By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks will be looking for a new weakside linebacker assuming two things:
The first is that pending unrestricted free agent Leroy Hill will not be re-signed – a safe assumption given his advancing age, declining production and recent arrest. The second is that the team isn’t sold on the idea of handing the job to 23-year-old Malcolm Smith, who was mainly a special teams player before making three starts in place of Hill last season.
With that in mind, Jim Moore led off Wednesday’s edition of “Cold Hard Facts” with a question for John Clayton about outside linebackers who might interest the Seahawks when free agency begins next week.
Clayton described the list of available 4-3 outside linebackers as relatively unimpressive before saying Philip Wheeler would be one of the better options. Wheeler, 28, set a career high with 109 tackles with the Raiders last season. He spent his first four NFL seasons with Indianapolis, where he played inside linebacker.
Pro Football Focus ranks Wheeler as the fourth-best free-agent linebacker, noting some issues he’s had against the run as well as his strengths as a pass rusher.
The latter could increase his appeal to the Seahawks. Along with a career-high three sacks last season, Wheeler added 14 quarterback hits and 13 hurries on 126 pass rushes, according to Pro Football Focus. Gus Bradley’s defense didn’t feature much blitzing, but if new coordinator Dan Quinn decides to be more aggressive, he might prefer a linebacker who has shown an ability to get to quarterbacks.
Wheeler’s one-year deal with Oakland paid him $700,000, according to contract details available here. Both sides are reportedly talking about a new deal, but it sounds like Wheeler is unsure about whether he’ll return to the Raiders.
“There’s plenty of teams out there,” Wheeler told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week. “It’s very important to me to get back to being part of a winning organization.”