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Best fits for top 10 free-agent inside linebackers

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As much as the inside linebacker position has been devalued over the years, eroded by the rise of sub defenses and the need for smaller, quicker defensive players on the field, we see the likes of David Harris signing yet another mammoth contract for the position.

Luke Kuechly is a rising star among NFL defensive players and could very well be the face of the Pro Bowl on his side of the ball in two years.

Positional breakdowns

In 2013, Jon Beason single-handedly resurrected the Giants' defense after a trade from Carolina and put an 0-6 team within an earshot of the playoffs based on his ability to lead, recognize formations and stuff the run.

Basically, it's time to realize that inside linebackers are not going the way of the fullback. This position is important, though evolving.

Here are our top 10 inside linebackers and 4-3 outside linebackers. They aren't pass rushers, but they can have a big impact for your team in 2015:

1. Sean Weatherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons:

According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, Weatherspoon will have the opportunity to test the open market and see where his services are most requested. The former first-round pick is extremely valuable when healthy, and will no doubt find a home quickly once the market begins to parse itself out. At 27, there's a good chance his best football is ahead of him.

Free agent fit:

Reports are suggesting that Weatherspoon is leaning toward a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, which couldn't make any more sense. Now that Larry Foote is settled in on the coaching staff, he'll want an experienced veteran to step in and lead the way. Daryl Washington is a non-entity until his suspension is cleared, which makes Weatherspoon a high-priority in Arizona.

2. Bruce Carter, LB, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are counting on the healthy return of Sean Lee and are hoping that rookie Anthony Hitchens continues to develop, which leaves an athletic, and very aggressive Bruce Carter out in free agency set to fend for himself.

Free agent fit:

While the Green Bay Packers have only recently scored points for their panache in free agency, landing a versatile, sure-handed linebacker like Carter would undoubtedly give them some range and versatility that they've been lacking at the position for years. It may even free Clay Matthews up for some pass-rushing detail.

3. Lance Briggs, LB, Chicago Bears

The 34-year-old could very well put a cap on a phenomenal career, but something tells us he won't leave without giving it one more shot. Though injuries have caught up with the run-stuffer, Briggs is a weakside linebacker that can fit in almost any scheme, if only for his veteran experience and leadership.

Free agent fit:

We know that Rex Ryan runs a 3-4 defense, but heck, he made Bart Scott useful for ages after his best years were behind him. You know why? Scott had the ear of a young locker room and he was dominant in short-yardage situations. With two young linebackers already on his roster, could Ryan bring in his Bart Scott redux? If not, does his brother Rob swoop in?

4. Brandon Spikes, LB, Buffalo Bills

Spikes was a captain in Buffalo this past season but played less than half of the team's defensive snaps. Now that the defense is in transition once again, will Spikes continue to insist that he's a full-time player? Or might he accept an offer to be a tutor in Ryan's new scheme?

Free agent fit:

Giants general manager Jerry Reese drafted a future star at linebacker this past season, nabbing Devon Kennard in the fifth round. But with so much uncertainty surrounding his core of Jon Beason and Jameel McClain, might he go back to his Keith Rivers and Keith Bulluck roots and nab himself a thumper entering the final stages of his career?

5. Rolando McClain, LB, Dallas Cowboys

A nice story in 2014, but now that he's facing a suspension, he's been relegated to a depth signing at the minimum unless there's a starry-eyed general manager that sees it differently. At one point last season, he looked to be in line for a pretty nice payday, but his career arc inevitably caught up to him.

Free agent fit:

Honestly, if the staff in Dallas knows how to manage his personality, keeping him around as a depth signing isn't a bad idea. Sean Lee is fantastic but can always get injured. McClain is strong in the right system, as he showed a year ago.

6. Jacquian Williams, New York Giants: He likely won't be back in red and blue next season, but after years of being touted as the future of hybrid linebackers, another team will give him a chance to cover some tight ends.

7. A.J. Hawk, Green Bay Packers: A victim of circumstance in Green Bay, Hawk was always forced to live up to a name he didn't ask for. Still, that doesn't change the fact that he's a reliable signal caller who knows how to position himself.

8. Mason Foster, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The former third-round pick was good enough over almost 600 snaps to earn himself some attention in free agency. Don't be surprised if he ends up in Atlanta, or possibly Chicago.

9. J.T. Thomas, Jacksonville Jaguars: Formerly a sixth-round pick by the Bears, Thomas is a strong rush linebacker who will likely end up back in Jacksonville.

10. Justin Durant, Dallas Cowboys: The 30-year-old still has plenty of juice, but just needs to stay healthy. While many believe he won't be back in Dallas, the Cowboys would do well to have him on their roster again in 2015.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the Brandon Marshall trade and plays another game of "Go Get My Lunch." Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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