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2005 Offseason Player Movement - Linebackers

  1. Edgerton Hartwell, 27, Atlanta (from Baltimore): 6 years/$26.25 million, $8 million bonus
    Despite only playing 3 seasons at Western Illinois after transferring from Wisconsin, Edgerton Hartwell set the school career record for tackles and was named the NCAA 1-AA Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was drafted to backup Ray Lewis, and then performed like a top-10 fantasy LB in 2002 after Ray Lewis got injured. He played alongside Lewis in the Ravens 3-4 defense the past two years, which hurt his numbers, but he could get back to top-10 status now that he'll be a starting MLB again in Atlanta. The Falcons have been unhappy with the play of Chris Draft on the inside, so they made a big move in free agency by signing Hartwell. A natural for the MLB position, Hartwell has great size, range, and instincts, and at just 27 years old he should just be entering the prime years of his playing career. Playing alongside Keith Brooking will probably limit his upside a bit, but Hartwell certainly has the potential to finish as one of the better fantasy linebackers in 2005.


  2. Antonio Pierce, 26, NY Giants (from Redskins): 6 years/$26 million, $6.5 million bonus
    The Giants finished 2004 as the #28 ranked defense against the run, so adding a big time run stopper at MLB was one of their biggest priorities heading into the offseason. Antonio Pierce was originally an undrafted free agent who was stuck behind Jeremiah Trotter and Michael Barrow for a few years before finally getting a chance to start last year. Pierce had a breakout season in 2004 and was instrumental in the Redskins rise from the #25 to #2 ranking in run defense. He has good size to play inside, and enough speed to make plays from sideline to sideline. Pierce is also very good in coverage and should remain on the field in passing situations, which will further help his fantasy value. He finished 2004 as the #17 fantasy LB according to FBG scoring and could do even better in New York. At just 26 years old, he should anchor the Giants defense for the next few years.


  3. Morlon Greenwood, 27, Houston (from Miami): 5 years/$22.5 million, $7 million bonus
    Morlon Greenwood started at SLB in the Dolphins 4-3 defense for most of the past 4 years and put up generally unimpressive numbers. Last year after Seau went down with an injury midseason, however, Greenwood was moved to the weakside and saw a huge increase in his production. He's expected to fill the ILB spot in the Texans 3-4 defense that was vacated by Jamie Sharper, who was surprisingly released earlier this offseason. Sharper has been one of the most productive linebackers in the league at that position, so Greenwood should be entering a very favorable situation. The size of the contract and the signing bonus shocked many people around the league, but the Texans hope that Greenwood is a player on the rise who is only starting to reach his true potential. He's a quick, athletic linebacker who will be an every down linebacker and should rack up some impressive tackle numbers as a result. While he may need some time to adjust to his new position in a new defense, we think that once he gets comfortable, he could easily wind up as one of the top LB sleepers of 2005.


  4. Jamie Sharper, 30, Seattle (from Houston): 5 years/$17.5 million, $1.5 million bonus
    Jamie Sharper has been a very productive linebacker throughout his career, but he became a fantasy stud while playing ILB in the Texans 3-4 defense. Over the past 3 years in Houston, Sharper averaged over 100 solo tackles and nearly 4 sacks per year. Unfortunately, they decided to release him this offseason in a move to save space under the salary cap. The Seahawks signed Sharper to fill a glaring need they at outside linebacker after releasing often-injured veterans Anthony Simmons and Chad Brown. For a team like Seattle who has had trouble getting under the salary cap, the Sharper signing looks like a great bargain. He's a very quick, tough all around linebacker who has also proven to be remarkably durable having never missed a game in his 8 year career. Sharper is projected to take over the starting SLB spot in Seattle, which should drop his tackle totals considerably from where they were in Houston. Given the other question marks the Seahawks currently have at linebacker though, he should put up solid numbers and another position change isn't out of the question if the other players struggle.


  5. Sam Cowart, 30, Minnesota (from NY Jets): traded
    Sam Cowart had a very promising start to his career after the Bills drafted him with their 2nd round pick in 1998. While playing ILB in the Bills 3-4 defense, he was a fantasy stud and invited to the Pro Bowl in 2000. He looked like he'd become one of the best inside linebackers in the league until he tore his Achilles tendon and wound up missing the entire 2001 season. The Jets signed him as a free agent the following offseason and moved him out to WLB, where he never felt fully comfortable. They moved him back to the inside in 2004 and he got off to a great start with 12 solo tackles and a forced fumble in his first start. Unfortunately, an early season injury allowed 1st round pick Jonathan Vilma to pass him on the depth chart. The Jets traded him to the Vikings for a 7th round draft pick, and Cowart was immediately projected to take over the starting MLB job. If he can stay healthy, this will be the first extended chance we've had to see him playing inside since his best days in Buffalo. His injuries and age have robbed him of some of the explosiveness that he had earlier in his career, but he still possesses great instincts and should provide stability to the middle of the Vikings defense.


  6. Ian Gold, 27, Denver (from Tampa Bay): 5 years/$25 million, $8 million bonus
    Gold was part of a formidable LB group in Denver back in 2002 with MLB Al Wilson and SLB John Mobley. In his last healthy season there, he collected 84 solo tackles, 5.5 sacks and finished as a top-25 LB. Unfortunately, he missed most of the 2003 season with a knee injury and then wound up signing with the Buccaneers as a free agent in 2004. With Derrick Brooks firmly entrenched at the WLB spot in Tampa, Gold had to play out of position on the strongside and his numbers clearly suffered as a result. The Broncos drafted DJ Williams in the 1st round last year to replace Gold and he came through with a great rookie season. Now, with Gold coming back to Denver, the Broncos could have one of the fastest LB groups in the league again. As a former safety who is somewhat undersized for an OLB (6'0", 223lbs), Gold will likely be given the starting WLB spot and that could make him a very valuable fantasy player again.


  7. Kendrell Bell, 27, Kansas City (from Pittsburgh): 7 years/$35 million, $3.5 million bonus
    Bell burst onto the scene in 2001 with a 69 solo tackles, 9 sack rookie season that led to him being named the defensive rookie of the year. Since then, he's had a tough time staying healthy, missing 17 games over the next 3 seasons. At his best, Bell is a very strong player who tackles well and is one of the best blitzing linebackers in the league. It remains somewhat unclear where he'll fit in with the Chiefs, as they have also added OLB Derrick Johnson with their first round pick. Many thought Bell would start at MLB since he played on the inside with the Steelers, but it looks more and more like Bell will be played on the weakside with Kavika Mitchell at MLB. This should provide Bell with more pass rushing opportunities, and he should be able to rack up good tackle numbers out there as well. The Chiefs have made a serious effort to address their defensive weaknesses this offseason, and Bell will play a key role in trying to turn things around.


  8. Chris Claiborne, 27, St. Louis (from Minnesota): 3 years/$10.5 million, $3.6 million bonus
    Claiborne entered the league as a very high draft pick with the Lions in 1999. He's got a very impressive combination of size and speed, and has lined up at all 3 linebacker positions throughout his career. He was very productive while playing inside in Detroit but then played primarily on the outside in Minnesota and his numbers suffered. The Rams are trying to toughen up their defense and will move Claiborne back inside, so he could be ready for a rebound year of sorts. Despite having already played in the league for 6 years, Claiborne just turned 27 years old and should still have plenty of good seasons left.


  9. Monty Beisel, 27, New England (from Kansas City): 2 years/$1.9 million
    Nobody will be able to replace what Tedy Bruschi brought to the Patriots, but taking his place in the starting lineup will be Monty Beisel. Like Bruschi, Beisel played DE in college and took some time to adjust to the linebacker position in the pros. Injuries forced the Chiefs to give Beisel a chance last year, and he played pretty well while starting at both OLB and MLB positions. While he won't remind anyone of Bruschi when he drops into coverage, he shows great promise as a blitzer and could put up solid numbers in the Patriots system. The Patriots are hoping that he is a player just on the verge of breaking out.


  10. Napoleon Harris, 26, Minnesota (from Oakland): traded
    Harris was a key part of the Randy Moss trade. He's a former 1st round draft pick who played DE in college, but can line up at any LB position. He's an excellent pass rusher but didn't get very many blitz opportunities in Oakland. He is expected to begin the year as the starting SLB spot for the Vikings, but he has been known to struggle in coverage so he could eventually be moved to one of the other spots. Despite starting at MLB in Oakland early in his career, he never really put up the type of tackle numbers that one would expect. He's still young and capable of showing improvement, but he may have just needed a change in scenery. He'll certainly have a stronger surrounding cast in Minnesota, which could take some of the pressure off him and allow him to just go out and make some big plays.


Others

  • Dexter Coakley, 32, St. Louis (from Dallas): 5 years/$14.15 million, $3 million bonus


  • Raynoch Thompson, 27, Green Bay (from Arizona): 1 year


  • Tommy Polley, 27, Baltimore (from St. Louis): 1 year


  • Donnie Spragan, 29, Miami (from Denver): 2 years/$2 million


  • Chris Draft, 29, Carolina (from Atlanta): 2 years/$1.4 million


  • Orlando Huff, 27, Arizona (from Seattle): 2 years/$2 million, $400,000 bonus


  • Chad Brown, 35, New England (from Seattle): 2 years/$4 million


  • Matt Stewart, 26, Free Agent (from Atlanta): 3 years


  • Orlando Ruff, 29, Free Agent (from New Orleans): terms undisclosed


  • Anthony Simmons, 29, Free Agent (from Seattle): currently unsigned


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