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Free-Agent Linebacker Jerome Baker Would Be Obvious Fit for Packers

The list of free-agent linebackers has been decimated through the first week of free season. The best available player might be the best fit for the Packers, as well.
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Note: The subject of this story, linebacker Jerome Baker, signed with the Seattle Seahawks a few hours after this story was published.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ schematic switch and subsequent release of former All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell created an enormous need at linebacker entering NFL free agency.

That group has been decimated during the opening week of free agency. In our rankings of the top 60 veterans at positions of need, 11 of the top 12 have been signed.

The one exception? Former Miami Dolphins starter Jerome Baker. He is the most obvious fit imaginable as general manager Brian Gutekunst attempts to build a roster poised to compete for a championship.

Baker, who turned 27 on Christmas, was released in a cap-saving move before the start of free agency. A third-round pick by the team in 2018, had had missed only one game in his first five seasons until missing four games last year. A three-down player, Baker from 2019 through 2022 played exactly 4,000 snaps on defense.

“Jerome, in my opinion, has been one of the best players overall on the Dolphins since he was drafted here six years ago, has been a great leader, has had the green dot, he's been a Walter Payton Man of the Year (nominee),” agent Drew Rosenhaus said in a Miami radio interview earlier this month.

“He would be one of the very best linebackers the Dolphins have had in their history. When you talk about some of the best guys to do it over a period of years, Jerome’s going to be one that Dolphins fans certainly will appreciate for a long time.”

Baker hit 100 tackles in 2019, 2020 and 2022. He also had four-plus sacks in 2020, 2021 and 2022. In six seasons, he has piled up 587 tackles, including 31 for losses and 22.5 sacks, along with five interceptions, six forced fumbles and 21 passes defensed.

It doesn’t take much to connect dots between Baker and the Packers. Green Bay’s new linebackers coach, Anthony Campanile, spent the last four years coaching Baker.

Baker and Devin White, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers star who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, were the only players in the NFL with at least 250 tackles and 15 sacks from 2020 through 2022. Campanile several times during their time together lauded Baker for his intelligence.

“He's a very cerebral guy. Very high football IQ,” Campanile said in 2020. “He sees things very well.”

He’s versatile, too. The Dolphins used him frequently as a pass rusher, as the sack numbers would suggest. It’s a role he enjoyed.

“If you don't listen to your players, it's going to be pretty hard to play well in this league because at the end of the day we're the players on the field,” Baker said via The Palm Beach Post. “We're doing it. You can draw up different plays and draw up different schemes but if your players don't respond well to it, those plays and schemes are useless. This organization does a great job of taking care of us physically and also helping us understand why we're doing certain things.”

The Packers are interested, as you’d imagine, considering they have only three linebackers under contract who’ve played in a game. Former first-round pick Quay Walker led the team in tackles last year and Isaiah McDuffie, a frequent starter while backing up Walker and Campbell, was second. They’ll start. The third player is Kristian Welch, who re-signed this week but in four NFL seasons has played only 47 snaps on defense.

The Packers will line up with three linebackers in new coordinator Jeff Hafley’s 4-3 base defense. And they’ll need depth, too. The 2024 draft will play a key role in rounding out the depth chart, but it would be risky going into the season with a rookie starter and another rookie as a top backup.

Green Bay also is interested in 2021 Pro Bowler Denzel Perryman, who is narrowing down his list of suitors, a source said.