- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Eighth installment in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 11.
Position: Inside/middle linebacker (off the line)
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Why Fletcher fits: He has spent the first four years of his career with the Patriots, making the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker/special teamer. He led the Patriots in special teams tackles last season with 15.
Why Humber fits: Similar to Fletcher, he was a solid special teams performer for the Saints in 2013, recovering two onside kicks and totaling six solo tackles in the kicking game.
Why Watson fits: One of the Buccaneers’ best special teams players, he’d project as a core member of the kicking game while providing depth on defense.
Franchise tag: None.
Market conditions: The most likely avenue to find a potential three-down linebacker is through the draft. There are a few starting-caliber options in free agency who wouldn’t project to help on special teams, which will limit their value to some.
Questions to answer at the position: Is Jamie Collins ready for a prominent three-down role? How is Jerod Mayo’s recovery from a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last October? Who replaces the hard-hitting edge brought by Brandon Spikes? Will Dont’a Hightower take another step forward in his development?
Eighth installment in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 11.Position: Inside/middle linebacker (off the line)Players under contract for 2014: Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Chris White, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White, Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor ReedLevel of need: Moderate-to-lowProjected top targets: Dane Fletcher (Patriots), Ramon Humber (Saints), Dekoda Watson (Buccaneers).