With only one proven starting linebacker on the roster, the Green Bay Packers have begun rebuilding the position, agreeing to contract terms with unrestricted free agent Ben Taylor, a four-year veteran who had played his entire career with the Cleveland Browns, and is coming off his best season.
A starter for the Browns in all 16 games in 2005, Taylor opted for a one-year deal from the Packers over a similar proposal from Cleveland. Financial terms of the contract were not yet available.
Given the unsettled nature of the Green Bay linebacker situation, it isn't even certain yet where Taylor will play, although he seems best suited for the strongside position. The former Virginia Tech standout played the weak inside linebacker position in Cleveland in 2005, as the Browns moved to a 3-4 alignment under first-year coach Romeo Crennel.
His belief that he fits better into a 4-3 defense, which Green Bay will play in 2006, was one reason why Taylor signed with the Packers.
A combination of events has left standout three-year veteran Nick Barnett and journeyman Robert Thomas as the only linebackers on the Green Bay roster with extensive starting experience. And Thomas finished the 2005 season on injured reserve. The Packers released former strongside starter Na'il Diggs last month for salary cap reasons and Paris Lenon signed with Detroit this week as a free agent.
Promising youngster Brady Poppinga, who many projected as a starter for 2006, is still rehabilitating from December knee surgery, and his availability for training camp is uncertain. Basically, the Packers will plug in Barnett, probably at middle linebacker, and build from there.
Taylor played all three linebacker spots in Cleveland but his skills-set indicate he is most effective at the strongside position.
A fourth-round choice in the 2002 draft, Taylor registered a career-best 139 tackle in 2005, the second most on the team. He had 95 tackles in just eight starts in 2003, but his progress was stymied by a torn pectoral muscle that limited him to three appearances in 2004. For his career, Taylor has 39 appearances and 26 starts, and has 248 tackles.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.