Last week, I focused on how the draft inside linebackers struggled at the NFL Combine. Since, A.J. Hawk was finally released, which leaves the Packers extremely thin at the position with Sam Barrington being the only one who you could see starting. That assumes of course Clay Matthews moves back to the edge.
After releasing Hawk and Brad Jones, the Packers have over $30 million in salary cap space available. Their primary focus is on retaining Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. Cobb, 24, is really a must sign and I would still be extremely surprised if he is let go, despite some of the recent panicking going on. The Packers have the cap space, Cobb is really irreplaceable in the slot and he is just entering his prime. Ted Thompson doesn’t let those players get away.
If Thompson dips his toe into the unrestricted free agency pool the only positions I can see it at are tight end and inside linebacker. However, tight ends like Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas and Charles Clay seem like they will be too expensive if the Packers retain Cobb.
Even though it’s likely Thompson will draft an inside linebacker high in the draft that may not be enough. Barrington looked like a savior compared to the players that he replaced, but it’s still questionable about whether he is a long-term answer. He played well for a guy in his first year starting, but will have to make a jump.
The Packers have nothing behind Barrington, unless Carl Bradford or Joe Thomas improve. If an injury strikes to Barrington or the rookie they may be right back where they were last year in a desperate situation and having to move Matthews back inside. This is where a veteran addition could be a big deal. Unfortunately, the free agent inside linebacker pool isn’t very eye opening.
1. Brandon Spikes
Spikes is one of the best NFL inside linebackers against the run. He graded as Pro Football Focus’ best inside linebacker against the run in 2012 and 2013. Lsst year, his 44 PFF run stops tied for second among all indie linebackers, and he only missed two tackles in 75 run attempt tackles. He is a true thumper and would bring some much need toughness to the Green Bay defense. He can be a liability in pass coverage and often has to be taken off the field on passing downs.
2. Rolando McClain
McClain comes with a lot of baggage and questions, but those questions should also be able to keep his market down. McClain was a huge bust for the Oakland Raiders as a top draft pick and had a second chance fizzle out in Baltimore. However, after the desperate Dallas Cowboys traded for him over the summer he came through big time. McClain had a big part in keeping Dallas’ defense respectable despite a lack of talent, as he finished with the eighth highest PFF inside linebacker grade (+16.2).
3. David Harris
Harris has a lot of Hawk in him, as he is an extremely durable player whose name recognition is better than his play on the field. Also, similar to Hawk is that he starting to lose athleticism. He should only be considered for depth purposes.——————