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Free-agent fit: Linebackers

Sixth in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 13.

Position: Linebackers

Players under contract for 2012: Markell Carter (OLB possibility), Christian Cox, Jermaine Cunningham (OLB possibility), Dane Fletcher, Aaron Lavarias, Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, Mike Rivera, Brandon Spikes, Jeff Tarpinian

Level of need: Moderate (strong on the inside; more questions on the outside)

Projected top targets: Matt Roth (Jaguars), Mario Williams (Texans), Wesley Woodyard (Broncos)

Why Roth fits: Has background in the system from his time with the Dolphins and Browns and could add another option on the outside. A versatile player who was a free-agent last year as well.

Why Williams fits: He'd fit in any scheme. The biggest difference-maker in all of free agency. Also likely to be the most expensive free-agent available.

Why Woodyard fits: Speedy 'backer entering his fifth season flies on special teams. He played under current Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien in 2008, and then current Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in 2009 and 2010.

Other names of note: Brendon Ayanbadejo (Ravens), Gary Brackett (Colts), Bobby Carpenter (Lions), Jo-Lonn Dunbar (Saints), Heath Farwell (Seahawks), Jonathan Goff (Giants), Quentin Groves (Raiders), Gary Guyton (Patriots), James Farrior (Steelers), London Fletcher (Redskins), Jarret Johnson (Ravens), Niko Koutouvides (Patriots), Manny Lawson (Bengals), Curtis Lofton (Falcons), Stephen Tulloch (Lions), Tracy White (Patriots).

Market conditions: Whether you look at Mario Williams as an end or linebacker, his presence defines this market. It's not often to see someone of that caliber, at this stage of his career, be available.

Questions to answer at position: Can Brandon Spikes maintain his momentum from the end of 2011 and emerge as a star? ... If the team reverts back to more of a 3-4 as its "base" scheme, who plays outside linebacker? ... How is Jeff Tarpinian's health? ... Are special teamers Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White returning? ... How did Gary Guyton fall off the team's radar in 2011 and where does he land in '12?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.