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NFL free agency is just around the corner, with March 11 marking the start of the league-wide negotiating period for any veterans with expiring contracts. Premium positions like quarterback and edge rusher figure to drive most of the conversation -- and reel in the most money. But there are also a slew of starting-caliber linebackers set to be available.

Here's a look at some of the best, as well as potential team fits and contract compensation:

(Note: Some players might agree to deal between now and the start of free agency).

Honorable mentions

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  • Blake Cashman (Texans) was a complete player for a solid defense as a 2023 injury replacement, so it's clear he's got the tools to be a regular. But he's yet to play a full season due to injuries of his own, missing a combined 35 games from 2019-2021.
  • Drue Tranquill (Chiefs) has thrived as a situational off-ball rusher for two different teams, logging a combined 9.5 sacks from 2022-2023, and his fearless approach is infectious. He's only been a full-timer for one full season, however.
  • Tyrel Dodson (Bills) flashed as both a run and pass defender in 2023 after injuries forced him into a prominent late-year role, but he's started more than three games just once in four years, making him one of the biggest projections here.

10. Jordan Hicks

Age: 32 | Season: 10th | Current Team: Vikings

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Hicks is certainly more of a short-term bet coming off a serious leg injury in his 30s. But he's always been more savvy than splashy, proving reliable in all three of his NFL stops. A tone-setter for Brian Flores' Minnesota Vikings group, he's got the instincts and physical touch to remain an early-down regular.

Projected AAV: $3.5 million | Best team fits: Broncos, Browns, Steelers, Vikings

9. Devin White

Age: 26 | Season: 6th | Current Team: Buccaneers


White is an athletic freak, as evidenced by his entry as a top-five pick back in 2019. That hasn't translated to steady results, with coaches and fans alike reportedly dinging him for spotty positioning and a tendency to freestyle. But the sideline-to-sideline speed remains, and he's shown before he can be a tackle machine. The boom-or-bust reputation is why he'll likely have the most unpredictable market, even if settling for a one-year, prove-it deal.

Projected AAV: $5 million-$10 million | Best team fits: Rams, Texans

8. Willie Gay Jr.

Age: 26 | Season: 5th | Current Team: Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Foootball Team
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Gay is overshadowed by some of his all-star peers in Kansas City, but he's improved with a gradually increased role in the middle of the Chiefs' title-winning defense. While his numbers have never been gaudy and his value may be inflated because of his team, he's been fairly effective in every facet of the game.

Projected AAV: $4 million-$7 million | Best team fits: Commanders, Cowboys

7. Jordyn Brooks

Age: 26 | Season: 5th | Current Team: Seahawks

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Brooks' tape is often devoid of the kind of splashy plays typically expected of first-round picks, but he's been one of the steadiest starters for an otherwise volatile Seattle Seahawks defense. Appearing in 63 of 67 possible games over four years, he's also eclipsed 110 tackles in every year as a full-time starter.

Projected AAV: $6 million-$9 million | Best team fits: Commanders, Eagles, Seahawks, Steelers

6. Josey Jewell

Age: 29 | Season: 7th | Current Team: Broncos

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Jewell is the definition of a floor-raiser at LB, rarely garnering accolades but surviving multiple regimes as a tough and instinctive Denver Broncos mainstay. He's not the youngest, which is why Denver could be primed to pass the baton at the position, but he still registers as a plug-and-play defensive signal-caller.

Projected AAV: $5.5 million-$8.5 million | Best team fits: Eagles, Panthers

5. Azeez Al-Shaair

Age: 27 | Season: 6th | Current Team: Titans

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Al-Shaair was only a part-time standout for the San Francisco 49ers to start his career, rightfully ceding snaps to stars like Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. Finally afforded a top gig with the Tennessee Titans, his violent downhill approach proved he belongs as a full-timer, though he's perhaps best suited as a bludgeon near the line.

Projected AAV: $6 million-$8 million | Best team fits: Buccaneers, Commanders, 49ers, Texans

4. Bobby Wagner

Age: 34 | Season: 13th | Current Team: Seahawks

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks

Wagner is one of two ageless wonders atop this crop. After more than a decade of Pro Bowl service, of course, he can't still be expected to go step for step with opponents in pass coverage. But his big frame and wealth of knowledge enable him to outsmart and outmuscle at the heart of a defense. He'd probably prefer to end his career in Seattle, where it began, but he already left the Seahawks once, and any contender could justify a short-term rental.

Projected AAV: $6 million-$9 million | Best team fits: Cowboys, Seahawks, Steelers

3. Lavonte David

Age: 34 | Season: 13th | Current Team: Buccaneers


Like Wagner, David is no longer the peak-level athlete he once was, but his instincts and raw physicality remain intact, making him one of the most trustworthy defenders in the game. While he's surely approaching retirement, even teasing a farewell tour with Tampa Bay, his leadership and fundamentals would benefit any team in a sizable role. Consider that in 2023, despite missing two games, he nearly matched a career high with 17 tackles for loss.

Projected AAV: $6 million-$9 million | Best team fits: Buccaneers, Commanders, Dolphins

2. Frankie Luvu

Age: 27 | Season: 7th | Current Team: Panthers

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Luvu managed just four starts in three years with the New York Jets to start his career. Since then, he's quickly ascended to become one of the Carolina Panthers' most underrated difference-makers. In just two full seasons as a starter, he's racked up 12.5 sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 29 tackles for loss. He's a missile near the line, and his relatively light early-career workload suggests he's just now coming into his prime.

Projected AAV: $10 million-$15 million | Best team fits: Buccaneers, Cardinals, Panthers, Texans

1. Patrick Queen

Age: 25 | Season: 5th | Current Team: Ravens

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Queen didn't necessarily live up to his first-round billing to start his Baltimore Ravens career, prompting the team to pass on a fifth-year option. But as soon as Roquan Smith joined the team in 2022, Queen's own game reached new heights; he was arguably the most pocket-disruptive linebacker of Baltimore's imposing "D" in 2023. Can his play-making tenacity continue even if he's removed from a partnership with Smith? It's a fair question. But he entered the NFL with unteachable traits, and he's also proven durable, missing not a single game since his arrival. As a long-term defensive building block, you could do much worse.

Projected AAV: $18 million-$20 million | Best team fits: Commanders, Eagles, Ravens, Seahawks