Denver Broncos Free Agency Wish List: Inside Linebacker


The inside linebacker position for the Denver Broncos will be taking on an entirely different look in 2015, and it could be in the form of a free agent acquisition. John Elway is always aggressive when the clock strikes midnight on the new year (or, 2 PM Mountain) and nobody expects anything different in 2015.

The reason why the Broncos’ inside linebacker position is so interesting right now is because of the current personnel holdovers from last year. In a 3-4 defense, guys like Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall aren’t going to be playing exactly the same spot as they were these past couple of years in Jack Del Rio’s defense. Those guys will now be considered ‘inside’ linebackers in a 3-4 look that will feature two standing pass rushers (we assume) most of the time so players like Trevathan and Marshall could see a different role entirely.

There should be plenty of rotation at the linebacker spots for the Broncos this season, especially on the inside, where the Broncos need a thumper or two to come in and be a two-down player with guys like Marshall and Trevathan — even Todd Davis — taking over on passing downs.

Here are some players on the open market that I’d like to see the Broncos speak with this offseason and try to lure in as one of the starters in their new look defense.

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My Former NFL Draft Man Crush — Rolando McClain, Cowboys

In 2010, I was positive the Broncos would find a way to draft Rolando McClain. Inside linebacker has long been a need of this team (since Al Wilson, really) and McClain was an absolute stud out of Alabama who looked like he could come in and fill the void that had been there for so long.

Long story short, McClain was drafted by Raiders and struggled mightily both on and off the field. Heck, the guy has retired from football twice. Whatever sparked him to come back this season was an act of higher power, because McClain completely turned his life and football career around after being traded off of the retired list by the Ravens to the Dallas Cowboys in one of the best, most shrewd moves Jerry Jones has made in a long time.

McClain graded out as the 8th best inside linebacker in the NFL this past season, and didn’t have to play a ton of snaps. He was key to the defensive resurgence of the Cowboys.

I think he could be a major piece for the Broncos in free agency as a young player who has finally started realizing his upside nearly five years after he was a top 10 pick. I think because of his past, McClain is going to have to sign a very team-friendly deal with whoever he goes to this offseason, and John Elway would be wise to pounce on that since the Broncos can afford the risk with the depth they already have at linebacker at least on paper.

McClain was not only solid against the run this past year, he was good in coverage and rushing the quarterback.

The Guy That EVERYONE Is Going to Mention — Brandon Spikes, Bills

Spikes is a free agent, and if he wants to return to Buffalo, it could be an unfortunate situation because simultaneously, David Harris (Jets) is a free agent and I would venture to guess that he’s going to reunite with Rex Ryan in Buffalo and take Spikes’ spot.

Still, Spikes is a really good player, and he graded out this past year as Pro Football Focus’ 13th highest graded inside linebacker, most notably against the run. Spikes played half as many snaps as guys like Luke Kuechly, so if you’re thinking this is an every down player — think again. Spikes is a two-down, run-thumping, tough-as-nails specialist at the position who can inflict fear into opponents.

He gets a little carried away at times and has been penalized, but if the Broncos were somehow able to re-sign Terrance Knighton and add Spikes, the run defense would be very tough for opponents to gameplan against. He doesn’t offer much in coverage, but that’s what Marshall and Trevathan are for.

Needs A Change Of Scenery — Mason Foster, Buccaneers

Mason Foster hasn’t been great the last few years, at least in terms of Pro Football Focus grade. He was among the top 10 worst linebackers this past year in that regard. He only played 10 games this past year, but in 2013 looked on his way to being one of the better young linebackers in the league.

I think Foster could be a good 3-4 ILB as I scouted him back when he was draft eligible and the Broncos were still running that kind of defense. He is not great against the run and solid in coverage, but could benefit from a change of scenery. I might prefer the Broncos spend their money to sign this guy, though…

Keep Him, Please — Nate Irving, Broncos

I like Nate Irving, and I think as an inside linebacker he was finally starting to come into his own, playing his natural position this past season prior to injury. I think if the Broncos bring back Irving and sign a guy like McClain or Spikes, their linebacker rotation would be absolutely sick and they could give teams so many different looks inside and outside, against the run and in coverage.

Irving has injury history even dating back to college where he overcame incredible odds to even be a professional football player. I think he was emerging this past season and I think the Broncos will get him back at a good price, maybe three years for about $2.5 million per season. I don’t think it’ll take much, but Irving can provide — at worst — excellent depth and is a player that was drafted high by Elway.

Don’t Remind Me of That Guy — Malcolm Smith, Seahawks

I’m going to make this very simple — Malcolm Smith didn’t see a ton of playing time this past season in Seattle due to the absolute studs they have in that defense, but I am on board with signing him for two reasons.

1. Super Bowl MVP

2. He played for Seattle

As much of the Seahawks and that mentality as can come to Denver, I am okay with it. Smith killed the Broncos in the Super Bowl so Peyton Manning might have nightmares practicing against him…

Just kidding.

(Slightly) Overrated — Rey Maualuga, Bengals

I’d be good with it if the Broncos signed Maualuga from the Bengals, but he’s a bit overrated, in my opinion. Still, he could bring more toughness and tenacity to the Denver defense.

Final Thoughts

I think the Broncos will end up re-signing Nate Irving and sign someone like Spikes as well.

There are a lot of options out there, perhaps even more than I mentioned here. What is your ideal situation for the Broncos at the inside linebacker spot?