If the Buffalo Bills are willing to see Matt Milano depart in free agency, they could consider replacing him with another veteran linebacker. It’s still very early in the process, but there are signs that this could be a “buyer’s market” for linebackers. Well over a dozen starter-quality players are set to test free agency, and they cover a number of roles from all-around talents to pass-rushing outside linebackers to tackling machines or big-bodied inside linebackers.
Milano’s specialty is the “X Factor”—a playmaking Swiss Army Knife who can freelance a little bit because Tremaine Edmunds brings his rangy coverage and tackling radius in the middle of the field. So who are some linebackers that could have a similar impact for the Bills? Let’s take a look.
Probably the best player on the market (for now), including Milano—David just turned 31 years old, but played in 137 of a possible 144 games over his nine-year career, all with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Criminally underrated in his career, David averaged 125 tackles, 14.2 tackles-for-loss (TFL), 2.7 sacks, 2.7 forced fumbles, and 1.3 interceptions per year. 2020 was the final season of a five-year, $50 million contract David signed in 2015.
A new deal would probably average roughly $10 million per season, but at a shorter length, given his age. Spotrac says he could make up to $13 million per season, though.
Reddick was a college teammate of Dion Dawkins at Temple, which helps explain why there was pre-draft chatter that the Bills could have interest in him back in 2017. For most of his career, the hybrid linebacker/pass rusher was a serious disappointment, and he’s a free agent now because the Arizona Cardinals declined his fifth-year option. This year, the Cardinals blitzed him nearly 50 percent more than they did in 2019, and his pass-rushing productivity skyrocketed—12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 15 TFLs.
Of course, this raises two questions: Was this year an anomaly or the start of something good, and can Reddick handle three-down linebacker responsibilities or should he be used mainly as a pass rusher?
There’s another fifth-round linebacker from 2017 with an eerily similar career to Milano—and he played the last four years with the Tennessee Titans. As a rookie, Brown wasn’t officially a starter, but still had 1.5 sacks and 52 tackles. His second year was his best year, with 97 tackles, six sacks, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He set a career high with 105 tackles in 14 games during the 2019 season, and an elbow injury ended Brown’s 2020 after ten games played.
With Tennessee, Brown primarily played inside linebacker in their 3-4 system, but he has the size and athletic ability to handle Milano’s spot for Buffalo. Like Milano, he’s going to command a hefty pay day.
An undrafted linebacker out of Cincinnati, Wilson has been a worthwhile backup for the Minnesota Vikings since 2017. He was pressed into service this year because of injuries, and flourished—122 tackles, eight TFLs, three sacks, and three interceptions, with eight passes defended.
Wilson also had a major role on special teams for the Vikings, before he was asked to play 96 percent of snaps on their defense in 2020. That’s another plus for the Bills.
Here’s another upside play: Morrow, the number-three linebacker for the Las Vegas Raiders, has never finished a season with more than 70 percent of snaps on defense—starting 19 of 30 games in the last two seasons. The Bills like their two starting linebackers to play 100 percent of the time.
Still, the 6’0” 225-lb Morrow is on a positive career trajectory—a career-high 78 tackles and eight TFLs this year. He also had three sacks and seven pressures on only 25 blitz snaps this year—excellent productivity and in line with his career average.
One of the lower-cost options on this list, Campbell signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Cardinals last season. The 27-year-old linebacker isn’t amazing in coverage, but he hits hard and has solid pass-rushing prowess. He could hold down the fort for a year if the Bills need a starter with plenty of tackling range.
There are several players I didn’t list yet—Kevin Pierre-Louis, Nick Vigil, Elandon Roberts, Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Matt Judon, Bud Dupree... Again, there’s still time for new contracts and franchise tags to reshape the environment, but there’s a lot to work with. Does anyone else excite you?
Who would you want the Bills to play at linebacker next year?
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