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Washington Commanders free agency options: Linebackers

Remedial action for the second level of the defense

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NFL: NOV 20 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Veteran free agency is right around the corner. The “legal tampering period” begins on Monday, 13 March, and free agency officially opens for business at 4pm EST on Wednesday, 15 March — the start of the 2023 league year.

Washington Commanders free agency options will be a short series — likely four articles, each of which will profile 4 or 5 veteran free agents at positions of perceived need for the Commanders.

To make this a little bit different, and hopefully a little bit of fun, KyleSmithforGM and Bill-in-Bangkok have agreed on the positions and the players. Each of us will write our own player profiles, meaning that you’ll get TWO profiles on each player. With any luck, that will lead to a more well-rounded view of the profiled players.

Obviously, we’re not trying to provide a comprehensive list of every free agent available; rather, this is an effort to ‘prime the pump’ a little bit, and encourage discussion ahead of the upcoming free agency period.

We encourage you to not only comment on the players we’ve chosen to highlight, but to add your own thoughts or links to profiles of players you find intriguing. To keep things tidy, we encourage you to focus your thoughts on the position group of the day.

We’ve already looked at all the offensive line positions. Today, we will look at the linebacker position before moving on to a different position group in each article of the series.

Washington’s head coach and defensive coordinator were both NFL linebackers back in the day, yet, during the 2022 offseason, as fans screamed for the team to strengthen the linebacking unit, Ron Rivera, Jack Del Rio and the Martii stood by and did nothing, apparently content to rely on 3-safety looks and good luck to get them through the season.

Predictably, issues arose when Cole Holcomb hurt his foot in Week 7 and never returned to the lineup. Jamin Davis, the 2nd year player who was Washington’s first round selection in the ‘21 draft, stepped up, but the lack of depth tested the defense throughout the latter half of the season, as the team relied on guys like David Mayo and Milo Eifler.

Both Mayo and Eifler have been extended, though Cole Holcomb is set to become a free agent on March 15th unless the team signs him to an extension in the meantime. Ron Rivera did indicate this week that Holcomb is a priority for the staff.

At the moment, the linebacker unit for the Commanders looks even thinner than it did last year at this time, and it feels as if the team will prioritize cornerback and the offensive line early in the draft, meaning that Washington probably has to target at least one quality veteran free agent at the position in March.

CLICK HERE to see the Commanders current 63-man depth chart

Tremaine Edmunds, 24, Bills

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Height: 6’5”

Weight: 253 pounds

NFL entry: 1st round, 2018, #16 overall

2022 cap hit: $12.7m (5th year option)

BiB’s take

Swing for the fences? It depends on who you listen to.

Tremaine Edmunds is the top-rated free agent linebacker according to CBS Sports. NFL Trade Rumors rank him 66th overall, and they list 4 other linebackers ahead of him.

Buffalo seems to want him back. They exercised his 5th year option ($12.7m) a year ago, but, per Over the Cap, the Bills are currently more than $16m over the cap with about a week to get compliant. It’s not realistic for them to use the franchise tag, and they probably aren’t in a position to pay him a market rate for a long term contract. Here’s what one newspaper said about the situation:

If the Bills weren’t in the red on the salary cap, with nine players set to count for a combined $155.1 million before any potential (and likely) contract alterations take place, this probably wouldn’t be too tough of a call. Edmunds will be only 25 years old this spring yet he’s already an accomplished five-year NFL veteran who has made at least 100 tackles every season.

And, just what is the market rate for Edmunds? Well, Spotrac says $11m, but that’s stupidly low for a guy who got paid nearly $13m last year on the option year of his rookie deal.

Edmunds could be worth the same as 28-year-old Foyesade Oluokun of the Jaguars ($15 million per year with $28 million guaranteed), or 29-year-old Shaq Thompson of the Panthers ($13.5 annually, $27.9 million guaranteed), or 29-year-old Deion Jones of the Browns ($14.2 million annually, $34 million guaranteed).

I also disagree with estimates that put Edmunds well below Roquan Smith, in the $13m-$15m range.

While PFF grades are hardly the be-all and end-all, they can offer at least some level of apples-to-apples comparison. For the 2022 season, Edmunds got an overall defensive grade of 81.9 from PFF. I have, rather awkwardly, added the PFF grades for the 6 highest-paid linebackers according to Over the Cap. All are older than the 24-year-old Edmunds; none received a grade higher than 85.7 from PFF.

This is an indication, nothing more, that Edmunds has earned a contract in the $15m-$20m APY range, and, as usual, I believe that with the sharply rising salary cap, the number will likely be at the top end of that range. I would expect Edmunds to sign a 5-year deal in the range of $100m to match the Roquan Smith deal. The good news is that, with a contract of that value and length, the team that signs him can structure it to fit into a limited 2023 available cap space number; Smith’s cap hits, for example, are just $9m in 2023 and $13.5m in 2024 — amounts that the Commanders should be able to afford.

Edmunds is much more of a coverage linebacker than a run-stopper, but that’s not to say he can’t play the run; rather, he’s a skilled cover linebacker, and at 6’5”, 253 pounds, he brings a lot to the 2nd level of the defense. Per Pro Football Reference, opposing quarterbacks had a 69.9 rating against him in 2022, when he recorded 7 passes defensed, with an interception, on 60 targets. He surrendered a relatively miserly 4.9 yards per target and no touchdowns. Along the way, he collected 102 tackles and was charged with only one missed tackle (a 1% miss rate).

Compare that to Washington’s 2nd year LB, Jamin Davis:

  • Opposing passer rating: 86.6
  • Passes defended/INTs: 1 / 0
  • Yards per target / TDs allowed: 6.1 / 1
  • Tackles / missed tackles: 104 / 3

In many ways, Tremaine Edmunds is what Ron Rivera was hoping to get when he drafted Jamin Davis. Davis is a relative bargain on his rookie contract at a cap number of $3.76m, but he’s also a year older than Edmunds, but not performing at as high a level.

The dilemma for the Commanders might be that Edmunds and Davis are too much alike, but a combined cap hit of around $13m for the two of them might make sense. Given the scheme that Jack del Rio was utilizing for much of 2022, often relying on one or two linebackers and 3 safeties, going with the clones, Edmunds and Davis, could be a reasonable strategy. It might even be one that could involve trading one of them ahead of the 2024 season if the right opportunity came along, leaving the roster stronger than it is now.

KS4GM’s take

As one of the top LBs in the game, Edmunds is going to command a serious salary obligation as he hits free agency this year. Having already invested five first round picks in its defense, Washington would be adding a 6th, with a cap hit to match, bolstering a group that is already far and away the strength of the team.

Even if Washington could afford him, it’s important to remember that the Bills have looked at their linebacking group - which includes star Matt Milano - and decided that, of the two, Milano is the one worth keeping around.

Last offseason, there were some rumblings as to where Edmunds might best fit in Buffalo’s defense:

Multiple scouts say Edmunds, as a middle linebacker, might be miscast and would be more effective coming from the weak side. He didn’t have a great season in coverage; he allowed 476 yards as the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranked sixth-highest among linebackers who were targeted at least 25 times.

Nevertheless, as Bill points out above, Edmunds played well last season, remaining in his MIKE role.

There’s no question that, if added, Edmunds would be an upgrading addition to Washington’s defense. I simply think he’s a luxury the team can’t afford at this point, given its existing and pending investments in that group.

Lavonte David, 33, Buccaneers

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 233 pounds

NFL entry: 2nd round, 2012, #58 overall

2022 cap hit: $14.7m + $6.85m (void years) = $21.6m

KS4GM’s take

Lavonte David and Devin White have formed one of the best linebacking tandems in the NFL for several years now. And, though David is now 33 years old, he’s remained a reliable piece of Tampa Bay’s defense, playing in all 17 games and taking 96% of their defensive snaps in 2022.

David continues to be productive, and could easily have another couple of years providing leadership and high caliber middle linebacking for another franchise.

That said, it may not matter how much other teams want David’s services, as it sounds like he’s interested in following in the footsteps of former Tampa Bay greats:

“For sure. I’d love to retire as a Buccaneer,” David said. “Getting to play in the same building my whole career like guys like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, that’d be amazing. Just to walk the same hallways they walked their whole career.”

However, if the Buccaneers, who are currently $49M over the cap can’t find enough savings to re-acquire David, he could potentially be a high-end starting option for Washington at a sub-$10M per year price. I’d be reluctant to invest that much in the position, but David would be tempting.

BiB’s take

I very much wanted the Commanders to go hard after Bobby Wagner last year. It appears that Wagner was personally committed to playing on the West Coast, and he believed the Rams had the ideal situation for him.

Pretty much everything that was true about Wagner last season is mirrored in Lavonte David this season. They are the same age; they both entered the league in the same year; they were drafted 11 picks apart; both entered free agency after playing for only one NFL team (the ones that drafted them) for more than a decade. I would be as excited to sign David this season as I would have been to sign Wagner last season.

Let’s look at a quick statistical comparison of Wagner’s final season in Seattle (2021) and David’s last season in Tampa Bay (2022):

The two are not quite identical twins, but they do look like very similar players.

What I like about Lavonte David is what I liked about Wagner last year: he can take over as the defensive signal caller and pair very well with Jamin Davis.

David remains one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL, which is obviously an increasing important skill for off-ball linebackers to cultivate as passing numbers continue to climb. According to PFF, David was the second-highest graded off-ball linebacker in coverage in 2022 (83.5), and over the last four seasons combined he’s topped the league with a 93.0 coverage mark.

David has once been named first-team All Pro, and twice named second-team All Pro. He’s been to one Pro Bowl, and has a super bowl championship ring (Super Bowl LV). He is a winner with a long list of accomplishments, and he has the chops to walk into the Commanders locker room and immediately take over the defense.

When it comes to his free agent contract, I would again look to Bobby Wagner and pay attention to the contract the Rams gave him a year ago. Wagner signed a 5-year, $50m contract with $20m in total guarantees, but only $10m guaranteed at signing. His Year 1 cap hit was an easily-affordable $2.5m, rising to 4 years at roughly $12m per year. The Rams were able to get out of the contract after just one season at a total cost of $14m. There’s every reason to believe that David should expect to sign a similar contract in free agency this offseason.

I imagine that David would like to finish his career in Tampa Bay, but cap realities and roster considerations may make that unrealistic. David could be the ideal fit in Washington, where he could cap his career with a season or two of strong play and leadership on a team where he could make a genuine and positive difference.

If I were the Commanders, I’d be having serious discussions with Lavonte David’s agent between now and the 15th of March. He has the skills and experience, and should come at an affordable price that makes him an excellent choice for a team that is trying to get over the hump and break out of the mold of 7- and 8-win seasons.

David Long, 26, Titans

Miami Dolphins v Tennessee Titans Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 221 pounds

NFL entry: 6th round, 2019, #188 overall

2022 cap hit: $1m (rookie contract)

BiB’s take

Here’s some quick background from Steelers Depot about David Long:

A 2019 sixth-round draft pick out of West Virginia, Long is just 5’11”, playing at a listed 227 pounds. He’s had some injury (and COVID-19) issues that have affected his availability, however. He’s played just 22 games over the past two seasons, missing the last five games of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury.

[Long had] played about 90 percent of the snaps up to that point, registering 86 tackles. That includes seven tackles for loss, a career high. Although he didn’t register a sack or a forced fumble, he has [had] two interceptions in each of the past two seasons along with a combined 11 passes defensed in that time.

“I’m not sure if the Titans are gonna go out of their way to try to re-sign him, “ [said Titans beat reporter Jon Burton]. “It doesn’t feel like they are talking to him on [locker room cleanout] day several weeks ago; it didn’t seem like he was all that confident he was gonna be sticking around.”

Spotrac is projecting Long’s value at $4.9m per season. This seems to be similar to what Cole Holcomb could expect (Spotrac does not have an estimated value for Holcomb) so I thought it might be useful to compare the two late-round 2019 draft picks.

There are a few items that stand out:

  • Holcomb has out-snapped Long by about 900 defensive snaps over 4 years.
  • Holcomb has nearly 70% more tackles on about 50% more snaps.
  • Long appears to be better in pass defense, with more PDs and INTs despite the lower snap count, and a significantly better passer rating allowed.
  • Holcomb looks like more of a pass-rusher, with almost double the number of pressures, and 4.5 sacks (compare to none for Long).
  • Holcomb has been more successful at forcing fumbles.

These two players have a lot in common. Holcomb is a bit bigger, and has managed to play 16 games in a season twice in his career, while Long maxed out at 14 games (twice).

(Interestingly, one website says that PFF estimates Long’s free agent value at nearly $14m per year, which strikes me as simple insanity.)

I wouldn’t choose Long over Holcomb, but if #55 decided to leave in free agency, I’d see David Long as a reasonable veteran free agent replacement for him.

KS4GM’s take

David Long started off his career in Tennessee slowly, but over the course of the past two years, he’s become a defensive fixture for the Titans. Among some Titans’ fans, Long is estimated to be their biggest free agent this offseason:

Long entered the 2022 campaign as a penciled-in starter at inside linebacker. Long responded to an increased role and responsibilities by posting career-highs in tackles (86) and tackles for loss (7) while matching a previous personal-best in interceptions (2). Long also recorded an impressive five pass breakups.

Unfortunately for Long, he’s been repeatedly sidelined with soft tissue injuries, including missing five games last season with hamstring issues. Over the course of the past two seasons, Long has missed a total of 12 games to injury.

Even so, those like former Titans’ star LB Keith Bulluck have strong feelings about Long’s likely trajectory:

“He understands how the offense is trying to attack the defense and he puts himself in position to make a lot of plays within the run game, gets his hands on the ball within the pass game,

He’s right there on the cusp of taking that next step to become a Pro Bowl, possibly All-Pro, player if he continues to develop within this system.”

Wherever Long ends up, it needs to be with a training staff who can help him avoid recurring conditioning injuries. I’d love to see him end up on Washington as third LB, to replace a Jon Bostic or David Mayo, but it would have to be at the right price - somewhere in the $3-4M range - which is likely well below what he’s expecting to get as a free agent.

Devin Bush, 24, Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 233 pounds

NFL entry: 1st round, 2019, #10 overall

2022 cap hit: $6m (rookie contract)

KS4GM’s take

Taken in the 2019 draft alongside Cole Holcomb - though 163 picks earlier - Bush was one of several athletic freaks, including Devin White and Holcomb taken at linebacker that year.

During his rookie season, Bush finished third in the defensive Rookie of the Year voting behind Nick Bosa and Maxx Crosby, but he spent much of his sophomore season on IR, and then failed to approximate his first year tackling prowess during the rest of his rookie contract.

By the end of last year, he had essentially been benched, logging just 10 snaps during the Steelers final two games. The Steelers’ faithful - aided, I’m sure, by the sting of having overdrafted him - are ready to move on:

Devin Bush Jr. isn’t a starting linebacker anymore— he isn’t a coverage specialist or good run defender and he doesn’t play special teams. If a team is going to put Bush on their roster they need to have roles that fit his diminished skill set, and so far he has never stood out on special teams. I’m sure he’ll find a place to play in the NFL; there’s a good number of worse linebackers out there still on rosters, and some team will talk itself into thinking they can help Bush find his mojo again. But he’s no longer a good linebacker, and can’t see the Steelers trying to keep him around.

Because of his tools, Bush is a guy who still has my interest, and who I think still may have potential upside. That said, I’d only be interested in him on a one or two year “prove it” deal to see if he might be a better fit in Jack Del Rio’s system than he was in Pittsburgh.

BiB’s take

Honestly, I expected — based on his first-round draft status, I guess — to go into this with Devin Bush being my #1 candidate for the Commanders free agency. But that’s not the case. My first clue was when I realized that the Steelers hadn’t exercised his 5th year option, and when I finished the David Long profile and looked at Devin Bush’s stats, I was surprised.

Let me do what I did with Long, and put Bush side-by-side with Cole Holcomb.

Aside from games played and passes defended, there is simply no place where Devin Bush has statistically outperformed Cole Holcomb.

Spotrac sets Bush’s free agent value at $3m per season, which seems about right. He appears to be slightly below players like David Long and Cole Holcomb at this point — not what one would have expected from the tenth overall pick from the same draft that saw Holcomb and Long go in the 5th & 6th rounds.

I’d be happy to see Bush signed for $3m per year to replace someone like Milo Eifler or David Mayo on the depth chart, but he’s not a candidate to be a 2023 starter for the Commanders.

Anthony Barr, 30, Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Height: 6’4”

Weight: 248 pounds

NFL entry: 1st round, 2014, #9 overall

2022 cap hit: $1.9m

BiB’s take

In 2018 and 2020, Barr had cap hits of over $12m per season. With a 2019 renegotiation, Barr’s cap hits were around $6m in ‘19 and ‘21.

He played just 2 games in 2020, followed by 11 games in 2021, his final season with the Vikings.

The Cowboys signed him to a one-year, $2m deal last year.

Tall and athletic, Barr has always been more of a cover linebacker than a run-stuffer.

Defense & Fumbles Table
Games Def Interceptions Fumbles Tackles
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Int Yds TD Lng PD FF Fmb FR Yds TD Sk Comb Solo Ast TFL QBHits Sfty AV Awards
2014 22 MIN RLB 55 12 12 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 3 27 1 4.0 70 55 15 6 7 7
2015* 23 MIN RLB 55 14 14 1 32 0 32 7 3 0 0 0 0 3.5 68 54 14 4 8 9 PB
2016* 24 MIN RLB 55 16 16 0 0 0 0 4 1 0 1 0 0 2.0 70 37 33 3 8 10 PB
2017* 25 MIN RLB 55 16 16 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 0 0 0 1.0 75 52 23 9 4 11 PB
2018* 26 MIN RLB 55 13 13 0 0 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 3.0 55 39 16 8 4 9 PB
2019 27 MIN RLB 55 14 14 1 2 0 2 4 1 0 1 19 0 1.5 79 54 25 6 7 1 7
2020 28 MIN LB 55 2 2 0 0 0.0 6 6 0 0 0 1
2021 29 MIN LLB 55 11 11 3 11 0 8 5 0 0 2 0 0 2.5 72 38 34 3 6 6
2022 30 DAL LB 42 14 10 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1.0 58 35 23 2 4 6
Career 112 108 5 45 0 32 32 8 0 9 46 1 18.5 553 370 183 41 48 1 66
8 yrs MIN 98 98 5 45 0 32 31 8 0 7 46 1 17.5 495 335 160 39 44 1 60
1 yr DAL 14 10 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1.0 58 35 23 2 4 6
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 3/7/2023.

In 2022, with the Dallas Cowboys, Barr defended only one pass for the first time in his career; he amassed the lowest tackle total for his career, and allowed 101.4 passer rating and 8.3 yards per target to opposing quarterbacks.

Barr was 30 years old a year ago, and was clearly on the downside of his career. Another year older, Barr may be a unit leader, but he is no more than a rotational player at this point. For the minimal dollar contract it would take to sign him, Barr is a no-risk option, but I don’t see him as a high-priority signing — merely a guy who could round out the depth chart if he wants to play in Washington.

KS4GM’s take

Among some Cowboys fans, there’s speculation that Barr’s play has been overshadowed by the eclipsing talent of Micah Parsons. And that, on a lesser team, Barr would be a shining star, and that his contributions to Dallas’ success might not show up in the numbers:

Barr is a very good linebacker and I think a lot of coaches and people who understand football can see that. Although he isn’t sharing high stats and records on the Cowboy team this year, he has given the team as a whole security to passing and rushing plays. He plays more of a prevent defense and is there to only make sure nothing gets past him.

Anthony is almost like the last line of defense for the Cowboys, and when you have all-stars like Parsons and Armstrong, you aren’t going to have as much action while sitting in the zone coverage.

Even head coach Mike McCarthy was highly complimentary of Barr’s play this year:

“I don’t know if Anthony Barr could do a better job than he’s doing here,” McCarthy said of the ex-Vikings star. “Obviously have a ton of respect having played against him for so many years. Now to see him make the adjustment here ...’’

In this particular instance, “the adjustment” was speculated to be Barr’s adjustment to stepping back from the limelight and filling a role that let his fellow LBs, Parsons and Leighton Vander Esch, get much of the action.

At this point in his career, Barr isn’t flashy, but from his time in Dallas, it sounds like he’s been a high football IQ addition to their defensive unit, doing a lot to bring along their young defenders.

I’d love to have a guy like that working with Jamin Davis and any other young LBs Washington may acquire this offseason, if the price is right.


Considering everything, including cap hit, which profiled player do you think is the best choice for the Washington Commanders to pursue this offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Tremaine Edmunds, 24, Bills
    (355 votes)
  • 19%
    Lavonte David, 33, Buccaneers
    (182 votes)
  • 10%
    David Long, 26, Titans
    (96 votes)
  • 10%
    Devin Bush, 24, Steelers
    (93 votes)
  • 8%
    Anthony Barr, 30, Cowboys
    (77 votes)
  • 12%
    I don’t like none of ‘em!
    (111 votes)
914 votes total Vote Now