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Free Agent Primer 2022: Linebacker

Cardinals have tough decisions to make, including with Chandler Jones

FA primer LB

During the official Super Bowl handoff ceremony last month, Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill expressed his Super Bowl aspirations for the 2022 season. Cardinals GM Steve Keim must fill several holes on the roster this offseason to make that happen. With the free agency period beginning on March 16, the eight position group breakdown is here.

Free-agent primer: Linebacker

Other free-agent primers: WR, S, ST, TE, CB, OL, DL

Cap hit of players under contract for 2022 (via ILB Zaven Collins ($3.38 million), ILB Isaiah Simmons ($5.63 million), ILB Tanner Vallejo ($1.85 million), ILB Joe Walker ($895,000), OLB Markus Golden ($3.98 million), OLB Devon Kennard (restructured contract), OLB Victor Dimukeje ($865,465).

Scheduled free agents: OLB Chandler Jones, OLB Dennis Gardeck, OLB Kylie Fitts, ILB Ezekiel Turner.

Need: High

Analysis: The biggest question surrounding the linebacker position is the future of Chandler Jones. The Cardinals could let the four-time Pro Bowler walk in free agency due to his potential market and other roster needs. Jones had double-digit sacks in 2021, the fifth time in six seasons since joining the organization in 2016.

If Jones leaves, the Cardinals will need another edge rusher in a market that will be short on options. Former Cardinals Haason Reddick linebacker had a team-leading 11 sacks for the Panthers and carries familiarity, but he will likely be in high demand given short supply.

Markus Golden impressed this season in the pass-rush attack, leading the team with 11. He remains under contract for 2022, as does Devon Kennard. Dennis Gardeck heads into free agency as a potential edge rusher -- he did have seven sacks in 2020 before tearing his ACL -- but he did not have a sack in 2021. Gardeck brings value to special teams as well.

The team released Jordan Hicks on Wednesday, paving the way for 2021 first draft pick Zaven Collins to receive a more prominent role at inside linebacker. The rookie played just 20 percent of the defensive snaps while most of his usage came on special teams. Isaiah Simmons is the other inside linebacker, his playing time in Year Two increasing dramatically. Simmons played 92 percent of defensive snaps, the third-most on the team behind safety Budda Baker and Hicks. He also finished third in tackles (105).

The Cardinals could retain special teamer Ezekiel Turner as an insurance policy.

Notable past free agent linebacker signings: Campbell (2020); Kennard (2020); Hicks (2019); Terrell Suggs (2019); Josh Bynes (2017); Karlos Dansby (2017); Dwight Freeney (2015); LaMarr Woodley (2015); Larry Foote (2014); Dansby (2013); John Abraham (2013); Joey Porter (2010); Paris Lenon (2010); Clark Haggans (2008); Travis LaBoy (2008); Seth Joyner (1994).

Images of some of the top free agent linebackers scheduled to hit the open market.