A quick look at free agent inside linebackers

We're now just about a month away from the beginning of free agency in the NFL. So I think it's time to start talking about some of the free agents who could be available once free agency begins in March.

But do keep in mind that we're going off the assumption that there will be no new collective bargaining agreement reached, meaning 2010 will be without a salary cap. Therefore, we'll be using those "uncapped season restrictions" we've talked about when discussing the potential free agents.

It's also important to remember that more often than not we spend all this time talking about free agents only for the Dolphins to not make any plays for the top free agents out there. So let's try to keep this somewhat realistic.

With that said, we'll kick off our look at potentially available free agents with those who could play the inside linebacker position in Miami's 3-4 defense - a position that the Dolphins could clearly use an upgrade.

Karlos Dansby, Cardinals - Dansby is the cream of the crop at inside linebacker and is only 28 years old (he'll be 29 in November). According to reports, there have been no talks about a contract extension. And the Arizona Republic thinks that Dansby will make it to free agency this year after being slapped with the franchise tag the past two seasons. Dansby has the size and speed to be a star in Mike Nolan's aggressive 3-4 defense. But would the Dolphins consider giving Karlos upwards of $30 million in guaranteed money? Personally, I hope so.

DeMeco Ryans, Texans - Ryans is a pure stud at middle linebacker in Houston. But he's only 25 years old and is a restricted free agent. That means even if the two sides can't reach a long-term deal, it would be very costly for the Dolphins to try to steal Ryans away. He's also never played in a 3-4 - so that could be a little bit of a risk. Most likely, of course, he'll end up back in Houston - they'd be crazy to let him go.

Barrett Ruud, Bucs - Ruud is also a restricted free agent and reports indicate that Tampa is making it a priority to lock him up. Ruud is a solid tackler and makes up for a lack of size (240 pounds) with toughness and great instincts. He's the kind of player I'd love to see inside in Miami's 3-4. But thanks to their being no new CBA, it's just not going to happen.

Kirk Morrison, Raiders - Another RFA, Morrison almost seems like another Channing Crowder. He will make the routine plays - perhaps more than Channing does - but rarely ever makes a big, game-changing play. The Raiders, who suck against the run to begin with, won't let their top linebacker leave.

D'Qwell Jackson, Browns - Jackson is one of the best well-kept secrets in the league. Of course, playing in Cleveland will do that to you. But Jackson, who will be just 27 in September, led the league in tackles in 2008 and was on pace to do it again before tearing his pectoral muscle in October. Again, though, thanks to the lack of a new CBA, Jackson will only be a RFA. But could a team like Miami steal him away from Cleveland if the Browns try to low-ball Jackson due to injury? That's probably just wishful thinking on my part. But what a steal it would be. This kid's a player - period.

Larry Foote, Lions - Foote will be 30 by next season. But he has extensive 3-4 experience from his years in Pittsburgh and was having a very quiet, but very solid season in Detroit before suffering - of all things - a foot injury. Larry is also a Detroit native and it's been rumored that he'd like to spend the rest of his career in Motown. But do the Lions feel the same way? If not, he'd be a cheaper alternative but an upgrade of Akin Ayodele.

Derrick Johnson, Chiefs - Here's a guy who could just be a steal if KC is stupid and lets him walk - or puts a low tender offer on him. Johnson, 27, will be a RFA. But he had his ups and downs last year with KC's new staff as they transitioned into a 3-4 defense. Johnson was reportedly unhappy about his demotion. But when he finally got back into the starting lineup, Johnson played very well. Now that he has a year under his belt in this kind of defensive scheme, he could just be on the verge of breaking out. I love his speed and athleticism and I think he'd be a great fit in Miami if only he could get away from KC.

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