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The winners on the first day of NFL free agency’s negotiation period? No, not quarterbacks although they got most of the headlines with Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold and Mike White signing while Aaron Rodgers continued to ponder his future.
It was actually the quarterbacks of the defense.
The linebackers. And inside and off-ball linebackers in particular.
They cleaned up. And some gave teams solid opportunities to add value talent.
Consider these linebackers:
Bears Went All In On linebacker
Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is leaving the Bills and going to the Bears for four years and $72 million.
T.J. Edwards, another linebacker, is leaving the Eagles and going to the Bears for three years and $19.5 million.
The Bears are coached by Matt Eberflus, who, not so coincidently, was a linebacker coach for the Browns and Cowboys early in his NFL career.
Germaine Pratt, last seen hitting Patrick Mahomes out of bounds in the AFC Championship Game, agreed to stay with the Bengals for $21 million over three years.
Bobby Okereke, perhaps the anchor of the Colts defense last season in the absence of Shaquille Leonard, agreed to a $40 million contract over four years with the Giants.
Alex Anzalone agreed to stay with the Detroit Lions for $18.75 million over three years.
The Dolphins added linebackers David Long from the Titans on a two-year deal for $11 million and re-signed outside linebacker Duke Riley for two years to add depth.
Dolphins Add David Long Hoping Durability Good
And there were more linebacker moves: Raekwon McMillan decided to stay in New England and Alex Singleton did the same in Denver.
Singleton had two games in which he recorded 20 tackles.
It was a linebacker buffet and teams were doing what they could to get their fill.
So why the run on these guys on the first day of free agency negotiations?
A couple of NFL defensive coaches told OutKick the reasons vary:
*Because NFL defenses value being strong up the middle but need guys that can also range sideline to sideline.
*Because it is impossible to field a good defense without stopping the run and most of these guys can do that while also generally being athletic enough to stay on the field all three downs.
*And because modern-day NFL defenses need smart players in the middle of it all and many of these guys served as the green dots for their clubs — meaning they received the defensive play-call from the sideline and relayed them to the rest of the defense.
Okereke Adds To Giants Great Front 7
There’s the value.
The Bears in particular went all out on this front. They committed $91.5 million on their two linebacker signings. And they did that with players who promise to be around a while in the 26-year-old Edwards and 24-year-old Edmunds.
The Giants seemed to land a star-in-the-making in Okereke. He had 151 tackles, including six for loss last season, a career high.. He added two forced fumbles and 5 passes defensed.
Okereke helps the Giants front 7, already one of the best in the NFL, become perhaps the best in the NFL.
The Dolphins are remaking their defense in the image of new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and that means light tackles boxes that require sturdy inside linebacker play.
That could be Long if he can stay healthy.
Long missed five games last year mostly because of a troublesome hamstring injury. He missed seven games with injuries the previous year. Yeah, there’s a reason he was a bargain.
Now reportedly fully healed, the Dolphins seem convinced the 5-foot-11, 227-pounder will be the kind of versatile force in the middle he was the Titans when he was healthy.
The amazing thing about this run on inside linebackers is that talent remains available.
Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David, Pittsburgh’s Devin Bush, still improving after an ACL injury in 2021, and Zach Cunningham, also cut by the Titans after struggling to overcome injuries, are still available as free agents.