It's the defensive position that warrants the least respect. Pass rushers are paid if they do their job. Defensive tackles are sought after like a ring from Mordor. Great corners earn Nnamdi Asomugha-like press, and safeties are becoming more and more appreciated with each season, it seems. Yet the linebacker in general -- the men in between the front line and the secondary -- are often added at the last second and receive scant amounts of attention.
It's only when a team takes care of the front and back that it focuses on the middle. Perhaps that's a good strategy, but that also means that teams can find good linebacker help at this time of year with recognizable names still waiting for that right invitation into training camp. For teams in need of linebacking help, this comes as good news -- perhaps even for the Chiefs who lost Brandon Siler for the season and might want to bring in some inside linebacker competition. Either way, here are some names you might know:
Pisa Tiniosamoa - The Hawaiian became one of the best tacklers on the St. Louis Rams over 6 years, leading the team in tackles in 2008 before being cut. He spent the last two seasons with the Chicago Bears and the results have not been pretty. Injuries sidelined him in 2009 and last year he only played in 12 games. Major knee surgeries have sidelined him, but if he can bounce back at 30 -- and he's quite motivated to do so -- he's a force on the outside.
Keith Bulluck - The former Titan will undoubtedly head back to Tennessee at some point to retire as one of finest defensive players they've had in the last decade. Over 10 seasons, he missed 3 games for the Titans and had over 1,000 tackles in that time. He played for the Giants last year with moderate results, but he was forced to the outside and taken on and off the field for the first time since he first came into the NFL. He continued to show his coverage skills with 2 more interceptions (giving him 21 in his career), and given a full-time inside LB role, he'd likely shine for at least one more season.
Julian Peterson - Things haven't quite worked out as expected for the one-time high-profile linebacker. Peterson's promising San Fran career has now become a journeyman's resume, with a recent forgettable stop in Detroit. His instant impression in Seattle fizzled over time and now he's left on the fringes of free agency. Someone will pick him up, however, in the hopes that a one-year deal will give him the motivation to rush the passer like he should be able to. His large paycheck days are over, but Peterson's still a good outside option.
Lofa Tatupu - He's been connected to the Redskins and the Raiders. John Clayton says going back to Seattle is an option. So it's clear there's more smoke around Tatupu than other free agent linebackers. That's for good reason, since Tatupu is still young, has dynamic range and can drop into coverage well. It's a surprise the Chiefs or someone with a hole in the middle hasn't moved on this kid, but there's a rhyme and reason to everything. Still on the outside looking in, this non-signing is the most perplexing.
Other names of note: Hunter Hillenmeyer, Tully Banta-Cain, Gerald Hayes, Jamie Winborn, Dhani Jones, Danny Clark, Akin Ayodele.