Another year, another potential extended absence for Vontaze Burfict.
One of the best linebackers in football, Burfict is once again facing a suspension that could sideline him for the start of the regular season. This time, it's a five-game slate that could have the Cincinnati Bengals scrambling for linebacker depth to account for his absence. Burfict is appealing the suspension, but it’s safe to assume it’s not going to go from five games to zero (though if it does, that will be a great surprise). Now, the odds slightly favor the Bengals standing pat and relying on in-house candidates to pick up the slack.
But, it's not out of the question that Cincinnati signs another linebacker before or after the regular season opens. Ideally, if it's a veteran the Bengals sign, they'll wait until after final roster cuts are made. If a veteran player is on the 53-man roster in Week 2, his salary for the season becomes guaranteed.
The good news is, there are several veteran and non-veteran linebackers waiting to be signed, so it's possible someone is signed this week and plays in the preseason finale.
The Bengals have $19,401,585 in cap space, so it seems they have plenty of room to sign someone before the season begins. Some of that money was assumed to be for a contract extension for Burfict and/or Tyler Eifert, but the clock is ticking to get something down and with Burcit’s suspension, he’s highly unlikely to get extended before next offseason when he becomes a free agent.
Deandre Levy was one of the better inside linebackers from 2011-14 with the Detroit Lions. He earned All-Pro honors in his last full season in 2014, where he recorded racking up 151 tackles 2.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles.
However, Levy’s career has been temporarily derailed by injuries. Hip and knee issues limited him to just six games over the last two years, and he recently had knee surgery in April.
Even so, Levy is the free agent with the most upside of any linebacker on the market, but getting healthy and back to 100 percent looks like a longshot. The Bengals can afford to take this risk, but I wouldn’t count on it happening before Week 1.
LB Perry Riley
Another quality veteran looking for a new home is Perry Riley. Known more for his Washington career from 2010-15, Riley joined the Oakland Raiders in Week 5 last season. He racked up 48 tackles and two forced fumbles in 11 games. Riley is a good coverage linebacker that the Bengals need more of with Burfict out.
Daryl Washington was a great player with the Arizona Cardinals from 2010-13, but he hasn't played a single game since 2013 because of domestic violence and substance-abuse issues. After being released by Arizona and being reinstated earlier this year, Washington is still seeking his next NFL home. He will be 31 in October and hasn’t played in four years, so he’d be a major bargain at this point but his current ability is a question mark.
The Bengals are very familiar with Ahmad Brooks, who played in Cincinnati from 2006-07 before being released. He went on to have a standout career with the San Francisco 49ers, but he was recently cut to clear $5.2 million in cap space for the rebuilding franchise. The familiarity could make him an ideal candidate for Cincinnati, but he’s also got some major character concerns that helped lead to his first ouster from the Bengals. He has made some visits around the league this week.
Here’s a look at the top linebackers still on the market:
- Perry Riley, ILB, Raiders. Age: 29.
- Ahmad Brooks, ILB, 49ers. Age: 33
- Bruce Carter, ILB, Jets. Age: 29.
- Sio Moore, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 27.
- Erin Henderson, ILB, Jets. Age: 31.
- Akeem Dent, ILB, Texans. Age: 29.
- Daryl Washington, ILB, Cardinals. Age: 30.
- DeMeco Ryans, ILB, Eagles. Age: 33.
- Josh Mauga, ILB, Chiefs. Age: 30.
- Sam Barrington, ILB, Saints. Age: 26.
- Jason Trusnik, ILB, Saints. Age: 33.
- Jamari Lattimore, ILB, Bills. Age: 28.
- Curtis Lofton, ILB, Raiders. Age: 31.
- Daryl Smith, ILB, Ravens. Age: 35.
- Brandon Spikes, ILB, Bills. Age: 29.