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2014 IDP Free Agent Preview: Linebackers

In Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues, linebackers are kings of the fantasy mountain, the steady tackle producers that form the backbone of most IDP squads. The same doesn’t necessarily hold true in the NFL, however.

Sure, pass-rushing outside linebackers like Green Bay’s
Clay Matthews

have hit the proverbial jackpot, but the Packers’ standout is more exception than rule.

In fact, many inside linebackers can find free agency more grind than gravy. Take Arizona’s
Karlos Dansby
,
for instance. After being cut loose by the Miami Dolphins last year, Dansby twisted in the wind for weeks without any real offers before signing a one-year deal with the Cardinals late in free agency.

Now Dansby prepares to do it all over again, and he off this year’s look at the biggest free agents at the most important position in IDP, and how their job search could affect their fantasy value for the upcoming season and beyond.

Karlos Dansby, ILB, Arizona

This past season was just filled with surprises for
Karlos Dansby

.

First, despite tallying a career-high 134 tackles in 2012 (including 101 solos, the first time in his career Dansby hit that mark), Dansby was surprisingly let go by the Miami Dolphins after three years with the team.

Then came that twisting that I alluded to earlier, before Dansby made his way back to the desert on a one-year deal. All the 11th-year pro did there was lead the entire NFL with 114 solos, chip in 6.5 sacks and finish the year as the
most valuable linebacker

in all of fantasy football.

The 31-year-old has made it clear he would like to return to the Cardinals, telling
SiriusXM Radio (via Darren Urban of the team’s website)
,
“I definitely expect to be an Arizona Cardinal next year. We don’t have long here (before free agency) so we’ll get to talking and try and hammer something out.”

If the Cardinals are serious about last year’s 10-6 campaign not being a fluke, they’ll keep Dansby around. Predicting another top 5 season may be wishful thinking, but after posting more than 100 solos each of the past two years, the veteran is at the very least a high-floor IDP LB2 for 2014.

Daryl Smith, ILB, Baltimore

If Dansby’s success in 2013 was surprising, then Smith’s season was a jaw-dropper. After all, Smith was only supposed to be a bargain-basement “bridge” player who would ease 2013 second-round pick
Arthur Brown
‘s
transition to the NFL.

Well, apparently no one told Smith. The 31-year-old slid into
Ray Lewis

old spot in the middle of the Ravens defense and thrived, setting career-highs across the board en route to a top-10 finish among linebackers in
Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring

.

Smith told the
Ravens’ website

back in December he “would love to be back,” and with more than $11 million in projected cap space according to Spotrac
, it would appear the Ravens have the scratch to make that happen, assuming Smith’s asking price is reasonable.

This sounds like another situation where a veteran has more value to his team than he would on the open market, so look for a (relatively) short-term contract that keeps Smith in the IDP LB2 conversation in Baltimore in 2014.

Donald Butler, ILB, San Diego

In many respects, San Diego’s
Donald Butler

is the cream of this year’s free agent crop at inside linebacker. Where Dansby and Smith are on the wrong side of 30 and closer to the end of the road than the beginning, Butler is only 25 and just entering the prime of his career.

Of course, that’s also part of the problem with Butler. We’ve been waiting for the prime of Butler’s career to start for a while now, and while there are occasional flashes, the production just hasn’t met the potential to this point with Butler.

Last year’s 85 tackles and LB53 finish was no exception.

That doesn’t mean the Chargers aren’t very interested in bringing Butler back. As Josh Alpar of
Pro Football Talk


reports, general manager Tom Telesco told
U-T San Diego “He’s a great guy to have around, a good football player. He played some really good football late this year. Hopefully, he likes the direction this team is going in, and hopefully, he wants to be here. We’ll see where that goes.”

Where it will probably go is Butler remaining a risk/reward LB2 pick in 2014 with the Chargers. However, Butler’s age makes him one of the more likely candidates on this list to attract outside attention. A new destination could mean anything from the top 15 to outside the top 30, depending on the situation.

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