5 free agent linebacker options for Miami Dolphins

Nov 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) celebrates after recovering a fumble in the third quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Colts won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 22, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman (50) celebrates after recovering a fumble in the third quarter of their game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. The Colts won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

The Miami Dolphins are looking at linebackers this off-season, reportedly as many as two new starters. Free agency is a solid place to start but I would imagine Miami would add one via free agency and one via the draft.

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Miami has not received the kind of production they have expected for several years now at the position. Those believing that Kelvin Sheppard’s play the last few weeks of the season is more than enough to warrant at least a small extension should go back and look at his play the first 13 weeks and then ask yourself if his play didn’t elevate with free agency looming ahead for him. Yes, that’s a bit crass but it hammers home the point that Miami needs linebacker help.

As the draft approaches and we know more about the direction that the Dolphins go in free agency, we will explore the draft possibilities but today we are going to look at free agent options. With free agency and the league new year starting in 16 days and the legal tampering period starting two days prior…and the “illegal” tampering period starting this week at the NFL Combine, now is the time to look at who might be upgrades for the Dolphins.

For all of you who have been patient with my click-through pieces, I’ll give this series no slides. You’re welcome!

Danny Trevathan ILB

Trevathan, a soon to be former member of the Denver Broncos has the right tools to become a staple inside on the linebacking corp. The only major issue is that he is going to cost some team a lot of money.

If Miami wants to spend big on a player Trevathan has the name Miami might want to explore. Over his four seasons in the NFL, Travathan has two seasons with over 100 combined tackles. His two seasons he fell below that mark were his rookie season and in 2014 when he was injured and played only three games.

Travathan knows how to win and he has been with one of the AFC’s top clubs his entire career. Coming off a Super Bowl victory doesn’t hurt either. The Dolphins need a linebacker that can fill the gaps in front where Ndamukong Suh typically sets against double teams. Unlike Sheppard, Travathan should be able to manage those situations.

Jerrell Freeman – ILB

After a horrendous 2014 season, especially against the run, Freeman turned 2015 into a career year, especially against the run. Freeman played 1,201 snaps last season for the Colts as their starting inside linebacker. ProFootballFocus gave him a grade of 90 on the season.

Freeman is 29 years old however and that means that he will be pushing past 30 sometime next season and teams typically don’t commit long term to player pushing that kind of envelope. On the other hand, teams also don’t break their banks. If the Dolphins need a starter for a few seasons Freeman is someone they should consider.

Rolando McClain -ILB

The Dolphins play host to more than a few teams with solid tight-ends and what they lack are linebackers who can cover. McClain can cover. The scary part about McClain is that he has had one solid season after being a draft bust and sitting out following personal issues.

McClain isn’t a huge risk but he is still a risk as you don’t know if his life has truly been turned around or if he was simply more focused in Dallas last season.

Tahir Whitehead – OLB

An outside linebacker that only saw starting work in the 2nd half of last season, Whitehead made the most of his opportunity. He was very good in pass coverage and even better against the run. Whitehead is not going to make a ton of money in his first year as a free agent. He is 25 years old and will likely be among the low 2nd and high 3rd tier free agents.

The biggest issue with Whitehead is there is not enough history with him to prove he can be better than Koa Misi who is currently on the Dolphins roster. Whitehead could be a big competition addition but he is still going to make more than he has previously and that is not the kind of contract you hand out to competition. But if the Dolphins want to find better run support on the outside, Whitehead could be an option.

Von Miller – OLB

To be honest, if I’m the Dolphins I’m avoiding Miller because frankly, they can’t afford him. Trevathan is going to be cheaper. Miller dominated the Super Bowl and that isn’t just a player stepping up for a big game, Miller has dominated all season.

Of all the soon to be free agents, Miller is ranked almost unanimously as the number one rated player this off-season. Which in typical off-seasons under Stephen Ross would mean he is a Dolphins target.

Miller is damn good and his game is probably the most well rounded of any inside linebacker but is he worth the contract he is going to receive? He might just be. For Miller his next stop will be even more challenging as he will not likely have the same player support he had in Denver and chances are the coaching staff won’t be as good either.

In Miami, Miller would be the unquestionable leader of the defense and he would be able to call the shots up front while Reshad Jones directed the secondary behind him. Unfortunately, the Dolphins salary cap situation is not conducive to this kind of high spending. I left him on this list because you can’t rule anything out with Stephen Ross.

What I think

The Dolphins do need linebacker help and while any of the these five would be upgrades, for the most part, Miami needs to examine what’s available in this years draft as well. I would not add two linebackers in free agency like Jeff Ireland did with Ellerbe and Freeman in the 2014 off-season.

Of the names above, I like Travathan but question his leadership ability at this point in his career. Miami needs a leader. The other concern I have is that Travathan had the ability to be a little more carefree his in his play with Brandon Marshall inside with him. Denver runs a 3-4 and Miami runs a 4-3 and I’m not 100% sure that Travathan can man the middle solely by himself.