Free agency in the East: Inside linebackers

June, 24, 2011
6/24/11
4:01
PM ET
One more for the week in our continuing series of position-by-position looks at the proposed four-year unrestricted free agency and its potential impact on the NFC East. We turn our attention now to the inside linebacker position, where the Cowboys seem set, but the division's other three teams all could be looking for help depending on other developments.

NFC East teams in need

Giants: They've overlooked the linebacker spot in general for the past couple of years, and as a result there are a few ways they could go. They could stick with Jonathan Goff in the middle and beef up on the outside, or they could sign a good middle linebacker and move Goff outside, where he'd probably be an upgrade over Clint Sintim. There are a lot of potential middle linebacker targets for the Giants, if this is the time they finally decide to get serious about it.

Redskins: Washington could be fine even with Rocky McIntosh leaving, because there's a chance Lorenzo Alexander has to move inside anyway to make room for top draft pick Ryan Kerrigan. But after they address needs on the defensive line, there's a chance they could look to add depth here.

Eagles: Hard to imagine this is a major priority for them, since even if Stewart Bradley leaves they can probably just leave Jamar Chaney in the middle. But if Bradley leaves and they decide Chaney's better on the outside, there will be some interesting options for them on the middle linebacker market.

Top five potential unrestricted free-agent inside linebackers

1. Stephen Tulloch. Likely out in Tennessee because they fear he'll cost too much to keep, the 26-year-old Tulloch is the cream of this particular crop. He's a bit small, but he has great range and has shown the ability to handle the middle linebacker's responsibilities for the Titans. Lots of people expect former Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, now the Lions' head coach, to be Tulloch's most aggressive pursuer as he continues to build a monster defense in Detroit.

2. Barrett Ruud. The question is how much responsibility he bore for the Buccaneers' miserable run defense in 2010. It's possible he was dragged down by those around him and he'll rebound with a big 2011. But his chances at a big free-agent deal certainly took a hit with his step-back 2010 campaign.

3. Paul Posluszny. The Bills will work to keep him, and there's some thought that he's better off as an inside guy in a 3-4 scheme than as the middle man in a 4-3. But we've heard the Giants connected to him a lot, so it's possible he's a name on their list of targets for their middle spot.

4. Kevin Burnett. Had a career season in San Diego, and the Chargers will try everything they can to re-sign him. It's more likely that his teammate, Stephen Cooper, will be free, and while slightly older than Burnett, Cooper could still be a helpful piece for a 3-4 team looking for help on the inside.

5. Bradley. If he still wants to play in the middle, and if he can convince teams he's fully recovered from his knee surgery, Bradley could leave Philadelphia in free agency. Will be interesting to see if the Eagles commit to keeping him in the middle and if that helps convince him to stay.

Predictions that mean nothing: Giants sign Ruud after Tulloch's price goes too high for their liking. Redskins stand pat or move further down this list (Dhani Jones?) as they focus on greater needs in the secondary and along the line. Eagles keep Bradley and play Chaney on the outside to start the season.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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NFC EAST SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 10/26
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