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2011 NFL Free Agency Preview: Outside Linebackers

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Manny Lawson is one potential outside linebacker to keep an eye on in free agency.
Manny Lawson is one potential outside linebacker to keep an eye on in free agency.

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At some point, the NFL lockout is going to end. While that overwhelming sense of optimism that was very present a week ago has since vanished, there is going to be a football season. Before that season, there will be free agency. So it's time to continue on with our look at free agency by examining the market at another position of need for the Miami Dolphins.

Previously we looked at the quarterback and running back position. But now we will turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball. While it's obvious that the offense needs far more attention than the defense in free agency, general manager Jeff Ireland has repeatedly said the team will not simply overlook the needs of the defense.

One of those needs is at outside linebacker - even after Cameron Wake established himself as one of the best pass-rushers in the league and Koa Misi came off of a relatively successful rookie campaign despite having never played the position previously. The Dolphins need to improve their depth at the position - and finding a guy who could be a situational pass-rusher to complement Wake wouldn't be too bad, either.

2011 NFL Free Agency: Outside Linebackers

Manny Lawson
The connections between Lawson and the Dolphins are pretty obvious. Lawson was drafted by the 49ers while Mike Nolan was head coach and spent three years learning how to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 under Nolan. While it's not known for sure what Nolan's thoughts are on Lawson, he's certainly worth monitoring. At 6'5, 240, Lawson has the size and speed to play the position. But he hasn't exactly been an effective pass-rusher, accumulating 15 sacks through his first five years. Truthfully, Lawson is better as a run-stuffer (17.5 tackles for loss in his career, including 13.5 over the least three seasons) and is an above average coverage linebacker. He'd obviously be an upgrade over backups Ike Alama-Francis and Quentin Moses. But his price tag will be a factor.

Matt Roth
What exactly went down during Roth's final season in Miami before he was released remains a mystery. There's obviously more to the story than just injury issues. Here's what I do know. After his release in 2009, Roth went to Cleveland and was in "beast mode" for those final six games of the year - picking up four sacks to go with 29 tackles. Then in 2010, Roth accumulated 86 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. But just as with Lawson, pass-rushing is not Roth's strong suit. And the relationship between Tony Sparano/Jeff Ireland and Roth might be too far gone already.

Mathias Kiwanuka
It's rare for a player as talented and versatile as Kiwanuka to hit free agency. But he's coming off of what was thought to be a career-threatening neck injury - meaning he's going to have to sign a below-market deal right off the bat to prove himself. But if he is healthy - and all indications are that he is - Kiwanuka could be a steal for some team. He's played both defensive end and outside linebacker in the Giants' 4-3 defense and has tallied 23.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss over his first five career seasons - including 4 sacks and 2 tackles for loss in three games last year before suffering the neck injury. If the Dolphins can steal "Kiwi" and sign him to an incentive-laden one year deal worth up to $5 million, it's worth the risk. The upside here is huge.

Antwan Barnes
This is a guy many believe is the type of player that the Dolphins will look to add as depth at outside linebacker. The four year veteran has experience as a rush linebacker and did pick up 4.5 sacks in 11 games last season as a situational pass-rusher in San Diego after being waived by the Eagles in October. This FIU product is one of those low risk, limited reward kind of players this regime likes to take in and develop as back-ups. The upside is there, though. Barnes ran a blistering 4.43 40 yard dash at the Combine back in '07. Perhaps Miami's coaches would be able to coach the kid up and develop him as a pass-rush specialist.

Osi Umenyiora
Alright, so I'm cheating a little bit here. No, Osi is not a free agent. Nor do I expect the Giants to even consider cutting him. But trading him? Now that's an interesting thought. Umenyiora has been quite emphatic about his demands for a new contract. He claims Giants' GM Jerry Reese promised him a new contract. But alas, he's got two years remaining on his deal and is owed $7.05 million in salary over the remaining life of his deal. On the field, Osi has been damn good - recording 32 of his 60.5 career sacks over the last three seasons. At 6'3, 261, he's got the measurables to play outside linebacker. But would he be willing to convert? Would the Giants even trade him? Would the Dolphins be interested?

Jason Taylor
Guess who's name is resurfacing again? I know, we already did this reunion thing with Taylor back in 2009. Then the Dolphins decided to turn their back on him - again - and essentially throw him into the arms of a hated rival. But again a free agent, it's worth mentioning Taylor simply because Bill Parcells is no longer affiliated with the Dolphins. He and Taylor didn't exactly see eye to eye on things. But Tony Sparano and Taylor got along great - the two had mutual respect for one another. Is another return to Miami in the cards for Jason? I don't know. But what I do know is that if Taylor does return to football (and doesn't go to ESPN, though he clearly has the ability to be a solid analyst), he'll be an outstanding veteran situational pass-rusher for some team - likely the Jets.

(Some more guys with outside linebacker experience. There are a number of guys who could be potential candidates to convert from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.)

Joey Porter
Travis LaBoy
Mike Vrabel
Charlie Anderson

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