The weeks leading up to NFL free agency are filled with plenty of rumors, and a few genuine surprises. One of the latter appears to be happening in Miami, where the Dolphins are reportedly set to release veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy one year into his four-year, $51 million contract.
With a real need at linebacker, could Van Noy’s release be a blessing for the Washington Football Team?
Van Noy entered the league as a second-round draft pick in 2014, but he did not have much success for the team that drafted him – the Detroit Lions. However, after being dealt to New England in 2016 for a low-round draft pick, Van Noy flourished.
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In his four years playing for Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Van Noy established himself as one of the most versatile linebackers in the game. He was one of the Patriots’ most effective blitzers, and his mobility allowed him to function well in coverage. Van Noy’s combination of size and speed was put to great effect by Flores, who lined him up both inside and outside.
Van Noy parlayed that success into his big contract with Miami. It seemed an ideal fit. At 28 years old, Van Noy was entering his prime, and reuniting with Flores – now coaching the Dolphins – promised to further the success they had together in New England.
It did not work out that way. Bothered by a nagging hip injury, Van Noy did not play at the same high level he had attained for the Patriots. The Dolphins are looking to shed salary, and Flores likes a lot of his younger players. So the decision to release Van Noy, though surprising, is not a total shocker.
Should the Washington Football Team be interested in Kyle Van Noy?
Van Noy has the athletic tools needed for a classic 4-3 middle linebacker, but he has never really played that role. I suspect he could make the adjustment, but if Washington decides to pursue him, it should not be with the expectation that he would take over in the middle. That is a fundamental free agency error – assuming a player can be productive in a new position.
Despite his size, Van Noy would be best suited to take over the off-ball linebacker role that Kevin Pierre-Louis played in 2020. Pierre-Louis is a free agent and Washington may want to hold onto him. He excels in coverage. But Van Noy is a more versatile player and, were he able to heal up and play at his 2019 level, he would constitute an upgrade.
He could also take Cole Holcomb’s strong side role if Washington wanted to experiment with Holcomb in the middle. That is a very appealing scenario, pairing two athletic, young vets with either Pierre-Louis or perhaps a young speedy LB from this year’s draft.
The question marks surrounding Van Noy concern his injury. It has to be worrisome that a coach like Flores would walk away from a player he clearly coveted after just one season. It goes without saying that Washington would have to thoroughly vet Van Noy’s health.
They also will need to set a realistic price tag. Within moments of his rumored release, most of the Internet seemed certain that he would be heading back to Bill Belichick and New England. It appears New England is very interested in his return. Fortunately, New England has never been a free spender, so I wouldn’t worry about a bidding war if Washington decided it really wanted him.
The bigger issue may come if other teams get involved. Before he went to Miami in the 2020 off-season, the Giants were reportedly interested in signing Van Noy. Though they seem happy with Blake Martinez, it is quite possible that they will attempt to add Van Noy as well. And there will probably be other teams at least kicking the tires on the free agent.
Van Noy would be a solid addition in Washington. Despite his “down” year in 2020, he still produced at a very respectable level.
Assuming complete health, Washington would be getting a better blitzer than Jon Bostic, a more experienced, consistent strong side linebacker than Cole Holcomb (at least to this point), and a coverage backer who, if not quite as proficient as Pierre-Louis, is not too far behind. And they would be getting him all in one package.
That warrants a conversation at the very least.