There are an abundance of productive linebackers in the NFL, but unfortunately for needy teams, not many of them will be available as free agents this offseason. While teams may be better off adding talent through the draft, there will be a few options available in free agency.
Here is a close look at the top players scheduled to be free agents:
Brian Urlacher: While his play declined this season, Urlacher is without a doubt the biggest name available. Urlacher just finished his 13th season with the Bears and even though he isn't the player he once was, he can likely still help a team. There is a question whether Urlacher will even play a 14th season, however, as some have speculated he might opt to retire.
Anthony Spencer: While Urlacher may be the biggest name, Spencer is likely the best available linebacker. Playing on the outside of Dallas' 3-4 scheme, Spencer finished the season with 95 tackles and 11.0 sacks. Spencer also finished with seven tackles for loss and three pass deflections. He will be especially attractive for teams looking for a 3-4 pass rusher.
Philip Wheeler: Wheeler signed a one-year deal with the Raiders last offseason and didn't disappoint in 2012. He finished the season with 109 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. He also defended six passes, proving he can defend the run and the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, Wheeler played 1,043 snaps this season, proving to be a true three-down linebacker.
Brad Jones: After playing a limited role during his first three seasons in Green Bay, Jones excelled in a bigger role this season. He finished the year with 77 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and four pass deflections. At 26-years-old and with the ability to play inside in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme, Jones should generate plenty of interest.
Daryl Smith: Smith played in just two games in 2012 after battling a groin injury all season, but returned for the final two games of the season and could be an asset for any team if he is healthy. Smith racked up 311 tackles from 2009-2011 while also posting 8.5 sacks and playing well in coverage. He's 30 years old, but should still generate interest on the open market.
Dannell Ellerbe: Ellerbe came into his own with Ray Lewis sidelined for much of the season. He finished the season with 92 tackles, but perhaps more importantly, Ellerbe proved to be very adept in pass coverage. The Ravens would rue having to let him go, but they may have no choice if Joe Flacco gets his big contract. Expect Ellerbe to garner a big price tage on the market.
Erin Henderson: Henderson is an excellent run stuffer. He recorded 79 tackles last season in 14 games played. Unfortunately, he is a big liability in coverage. As a result, there is some discord with the Vikings over how much the young linebacker is actually worth. More than likely, Henderson will be playing in another uniform next season. He fits the mold of a 4-3 weakside linebacker.
Leroy Hill: Hill picked the wrong time to have a run-in with the law. His arrest last month for domestic violence may have destroyed his chances of re-signing with the Seahawks. As a result, he will likely come with a cheap price tag. Whoever lands Hill will get a veteran linebacker coming off disappointing year. He averaged a career low 3.6 tackles per game last season.
Complete list of 2013 free agent linebackers
All players are unrestricted free agents except where noted.
Brandon Williams - Exclusive rights
Josh Bynes - Exclusive rights
Albert McClellan - Exclusive rights
Jason Phillips - Restricted
Vincent Rey - Restricted
Christian Yount - Restricted
Orie Lemon - Exclusive rights
Rob Francois - Restricted
Frank Zombo - Restricted
A.J. Edds - Exclusive rights
Kyle Bosworth - Restricted
Austin Spitler - Restricted
Adrian Tracy - Exclusive rights
Josh Mauga - Restricted
Stevenson Sylvester - Restricted
Justin Cole - Restricted
Jacob Cutrera - Restricted