Although the NFL regular season still has 3 weeks to go, we are getting to the point of the year where collegiate players are declaring for the NFL Draft, teams are starting to become mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and the Draft order itself is starting to settle.
Of course, before the Draft comes Free Agency, and we will be doing a Team-by-Team Offseason Blueprint feature immediately at the conclusion of the NFL regular season on what each NFL franchise needs to do from top to bottom this upcoming offseason to become more competitive in 2016 and beyond.
We don't know what will happen between now and Free Agency in March, and now until the Draft in April is even murkier waters, but what we do know is how much estimated cap room each team is slated to have going into this offseason and which players are set to hit the open market.
So with that being said, let's think through it. I have identified the Top 10 upcoming Free Agent Outside Linebackers with a little analysis to explain the logic behind where I think they will land next year. This position group isn't particular strong, so we'll keep it brief.
BRUCE IRVIN | ATLANTA FALCONS
This seems like an obvious one, since Irvin let the cat out of the bag before the 2015 season. On May 14th this year, Irvin told BlackSportsOnline.com that he plans on leaving Seattle and re-uniting with former DC Dan Quinn in Atlanta after this season. Irvin would fill the vaunted "OTTO" spot for the Falcons, a position which they signed Brooks Reed to fill, but Irvin is an upgrade. "Atlanta is where I want to be," Irvin said. "Believe that."
NIGEL BRADHAM | CINCINNATI BENGALS
Bradham is a good football player, but has been largely ineffective in Rex Ryan's Bills defense this year (who hasn't?). I see the Bills letting Bradham walk this offseason and addressing the linebacker position in the Draft. The Bengals have a big hole at OLB opposite Vontaze Burfict, and while Bradham isn't particular great at anything, he is solid at most facets of the position. The Bengals can have over $40 million in cap space with a few cap casualty cuts, and Bradham woud be a nice boost to the roster.
DANNY LANSANAH | TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Lansanah is a player that has really come out of nowhere to become a nice story for the Buccaneers. While I believe the Buccaneers focus most of their free agency dollars in the defensive line and the secondary, Lansanah won't likely cost too much to keep around and is a leader on the defensive side of the ball. They have ample cap room to play with, so I think they would like to have Lansanah back.
TAHIR WHITEHEAD | ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams have had difficulty finding a capable starter at OLB opposite Alec Ogletree, and Tahir Whitehead is one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL. He can plug in at any of the three LB spots in a 4-3 defense, and having a talented Rams defensive line in front of him can really take his game to the next level. The Rams currently are projected to start the 2016 offseason with close to $40 million in cap room.
VINCENT REY | OAKLAND RAIDERS
Vincent Rey has proved to be a valuable depth linebacker for the Bengals, and I believe he has earned an opportunity somewhere to at least compete for a starting spot. The Raiders play a hybrid defensive scheme which is well-tailored to Rey's versatility at the position. Oakland also has the most cap room in the NFL heading into the offseason, so veteran depth can be very valuable at a position group that has underperformed in 2015 with less-than-stellar performances by Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith.
CHAD GREENWAY | GREEN BAY PACKERS
Whoa! Big Green going to the nemesis? Maybe the Packers are trying to get revenge for the Favre stuff several years back. The only difference is that Greenway's best football is behind him, but be that as it may, the Pack give Greenway a unique opportunity to contend for a championship and stay in the NFC North. Although Greenway has never played ILB in a 3-4 front, he can't be much worse than Nate Palmer at this stage at this career, and I'm sure the Packers would love having Greenway in the room helping mentor Jake Ryan.
O'BRIEN SCHOFIELD | SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
You take from us, we'll take from you. With Bruce Irvin headed to Atlanta, the Seahawks snag O'Brien Schofield for depth at the OTTO spot. Schofield has actually been pretty decent this year, and this wouldn't be his first tour in Seattle. Low cost, good depth, nice signing.
JOSH BYNES | DETROIT LIONS
Bynes has been one of the most unsung heroes of this Lions defense, registering a +3.9 grade from PFF this year - good enough to land him at 11th on the list of top 4-3 OLBs in the league. Bynes also provides value at special teams, and will be cheap to keep around. Re-signing Bynes will be especially important if the Lions allow Tahir Whitehead to walk.
EMMANUEL LAMUR | MINNESOTA VIKINGS
The Vikings have a hole opposite of Anthony Barr, and Zimmer is familiar with Lamur from his time as the Bengals defensive coordinator. It's as simple as that.
SPENCER PAYSINGER | NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Spencer Paysinger may not be a household name, but rest-assured that AFC East teams know just how valuable this swiss-army knife linebacker can be. Paysinger can fill in at any LB position and just reeks of future Patriots player, especially if they can't end up re-signing Jonathan Freeny this offseason.
*All Cap Projections are from www.spotrac.com