Free agency in the NFL officially starts March 9 at 4 PM EST. However, the “legal tampering” component begins a couple days prior. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of rumors from around the league and from the Eagles when they target perhaps a wide receiver and/or cornerback. That’s what we’re expecting. However, I’m also hoping the Eagles look to target a linebacker in free agency.
It’s no secret that LB Mychal Kendricks has been on the hot seat based on inconsistent play and, overall, whether he even fits into defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme and future plans. I would be surprised if Kendricks is on the team at the start of the regular season. Trading him or an outright cut sometime over the next few months seems logical. He’s going into his fifth year and hasn’t lived up to expectations, especially after Schwartz only wanted him on the field for 26.8 percent of defensive snaps. He has a cap hit of $6.6 million here in 2017 and the Eagles would save $1.8 million upon a trade or release. During his career, 12 sacks, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, and three interceptions isn’t enough production to keep him around. To say the least, he’s been disappointing after being picked in the second-round during the 2012 draft.
Here are a list of the linebackers the Eagles still have on the roster should they move on from Kendricks: Stephen Tulloch, Joe Walker, Kamu Gruiger-Hill, Don Cherry, Najee Goode, Nigel Bradham, and Jordan Hicks. Tulloch signed a one-year deal last season, couldn’t get on the field much (yet was active for 13 games) and will likely not be re-signed. Joe Walker, seventh-round pick from a year ago is recovering from a season ending ACL injury. He showed promise in the preseason, but a shot in the dark player at this point. Gruiger-Hill is a special teams guy. Cherry and Goode are essentially bodies that are taking up space.
Enter free agency and the draft. Below, I’ll look at a few players who the Eagles could acquire in free agency to provide more depth behind starters LB Nigel Bradham (who’s on thin ice anyway with legal problems) and LB Jordan Hicks. The Eagles have holes on both sides of the ball and some may say linebacker isn’t an overriding necessity to address in free agency, but I beg to differ. The middle of the field is thin. Very thin.
While the Birds likely won’t try to target guys like Dont’a Hightower or Zach Brown – they’ll command too many dollars – Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas should realistically look to bring in Sean Spence (TEN), Kevin Minter (ARI) or Sio Moore (ARI).
Spence, 26-years-old, played in 15 games last season and recored 54 tackles, three sacks, five QB hits, three passes defended, and two forced fumbles. He won’t be paid top dollar, but he won’t be cheap either. He’s been a solid rotational player throughout his career with the Steelers and last year with the Titans. Although he has mostly played in 3-4 defenses and likely wouldn’t be an outright starter in Philly, he would provide the Eagles with needed depth. Also, with uncertainly surrounding Bradham, Spence could be a short-term fit in Philly while the Eagles look to develop more talent via the draft in the coming year or two.
Minter, also 26, is an interesting option. This past season comprised of many ups and downs – however, more ups than downs. There were games he excelled and looked amazing, and other games where his coaches probably wished they had another option on the field. Inconsistency has been somewhat of an issue mainly from a missed tackle standpoint (he had 20 in 2016) and he also has issues in coverage. Yet, last year was his best season, by far, as he accumulated 81 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four passes defended. Like Spence, he’d be a solid depth player and wouldn’t break the Eagles bank.
Moore, 26 years of age, is also a compelling option because last year he was ranked 15th in the NFL among linebackers in stopping the run. With DL Bennie Logan possibly not returning to clog the gaps (due to free agency), the Eagles may need to formulate new run stop methods and use possible new personnel – like Moore – to make up for the loss in run stoppage. He only played in eight games last year, yet recorded 65 tackles, two QB hits and two forced fumbles. While he’s been “below average” in terms of the expectations for him coming out of college, he would add a veteran presence and depth.
The Eagles should look at Spence, Minter and Moore as possible options since their current linebacker corps surely needs an upgrade.