2012 NFL Free Agency: D'Qwell Jackson re-signs with Cleveland Browns, linebacker class looks limited

Another one bites the dust: the Cleveland Browns have re-signed linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a five-year, $42.5 million deal according to the Cleveland Plains Dealer. Jackson was unlikely to hit the open market in the first place, as the Browns would probably have used the franchise tag to retain the veteran linebacker. But this re-signing is relevant for the Bucs in two ways: it sets a market for top-level linebackers this year, and it shows us that deals will still get done before free agency proper starts on March 13.

The Bucs need new linebackers. They need at least one new starter, as last year's weak side starter Geno Hayes is a free agent and unlikely to return. They could do with replacing Quincy Black as well, or at least bringing in some competition, as the recently re-signed veteran had a terrible season.

The Bucs will have some choices in free agency, but not many. Curtis Lofton would be at the top of my list, but he's unlikely to leave Atlanta. The Panthers' Dan Connor would be next, and he's likely to hit the market - but he's suffered several injuries in his career. Stephen Tulloch would be another good option - but he's older, and a liability in pass coverage. Finally, there's David Hawthorne - a versatile and useful linebacker, but not a top-of-the-line starter.

The depth at linebacker soon falls off, and with possible franchise tags and re-signings coming, the Bucs may find that the pickings are slim in free agency.

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