Position Series: Inside linebackers

February, 21, 2011
2/21/11
12:34
AM ET
Players: Bradie James (signed through 2011), Keith Brooking (signed through 2011), Sean Lee (signed through 2013), Kenwin Cummings (signed through 2011), Mike Balogun (signed through 2011), Kelvin Smith (signed reserve/future contract), Leon Williams (free agent)

Top free agents: Kevin Burnett, San Diego Chargers; Stephen Cooper, San Diego Chargers; Kirk Morrison, Jacksonville Jaguars; Paul Posluszny, Buffalo Bills; Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

[+] EnlargeBradie James
AP Photo/James D SmithBradie James has been the Cowboys' leading tackler for six consecutive seasons.
Top draft prospects: Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina; Casey Matthews, Oregon; Greg Jones, Michigan State; Orie Lemon, Oklahoma State; Akeem Dent, Georgia

2010 review: James had another solid season, leading the Cowboys in tackles for the sixth consecutive campaign despite playing most of the year with a sprained PCL. He’ll always be vulnerable in pass defense, but that ranked far down the list of the Dallas defense’s problems. Brooking, who was slowed by a foot injury for the last five games, wasn’t as productive as the previous season. Part of the problem was that Brooking played almost every defensive snap for the first half of the season, which is a lot of wear and tear for a linebacker who turned 35 in October. Lee, the prized second-round pick, had his development slowed by a variety of injuries during training camp and early in the season. When he finally got significant playing time, he displayed his playmaking ability, highlighted by his nine-tackle, two-interception, one-touchdown performance in the win over the Colts.

Offseason preview: The Cowboys have a difficult decision to make with Brooking. Do they keep the team captain one more season or cut him to clear the way for Lee to start? New defensive coordinator Rob Ryan mentioned that he expects Lee to make a huge jump next season but indicated that Brooking is very much in his plans. “He looks really good to me,” Ryan said of Brooking. “He’s been running around. He loves to play the game and looks like he’ll play with his hair on fire. He’s the type of guy I really like and respect. I think he’ll be great for us this year.” The Cowboys don’t need to address this position in free agency, but it’d be wise to invest a draft pick in an inside linebacker who could be paired with Lee after James and Brooking are gone.

Need meter (1-5): 2

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