1. Rolando McClain
Rolando McClain has a crazy story. Drafted 8th overall in 2010 by the Raiders, McClain came into the league with a ton of potential. McClain showed that potential early in his career, grading out above average in each of his first 3 seasons in the NFL, including 14th ranked in 2010 and 11th ranked in 2012. However, he was kicked off the Raiders in the middle of his strong 2012 season because of issues with the coaching staff and then, after briefly resurfacing in Baltimore, was out of football entirely in 2013. He’s been arrested 3 times already since he’s been in the NFL. However, the Cowboys took a shot on him in 2014 and that talent was still there after all that, as he graded out 8th among middle linebackers in 2014, serving as a savior on the Dallas defense. McClain is obviously going to be a risky guy to pay on the open market, but he’s only going into his age 26 season and he’s plenty talented so someone will give him a big deal with minimal guaranteed money. Dallas would welcome him back.
2. Brandon Spikes
Spikes is only a two down middle linebacker, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s graded out 4th, 22nd, 1st, 1st, and 9th among middle linebackers against the run in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 respectively (2010 was his rookie year after the Patriots drafted him in the 2nd round that year). However, he’s never played more than 742 snaps in a season because of his issues in coverage and he’s never ranked higher than 20th at his position in coverage. I don’t expect the Bills to bring him back because Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham had breakout years in 2014, but Spikes will get decent money somewhere because he serves a valuable role.
3. Malcolm Smith
Malcolm Smith was Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl 47, one of the more anonymous Super Bowl MVP’s in NFL history. Smith played a good game, but there were more deserving candidates, as Smith didn’t even play half the snaps in that game (34 of 71). He just happened to make a few splash plays that we remember. Smith also wasn’t even a starter that season, playing just 490 snaps. However, he was still Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker that season, despite the limited action, with no one playing more snaps and grading out better. He’s still inexperienced and he struggled in 2014, but he’s overall played well when given a chance and could be starting somewhere next season.
4. Lance Briggs
Briggs is a potential future Hall of Famer and he’s spent all 12 seasons of his career with the Bears, since they drafted him in the 3rd round in 2003, making 7 Pro-Bowls, 3 All-Pros, and starting 170 games. However, he could very easily be done with the Bears as he heads into free agency. Briggs is going into his age 35 season and has missed a combined 15 games with injuries over the past 2 seasons. He could retire this off-season. If he wants to keep playing, he’s played well enough when on the field to suggest that he still has something left in the tank, as he’s still graded out above average in each of the last 2 seasons. He’ll probably have to settle for a 1-year deal though and have to wait a little bit into free agency.
5. Sean Weatherspoon
It’s been a steep drop off for Weatherspoon since he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in his 2nd year in the league in 2011 after being drafted in the 1st round in 2010. He’s played in just 20 of 48 games combined over the past 3 seasons, grading out below average in 2012 and 2013 and missing all of 2014 with a torn Achilles. 2011 remains the only season in his career that he’s played all 16 games and the only season in his career that he graded out above average as he missed 5 games as a rookie and graded out below average when on the field. He’s missed 33 games in 5 seasons. Now going into free agency, he’ll have to settle for a one-year prove it deal.