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Three Potential Free Agents That Could Help The Linebacker Corps In 2019

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It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen with this position.

Arizona Cardinals v Washington Redskins
Preston Smith could help the pass rush.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As we continue our free agency preview for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, we will take a look at the linebacker position.

Tampa Bay has some tough choices ahead of them in this department. The biggest question concerning this group is what to do with Kwon Alexander, the Bucs’ starting middle linebacker and defensive leader.

But it doesn’t stop with him. The Bucs carried nine linebackers on their roster at one point in 2018. They only have five of those players returning in 2019. Lavonte David, Kendall Beckwith, Devante Bond, Jack Cichy, and Riley Bullough are the only players under contract to return in 2019.

So it’s pretty obvious that the Bucs will have to fill these spots either through free agency or the draft.

Just like the last few previews, we will use overall stats and Pro Football Focus grades to give context into what type of season/career each player has had. That will help determine how much each player may command in free agency.

And this is just another reminder, but I have not watched any film on these players yet. This is strictly from a monetary/contractual/potential fit vantage point.

Since we also don’t know exactly what type of defense Todd Bowles will employ, it’s important to take a look at players that can play in multiple fronts. Bruce Arians did say that the coaching staff does plan to work around the players they have, so that’s important to keep in mind as well.

That being said, here are the top four graded linebackers for performance context. I was able to find the top inside and EDGE/outside linebacker in a 3-4 system and the top MIKE and SAM/WILL linebacker in a 4-3 system.

I’ll start with the top linebacker and EDGE in a 3-4:

PFF Grade: 89.2 Overall/84.1 Run Defense/84.4 Coverage/68.7 Pass Rush/927 Total Snaps

PFF Grade: 90.7 Overall/86.0 Run Defense/87.4 Coverage/73.9 Pass Rush/819 Total Snaps

And here is the top MIKE and SAM/WILL in a 4-3:

PFF Grade: 91.8 Overall/91.6 Run Defense/90.5 Coverage/86.7 Pass Rush/999 Total Snaps

PFF Grade: 85.7 Overall/82.4 Run Defense/79.9 Coverage/70.7 Pass Rush/630 Total Snaps

So, now that we have all of this information, let’s take a look at some potential fits for the Bucs in 2019.

1) Kwon Alexander, Middle Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

PFF Grade: 59.1 Overall/53.3 Run Defense/57.1 Coverage/78.8 Pass Rush/366 Total Snaps

Just like the Adam Humphries decision, this will be a tough one for the Bucs.

Alexander has played well during his time in Tampa Bay, but he has also had his share of moments where he hasn’t looked so great. He tore his ACL midway through the season in 2018 and it’s possible he could be ready to go by the start of 2019.

He posted a video of himself rehabbing his knee on January 15th.

And another one of him squatting on January 29th.

It looks like everything is in place for a 2019 return.

But Alexander may have more of an impact off the field rather than on it. He is known as a true teammate, a vocal leader, and a player that brings out the dog in his teammates.

As with most in-house free agents, Tampa Bay has to figure out three things:

  • Where does he fit?
  • Do you franchise him?
  • Do you sign him long-term?

The only semi-certain answer to any of those questions is how much Alexander will cost if the Bucs do in fact decide to franchise him. His price tag will run close to $10.5 million if he is in fact franchised.

Alexander’s career was budding before his knee injury in 2018. He led the league in solo tackles with 108 in 2016 and followed that up with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2017.

One would think he is going to want to get paid pretty well. There’s always a chance that he’ll give the Bucs a hometown discount, but don’t expect that to happen.

He is also project to make $10.2 million off a long-term deal in 2019, so it may be in the Bucs’ best interest to go that route, but the ACL could be the determining factor in what happens.

2) C.J. Mosley, Inside Linebacker, Baltimore Ravens

PFF Grade: 73.6 Overall/80.1 Run Defense/57.3 Pass Rush/66.5 Coverage/943 Total Snaps

I know, I know. I’ve been preaching this whole offseason about how cap-strapped the Bucs are, but I’m sorry. I love this kid and I would love it even more if Tampa Bay could find a way to coax him away from Baltimore.

That’s the biggest issue for the Bucs. The Ravens should have plenty of cap space, so it’s likely that Tampa Bay is going to have to pay him well above his projected $9.7 million salary. The Ravens have also recently stated that they intend on keeping him around for the long haul.

A boy can dream, though, right?

But it’s not like it wouldn’t be worth it. Mosley has the fourth most combined tackles amongst all linebackers since he entered the league in 2014. He is fifth in solo tackles, 16th in tackles for loss, 21st in quarterback hits, and 34th in sacks.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens
CJ Mosley would be a major addition to the Bucs.
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

When you condense those stats down to just the inside linebacker position, he has the third most combined tackles, third most solo tackles, sixth most tackles for loss, seventh most quarterback hits, and 12th most sacks since 2014.

Mosley is a fast, instinctive, hard-hitting player that can do just about everything. If the Bucs can move some money around, then he would likely be worth every penny.

When it comes to free agency, you’re most likely going to overpay based off the market, but in Mosely’s case - it’ll be a bargain if you can get him for less than $11 million/year.

3) Preston Smith, EDGE, Washington Redskins

PFF Grade: 76.9 Overall/68.4 Pass Rush/73.2 Run Defense/76.2 Coverage/834 Total Snaps

Smith’s situation is tough to figure out, but there is a definite chance he could end up on the Bucs, especially if Bruce Arians/Todd Bowles find a way to utilize him.

He basically bet on himself in 2018, foregoing a contract extension with the Redskins with probable hopes of hitting it big in free agency. That has seemed to pay off - Smith is projected to earn over $11 million per year this offseason.

But that seems a bit high for a player that made just $1.8 million in 2018 and is coming off a career-low year in sacks. The low sack total is even more distressing when you consider the fact that the Redskins brought in defensive talent to help increase Smith’s impact.

Washington’s salary cap situation isn’t all that great, either. The nearly $21 million in cap room isn’t that much when you think about the fact that Brandon Scherff - and others - are due a new contract after this season.

On the flip side, it’s still possible that Reuben Foster will be suspended by the NFL. If that’s the case, then the Redskins will need Smith more than ever to help shoulder the load.

Smith’s strength is rushing the passer, evidenced by his 20.5 sacks in his first three years. He’s been noted as a hard worker and selfless player, as well. That’s something the Bucs need in a bad way.

Even though the Bucs improved the pass rush in 2018, it still needs a lot of help and Smith could be the guy to help out in a big way.


This is all tricky to project, especially since we don’t really know what to expect from the defensive scheme. Regardless, it looks like the Bucs may have to shell out some money if they want decent production at the linebacker spot in 2019.

Poll

What should the Bucs do with Kwon Alexander

This poll is closed

  • 53%
    Re-sign him to a long-term deal
    (142 votes)
  • 17%
    Franchise him
    (45 votes)
  • 28%
    Let him walk
    (76 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now