The makeup of the Browns' linebacker unit has taken on a whole new look over the past two years.
It came together by working on the outside first and then shifting to the inside.
In 2013, the Browns padded the position with the addition of Paul Kruger, who became the first Cleveland player in years to post double-digit sacks this past season, through free agency and Barkevious Mingo with the sixth overall pick in the draft. Last year, general manager Ray Farmer tackled the middle by signing veteran Karlos Dansby and drafting Chris Kirksey in the third round to team a duo that would combine for 168 tackles with Craig Robertson, whose 2014 season was easily the best of his career.
In a December interview, Farmer pinpointed the Browns' linebackers -- because of their mix of young up-and-comers, players in their prime and valuable veterans -- as one of the three position groups he felt best about as he looked toward the offseason. Still, there's no sense of satisfaction about any part of the roster because the competition within the positions can always be better.
There are a couple of decisions to make regarding players on last year's roster, and the 2015 draft class is considered to be one of the best for prototypical 3-4 pass rushers in years. Here's a glimpse at the market if the Browns decide to upgrade the unit over the next month.
(The list at the bottom includes a handful of 4-3 defensive ends who project as linebackers in a 3-4.)
Who's coming back? (2014 stats)
ILB Karlos Dansby - 12 games, 93 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 pass deflections
ILB Chris Kirksey - 16 games, 75 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 pass deflections, 1 forced fumble
OLB Paul Kruger - 16 games, 53 tackles, 11 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery
OLB Barkevious Mingo - 15 games, 39 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery
OLB Scott Solomon - 2 games, 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
ILB Tank Carder - 16 games, 11 tackles
ILB Darius Eubanks
OLB Keith Pough
Who's on the market?
ILB Craig Robertson (exclusive rights restricted) - 16 games, 92 tackles, 2 INTs, 4 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, 1 TD
OLB Jabaal Sheard (unrestricted) - 16 games, 44 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 pass deflections
2014 rankings of note
Forced fumbles - 18 - T-7th
Opponents third-down conversion rate - 38 percent - T-10th
Sacks - 31 - 27th
Scoring defense - 21.1 points per game - 9th
Top LBs/DEs available (Rankings from NFL.com's Top 101 NFL Free Agents)
- DE Jerry Hughes (Buffalo)
- LB Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh)
- OLB/DE Pernell McPhee (Baltimore)
- DE/OLB Brandon Graham (Philadelphia)
- DE Derrick Morgan (Tennessee)
- OLB Brian Orakpo (Washington)
- LB David Harris (New York Jets)
- LB Brandon Spikes (Buffalo)
- LB Sean Weatherspoon (Atlanta)
- LB Rolando McClain (Dallas)
- LB Mason Foster (Tampa Bay)
- LB/DE Dwight Freeney (San Diego)
- LB Bruce Carter (Dallas)
- LB Brooks Reed (Houston)
- LB Rey Maualuga (Cincinnati)
- LB Akeem Ayers (New England)
- LB Lance Briggs (Chicago)
- LB Malcolm Smith (Seattle)