2012 Offseason Movement: Linebackers
By Aaron Rudnicki
July 18th, 2012

The offseason movement feature makes yet another appearance. It's one of the few staples of football that you know isn't going anywhere since there will always be players changing teams. Some will end up in better situations, some in worse ones. It's up to us to tell you which ones look good or bad from a preliminary look below. And it's up to you to continue to return to our website over the summer to see how some of these guys look to be panning out with their new teams. If nothing else, this will provide you with a refresher course or keep you informed on something you may have missed in April.

We wish we had a crystal ball to tell you exactly what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and how much turnover there will be statistically. But the truth is, it's very early in the offseason. The key directive we can give you right now is to stay informed. Players change teams almost daily during the summer months, and a seemingly insignificant move in late August can have a huge impact on both the real NFL and your fantasy league.

We all want to know how Player X will fit in with Team Y. We all want to know how a superstar will react to the first major move of his career, or which journeyman on their last legs will resurrect their stat lines with a move elsewhere. And we can help you with that over time. For now, though, educate yourself on what you see below. Get a good base for how the moves should impact each team, and we'll continue to let you know how they are impacting each team. In the meantime, you can be assured that you won't be that guy at the bar saying something like, "I like Sidney Rice but just don't trust Tarvaris Jackson." while your friends give you blank stares and wonder where you were all offseason.

Linebackers by Aaron Rudnicki

  1. ILB Curtis Lofton - New Orleans (from Atlanta)
    • What happened: With a suspension looming for Jonathan Vilma due to his role in the bounty scandal, the Saints signed his likely replacement to a contract that could be worth as much as $33.5 million over five years with $9 million guaranteed.

    • What it means: Despite having a reputation as being a two-down linebacker who struggles in coverage, Lofton has played more than 95% of the snaps for the Falcons in recent years. The Falcons and new coordinator Mike Nolan apparently felt Lofton did not make enough big plays to warrant the salary he was looking for and let him hit the open market. The Saints have been happy with the play and leadership of Vilma, but Lofton is bigger, younger, and a better overall player at this point. While he could move outside when Vilma returns from suspension, it seems more likely that Vilma would move outside or even possibly even be released. Lofton is a durable player yet to miss a game in his four-year career who will likely upgrade the run defense and continue to produce like one of the league's best linebackers.

  2. ILB DeMeco Ryans - Philadelphia (traded from Houston)
    • What happened: The Texans felt that Ryans was not a great fit for their 3-4 defense and shipped him to the Eagles for a fourth-round pick and swap of choices in the third round.

    • What it means: Ryans suffered a torn Achilles in 2010 and saw a huge drop-off in his production last year, which may have been partly attributed to their move to a 3-4 front. He is a proven performer, however, who has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league while playing in the middle of a 4-3 front. While the defensive system in Philadelphia tends to focus on quarterback pressure and leave the linebackers somewhat unprotected, Ryans should provide a badly needed upgrade inside. He looked good towards the end of 2011 and if healthy, should be a three-down linebacker and solid LB2 option for fantasy owners.

  3. OLB David Hawthorne - New Orleans (from Seattle)
    • What happened: The Saints added another significant upgrade to their linebacking group when they signed the versatile Hawthorne to a $19 million contract over five years with $8.5 million guaranteed.

    • What it means: Hawthorne was a great find as an undrafted free agent in Seattle who put up some huge numbers at times. With newcomer Curtis Lofton taking over inside, Hawthorne is expected to line up on the weakside and add some much-needed speed to Steve Spagnuolo's new defense. He has the ability to chase down plays and rack up tackles in bunches, but also makes smart plays in coverage too. Because of those all-around skills, he has a good chance to be an every-down player this year. Unfortunately, the presence of a player like Lofton will probably limit his tackle opportunities somewhat, but he should remain an every week starter in most leagues.

  4. ILB Barrett Ruud - Seattle (from Tennessee)
    • What happened: Coming off an injury-shortened and disappointing season with the Titans, Ruud signed a one-year deal in Seattle for just $890,000.

    • What it means: Ruud is still just two years removed from putting up top-five numbers at his position in back to back years with Tampa Bay. His level of play and production has slipped in recent years, however, and he hit a low point last year while dealing with groin, knee, and shoulder injuries. When he initially signed in Seattle, he looked like a lock to replace David Hawthorne at middle linebacker, but then the team went out and drafted the speedy Bobby Wagner in the second round. So if Ruud can fully recover from his injuries as expected, he'll still have to compete for playing time. His experience and familiarity with the scheme should give him an edge initially, but he's also on a one-year contract so Wagner will be groomed to take over at some point soon.

  5. ILB Bradie James - Houston (from Dallas)
    • What happened: The Texans found a low-cost replacement for DeMeco Ryans and a defensive leader when they signed James to a one-year, $890,000 contract.

    • What it means: James was released by the Cowboys after they apparently decided that his play had deteriorated to the point that they could no longer use him. He had a lot of success in Dallas under Wade Phillips, however, so he is very familiar with the 3-4 scheme used in Houston already and should make a quick transition. As such, he should be a perfect fit to take over for Ryans inside and play alongside Brian Cushing. While he may only wind up as a two-down linebacker in Houston, that should provide him with enough snaps to make him a solid starting option in most weeks.

Other notable linebackers that changed teams:

  • ILB Dan Connor - Dallas (from Carolina)

  • OLB Geno Hayes - Chicago (from Tampa Bay)

  • OLB Jarrett Johnson - San Diego (from Baltimore)

  • OLB Keith Rivers - NY Giants (from Cincinnati)

  • ILB Lofa Tatupu - Atlanta (from Seattle)

  • OLB Kamerion Wimbley - Tennessee (from Oakland)

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