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2014 Miami Dolphins needs, free agents, draft, and more - Linebackers

A look at the Miami Dolphins roster heading into the NFL's 2014 Free Agency period. We break down the team's needs, the top players available, and what could happen. This morning, we continue with the linebackers this morning.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Today marks the first day of the three day "unofficial" free agent contact period, when teams can speak with agents, but are not able to actually sign the players until the league year changes at 4pm ET on Tuesday. As we get ready for the madness that is free agency, we take a look at the status of the Miami Dolphins' roster, as well as the needs and potential solutions for each area of the roster. After starting the series with the secondary yesterday, we continue this morning with the linebackers.

Current Roster:

Number Player Position HT WT Age Exp School
59 Ellerbe, Dannell LB 6'1" 240 28 5 Georgia
53 Jenkins, Jelani LB 6'0" 243 21 1 Florida
55 Misi, Koa LB 6'3" 257 27 4 Utah
93 Trusnik, Jason LB 6'4" 252 29 7 Ohio Northern
52 Wheeler, Philip LB 6'2" 240 29 6 Georgia Tech

Potential Free Agents:

Number Player Position HT WT Age Exp School
45 Spitler, Austin LB 6'2" 250 27 4 Ohio State
56 Freeny, Jonathan LB 6'2" 250 24 2 Rutgers

Roster Status:

Linebacker may be one of the hardest positions to predict this offseason for Miami. After spending a huge amount to completely re-work the position last offseason, releasing starters Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett and replacing them with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, the upgrade was not as successful as had been hoped. That's not to say Ellerbe and Wheeler are free agent busts, as they could still have a very successful 2014, having worked in the system, and next to each other, for a year now, but it also does not mean they will both be back in 2014 for the Dolphins.

Miami met with free agent linebacker D'Qwell Jackson earlier this week (prior to his joining the Indianapolis Colts yesterday), which clearly signals they are in the market for a starting caliber linebacker. Nothing has to get done, but they are at least considering the idea of eating Ellerbe's $11.6 million or Wheeler's $10.6 million in dead money. Third linebacker Koa Misi could be the odd man out, but the coaching staff seems to really like him, especially against the run, and it would be a surprise if he were released.

Behind the starting three, Miami has veteran backup Jason Trusnik and 2013 rookie Jelani Jenkins. Trusnik has proven his ability to rotate into the starting lineup when needed, and Jenkins showed promise in limited playing time last year.

Two players are set to be free agents for Miami this year, Austin Spitler and Jonathan Freeny. Spitler was released at the end of the preseason last year, then re-signed when the Dolphins had injuries to the linebacker corps and needed help on special teams. Freeny, like Jenkins, saw the field in limited action, but did show some ability at the position. Freeny is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning the Dolphins have until Tuesday at 4pm ET to make a qualifying offer to him if they want to prevent him from becoming a free agent.

Top 5 Free Agents:

Rank Player 2013 Team
1 Brian Orakpo Washington Redskins (Franchised)
2 Brandon Spikes New England Patriots
3 Perry Riley Washington Redskins
4 Jon Beason New York Giants
5 Karlos Dansby Arizona Cardinals

Top 5 Draft Prospects:

Rank Player College
1 Khalil Mack Buffalo
2 C.J. Mosley Alabama
3 Anthony Barr UCLA
4 Ryan Shazier Ohio State
5 Kyle Van Noy BYU

Nogle's Offseason Projection:

I do not see a lot of change coming for the Dolphins' linebackers this year. Drafting a linebacker later in the selection process could happen, but most likely the seven players already on the roster (counting the two free agents) will be back next year.

If the team can upgrade the linebacker position, they may strongly consider it. Releasing Wheeler or Ellerbe plus signing a new starting linebacker, however, is pretty cost prohibitive this year.

One thing to watch as training camp and the preseason begins will be the role of Dion Jordan, and whether he moves back to linebacker or if he stays a defensive end.

Projected Depth Chart: