With free agency set to begin March 5, ESPNBoston.com will look at the "free-agent fit" at each position, while projecting possibilities for the Patriots. Today, it’s linebackers:
RATING THE NEED: High
CURRENT PERSONNEL: Adalius Thomas, Pierre Woods, Shawn Crable, Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo, Gary Guyton, Tyrone McKenzie, Eric Alexander, Bruce Davis, Thomas Williams
KEY CONSIDERATION: The team’s best pass rusher, Tully Banta-Cain, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency and the sides have been working to finalize an extension. Even with Banta-Cain's potential return, the outside linebacker spot is arguably the Patriots top need when factoring in Adalius Thomas’s shaky future with the club.
NOTABLE TARGETS ON MARKET: Tully Banta-Cain (Patriots, unrestricted), Gary Brackett (Colts, unrestricted), Derrick Burgess (Patriots, unrestricted), Karlos Dansby (Cardinals, unrestricted), Elvis Dumervil (Broncos, restricted), Larry Foote (Lions, unrestricted), Scott Fujita (Saints, unrestricted), Aaron Kampman (Packers, unrestricted), Shawne Merriman (Chargers, restricted), Kirk Morrison (Raiders, restricted), DeMeco Ryans (Texans, restricted), Jason Taylor (Dolphins, unrestricted), Mike Vrabel (Chiefs, unrestricted)
MOST LIKELY TARGETS FOR PATS: Tully Banta-Cain, Jason Taylor, Pierre Woods
SLEEPER POSSIBILITY FOR PATS: Keith Bulluck (Titans, unrestricted), Kirk Morrison (Raiders, restricted)
OUTLANDISH THOUGHT FOR PATS: DeMeco Ryans
WRAP IT UP: Banta-Cain led the Patriots with 10 sacks, but he’s still probably best cast as a situational rusher who can pinch hit in a starting role when injuries strike. That could put the team in the market for two outside linebackers, or perhaps the Patriots alter the scheme to account for this hole on the roster as there aren't plentiful options on the open market. Bulluck and Morrison would be inside linebackers in the 3-4 and both have been productive. Bulluck (knee) would have to check out health wise.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?: Which of these linebackers would you most like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.
Coming tomorrow: Quarterbacks/special teams