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Free Agents 2008: Linebackers & Defensive Linemen

Here is an abridged list of the top potential linebackers and defensive linemen entering free agency in 2008.

Linebackers:
Tedy Bruschi (Age 34) - New England; 92 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 2 passes def (16 games)
Lance Briggs (Age 27)  - Chicago; 102 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 FF, 0 INT, 3 passes def (14 games)
Danny Clark (Age 30) - Houston; 51 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 passes def (16 games)
Victor Hobson (Age 27) - New York Jets; 62 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 4 passes def (16 games)
Landon Johnson (Age 26) - Cincinnati; 109 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 4 passes def (16 games)
Clark Haggans (Age 31)  - Pittsburgh; 58 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 1 passes def (16 games)
Boss Bailey (Age 28) - Detroit; 51 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 FF 0 INT, 2 passes def (12 games)
Dhani Jones (Age 29) - Cincinatti; 89 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 2 FF, 0 INT, 3 passes def, (14 games)
Brendon Ayanbadejo (Age 31) - Chicago; 21 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 FF, 0 INT, 0 passes def (16 games, 0 starts)
Keyaron Fox (Age 25) – Kansas City; 21 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 FF, 0 INT, 1 passes def. (10 games, 0 starts)

When Wade Phillips was hired as head coach last year the Cowboys defensive scheme was changed while keeping the same core of linebackers from the year before. The grueling two gap scheme that required the inside linebackers to take on offensive lineman nearly every down was out and Phillips instituted his aggressive one gap scheme that freed up the linebackers to make plays. Bradie James and Kevin Burnett each rose to the challenge and performed exceptionally well for most of the year while Greg Ellis and Demarcus Ware had career years as the outside linebackers. Attempting build upon the success of last season the Cowboys enter 2008 with a relatively deep and talented group of linebackers and other than Zach Thomas, the team’s interest in top name free agents this offseason will be minimal. Many of the top linebackers will be too expensive for the Cowboys leading to the possibility of looking to add lesser known players later in free agency after the initial big spending is complete, as well as looking for depth in the middle to late rounds of the draft. It seems that not much has pushed Bobby Carpenter to improve and added pressure from behind might kick him into gear. Overall, the Cowboys have a steady group of linebackers already on the team with the possible addition of a veteran leader in Zach Thomas.

Defensive linemen:
Justin Smith (Age 28) DE – Cincinnati; 78 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 0 INT, 3 passes def (16 games)
Bobby McCray (Age 26) DE – Jacksonville; 18 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 0 INT, 3 passes def (9 games)
Antwan Odom (Age 26) DE – Tennessee; 21 tackles, 8.0 sacks, 0 INT, 7 passes def (16 games)
Mike Rucker (Age 32) DE – Carolina; 47 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 0 INT, 3 passes def (16 games)
Chris Canty (Age 25) DE – Dallas; 43 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 0 INT, 2 passes def (16 games) Restricted Free Agent
Corey Williams (Age 27) DT – Green Bay; 35 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 passes def (16 games)
Ethan Kelley (Age 27) NT – Cleveland; 24 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 0 INT, 0 passes def (13 games)
Brian Young (Age 30) DT – New Orleans; 18 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 0 INT, 1 passes def (9 games)
Isaac Sopoaga (Age 26) NT – San Franscisco; 20 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 0 INT, 1 passes def (16 games)
Spencer Johnson (Age 26) DT – Minnesota; 24 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 0 INT, 0 passes def (16 games, 0 starts)

The Cowboys main priority is to sign emerging star Chris Canty to a long term contract. If terms can not be reached the team will tender Canty at the first round level, a price that most teams will likely not pay. The Cowboys have developed good depth on the defensive line as Jason Hatcher has started to push underachieving Marcus Spears for playing time along with Jay Ratliff successfully transitioning to nose tackle after Jason Ferguson was lost for the season in week one. If Ferguson is able to return from his injury, his addition to the defensive line will be the equivalent of signing a talented veteran free agent. As Tank Johnson continues to improve in his transition to the 3-4, Jay Ratliff would be able to resume his role splitting time between defensive end and tackle. This leaves little room for the Cowboys to entertain the possibility of adding more players this offseason to a deep group of players, with the exception of signing players to come to training camp and compete for playing time.