*With free agency set to begin later this month, Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda and Jake Kring-Schreifels preview the 2017 NFL free agent class position-by-position. Today's focus is on inside linebackers. *
The Washington Redskins could be content to stick with last year's starting inside linebackers for 2017.
Both Mason Foster and Will Compton, the team's leading tacklers last season, are both set to return (Compton is a restricted free agent but will likely be re-signed this offseason while Foster is entering the final year of his contract). But it's possible that Washington would be interested in upgrading at starter and filling out the depth chart with some veteran pieces.
That's not to say they don't trust their backups. Linebacker Martrell Spaight saw time on the field in his second season (essentially his rookie year after missing nearly all of 2015) and Steven Daniels, the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2016, will also look to work his way into the fold this year after hitting the Injured Reserve list in training camp last year.
The biggest question remains with Terence Garvin, the position group's only unrestricted free agent, who signed with the Redskins last offseason on a one-year contract to provide depth and be a valuable special teams resource, like he was with the Steelers.
He certainly held up his end of the bargain on special teams, becoming a leader for a unit that lost Niles Paul midway through the season. He finished the year with 16 tackles, tying his career high, along with a half sack, but his value remains playing special teams.
If the team elects not to offer Compton a contract and lets him explore free agency, Washington liked what it saw from Spaight, especially at the end of the year as he got more comfortable and gained more experience.
Compton's PCL injury late in the season allowed Spaight to start against the Panthers in Week 15, when he collected 15 tackles.
In any case, here is a list of the inside linebackers currently scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at 4 p.m. ET March 9, via NFL.com:
- Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals
- Sio Moore, Arizona Cardinals
- Paul Worrilow, Atlanta Falcons
- SeanWeatherspoon, Atlanta Falcons
- LaRoy Reynolds, Atlanta Falcon
- Zach Brown, Buffalo Bills
- Ben Jacobs, Carolina Panthers
Check out these images of free agent linebacker, Dont'a Hightower.
A.J. Klein, Carolina Panthers * Rolando McClain, Dallas Cowboys * Justin Durant, Dallas Cowboys * Jon Bostic, Detroit Lions * Akeem Dent, Houston Texans * Donald Butler, Miami Dolphins * Audie Cole, Minnesota Vikings * Dont'a Hightower, New England Patriots * Jason Trusnik, New Orleans Saints * Sam Barrington, New Orleans Saints * Keenan Robinson, New York Giants * Kelvin Sheppard, New York Giants * Bruce Carter, New York Jets * Malcolm Smith, Oakland Raiders * Perry Riley, Oakland Raiders * Daren Bates, Oakland Raiders * Stephen Tulloch, Philadelphia Eagles * Najee Goode, Philadelphia Eagles * Lawrence Timmons, Pittsburgh Steelers * Manti Te'o, Los Angeles Chargers * Michael Wilhoite, San Francisco 49ers * Nick Bellore, San Francisco 49ers * Gerald Hodges, San Francisco 49ers * Daryl Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers * Sean Spence, Tennessee Titans * Nate Palmer, Tennessee Titans * Terence Garvin, Washington Redskins * D'Qwell Jackson, Indianapolis Colts
Dont'a Hightower is already someone linked to the Redskins in recent weeks as being a good fit. In five seasons with the New England Patriots, the 2012 first-round pick has collected 372 tackles along with 17 sacks, 12 passes defensed, two fumbles forced and a safety.
The Alabama product recorded a sack and a key forced fumble in New England's comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
Gerald Hodges is another option. The fourth-round pick from Minnesota spent the last two years in San Francisco and plays well against the run (an area the Redskins need help with) and in pass coverage.
Check out these images of free agent linebacker, Gerald Hodges.
He had a breakout year in 2016, collecting career highs in tackles (83), sacks (three) and interceptions (two) and forced fumbles (one).
Zach Brown was mostly unnoticed prior to last season, but after signing a one-year deal with the Bills (much like former Redskin Lorenzo Alexander), Brown had a career year.
Brown played in all 16 games and collected 143 tackles, four sacks and an interception along with two forced fumbles. It's uncertain how much the Bills would like to bring him back with a new head coach in Sean McDermott, but he would likely be a more reliable option long term than Alexander.
There are also gambles to be made with certain players such as Kevin Minter and Zach Orr, both of whom are still relatively young but haven't played at a high level for multiple years.