Free agent inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has reportedly decided make the Indianapolis Colts his next team.
According to Fox Sports the contract he's agreed to will pay the eight-year veteran $22 million over four years, and features $11 million in guaranteed money. Jackson is allowed to sign with a team before the March 11 start of free agency because he was released by the Browns last week.
Jackson contributed five 100-plus tackle seasons for the Browns before becoming a salary cap purge this offseason. The 30-year old has proven he’s a reliable, and durable inside linebacker who excels against the run.
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The Dolphins were one of the four teams pursuing Jackson, who started all but one of the 97 games he played for the Brown before being released in a salary purge last week.
The Titans, Broncos and Dolphins were amongst the team pursuing Jackson, who visited the Dolphins on Tuesday.
Miami's level of interest indicates that new General Manager Dennis Hickey is serious about upgrading the linebacker unit, which struggled against the run last season, contributing to the 1998 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns the Dolphins allowed in 2013. The Dolphins allowed 4.1 rushing yards per carry, which was the most the franchise has allowed since allowing 4.2 in the 2008 and 2009 season.
If the Dolphins do sign a better inside linebacker in free agency, or select one in the 2014 NFL draft, the defense could move Dannell Ellerbe to the weakside spot and force Koa Misi and Philip Wheeler to compete for the starting strong side spot.
The Dolphins need to find an inside linebacker who can diagnose plays better, and there are a couple options available in free agency.
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby, whom the Dolphins released last offseason, is amongst one of the better options available in free agency. However, his return to South Florida is unlikely because of the way he was released, his age, and his troublesome relationship with head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
Daryl Smith is another option. He redeemed himself last season with the Ravens, recording 123 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and forcing two fumbles in his one season with Baltimore. Before 2013 this 31-year-old started eight full seasons for the Jaguars. He’s produced 26.5 sacks and eight interceptions in his 10 NFL seasons.
Bringing Jon Beason back to his South Florida home is a possibility. Beason's first four seasons with the Panthers were dynamic, but he spent the next two seasons battling injuries that eventually made Carolina move on. He was traded to the Giants early in the 2013 season and the 29-year-old used last year to prove he’s still dynamic. The former Hurricanes standout contributed 104 tackles and one interception last season. Beason would welcome a return to his South Florida roots.
Patriots inside linebacker Brandon Spikes, a former Gators standout, is also an option. Spikes started 11 of 16 games for the Patriots, contributing 86 tackles and one sack last season. He's been forceful against the run in his four seasons in New England, but is viewed as a liability in coverage. The Patriots aren't expected to re-sign him.
There are also a handful of top 50 draft prospects that might upgrade the Dolphins' linebacker unit. Alabama's C.J. Mosley is projected as a first-round talent, and will likely be on the board when the Dolphins make their No. 19 selection in the first round.
Wisconsin's Chris Borland, who has size limitations, is also a viable option, as is FSU linebacker Christian Jones, Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood, Stanford's Shayne Skov, and LSU's Lamin Barrow. Because inside linebacker isn't a premium position most of the top inside linebacker will likely be selected no earlier than the third round.