but his production dropped off in a 2016 campaign that was limited by a broken arm. The Patriots love signing stars late in their careers on the cheap, so perhaps they could give Ware a look if it doesn’t cost much.
John Simon, 26, Texans: A fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2013 who has been with the Texans since 2014, the 6-foot-1, 252-pounder was limited by injury in the second half of last season. He still posted 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 11 games.