NFL Free Agency: Manny Lawson Among Buffalo Bills' Linebacker Targets
The Buffalo Bills made it clear that they needed to revamp their front seven in order to improve on their dismal 4-12 2010 record. After selecting Alabama's defensive linemen, Marcell Dareus, with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, they added Louisiana State's Kelvin Sheppard in the third round.
General Manager, Buddy Nix, signed Shawne Merriman with the hopes he would return to his prior Pro Bowl form.
However, aside from Merriman and Paul Posluszny, the Buffalo Bills linebacking corps is stocked with unproven talent. If the Bills want to improve their porous run defense, there are a few players set to become free agents, pending the agreement of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, that the Bills should definitely take a look at signing.
Marcus Benard: Cleveland Browns
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Marcus Benard is entering his third year in the National Football League, and has shown promise as a pass rusher for the Cleveland Browns, despite playing behind veteran linebacker, Matt Roth.
At 6'2" 256 pounds, Benard brings quickness off the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. Appearing in 21 games in his first two seasons, he racked up 42 tackles and 11.5 sacks.
Benard is still raw in his ability, but has a high ceiling for improvement, and would definitely be an upgrade over some of the linebackers currently on the Bills' squad.
Ernie Sims: Philadelphia Eagles
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Ernie Sims would be an interesting option to pick up, as his 6'0" 230 pound frame isn't exactly the prototypical mold for a 3-4 linebacker at any of the linebacker positions.
However, his high motor has made him one of the most productive linebackers in recent years. Sims makes up for his lack of bulk with his great instincts and tackling ability. He is great dropping back into coverage as well, something the Buffalo Bills really need from their linebackers.
The six-year veteran out of Florida State has racked up 476 tackles in his career, recording 125, 134, and 113 in his first three years with the Detroit Lions.
Manny Lawson: San Francisco 49ers
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Bills fans saw just how much Chris Kelsay struggled in his transition from a defensive end to an outside linebacker early in the season. He played his best football when his hand was in the ground, and rushing the passer.
Under-appreciated by many 49er fans, ProFootballFocus.com has him ranked as one of the best pass rushers in the league. Despite his lack of sacks, he brings pressure to the quarterback.
Adding a linebacker of Manny Lawson's caliber would allow the Bills to do a lot more on defense, as he is stout in coverage, and can rush the quarterback as well.
This year, he made 59 tackles, forced two fumbles, made 2.5 sacks, and had an interception.
At 6'5" 240 pounds, he is the prototypical size you look for in a linebacker. He is well versed in the 3-4, as he was taught by one of the best ever, in Mike Singletary.
Jameel McClain: Baltimore Ravens
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Jameel McClain hasn't gotten much recognition throughout the league, due to playing alongside future Hall of Fame linebacker, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs, but he is set to become a free agent this offseason, pending the agreement to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
McClain is a beast, and is versatile enough to play all four linebacker positions in the 3-4 front. Last year he quietly racked up 71 tackles, and has at 25 years old, he has a ton of room for growth.
If the Baltimore Ravens let him walk, this is a player the Bills should definitely take a serious look at. He has been taught by some of the best defenders in the National Football League, and would bring that attitude to Buffalo.
Kevin Burnett: San Diego Chargers
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Despite being 28 years old, Kevin Burnett of the San Diego Chargers still brings the heat on defense. At 6'3", 240, he has the size you look for in an inside backer.
Burnett made 95 tackles, six sacks, forced two fumbles, batted away five passes and intercepted two passes in 2010.
He could be signed for a reasonable price, and would definitely be a huge upgrade over Akin Ayodele or Andra Davis while rookie Kelvin Sheppard develops.
H.B. Blades: Washington Redskins
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Many of you may be more familiar with H.B.'s relative, Bennie, former all star Miami Hurricane and Detroit Lions safety, but I think Blades would work out well with the Bills.
He has been a backup his entire four year career, but at 26, he's still young enough to develop. Blades is durable, as he has played in all 48 games, and more importantly, is great against the run.
However, he isn't fast, and struggles with lateral movement. He is a physical player, and would add depth on run downs and special teams.