The Eagles have several players in the linebacker position whose contracts are scheduled to expire, so who will LB Coach Mike Caldwell have under his command next season? Let's take a look.
Stewart Bradley: If the 2011 season were to start tomorrow, the Eagles' starting linebackers would most likely be Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, and Stewart Bradley. With a full offseason ahead of him, the Eagles could easily transition Bradley back to strong side linebacker, leaving room for Chaney to continue his success in the middle. Although Bradley will be a free agent in a few weeks, it's hard to believe that the team will sour on his post-ACL tear season performance and part ways with him. Then again, the acquisition of a player like Chad Greenway could change that decision significantly.
Jamar Chaney: As we've seen so many times before, an injury to a starter can give rise to the career of his backup. Since Chaney took over the reins from Stewart Bradley in week 15, he has shown himself to be a rapidly developing player worthy of additional time on the field. In the words of Coach Caldwell:
"I saw he was a diligent player. He got in there and I was with him in the classroom and I saw his study habits and he was diligent in learning the playbook and he worked real hard."
Expect Chaney to be back and pushing for a permanent starting job next year, since his rookie deal leaves him signed through 2013.
Keenan Clayton: Although he was drafted much higher than fellow rookie linebacker Jamar Chaney, Clayton's premiere season was a little quieter. However, Clayton has shown the versatility to be used as a linebacker or a safety, so he'll be a project worth keeping an eye on as a developmental prospect for the next few seasons. His rookie deal leaves him signed through 2013, so expect him back on the team in a reserve role next year.
Moise Fokou: The former Maryland Terp has made big strides since getting picked by the Eagles in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. His speed and hard-hitting play allowed him to wrest the starting position from the clutches of Akeem Jordan by week 5. Fokou is currently signed through 2012, so expect him to be back (likely in a starting role) next year.
Omar Gaither: After losing his backup MLB status to a rookie seventh round pick, it's likely that we have seen the last of Gaither. The Eagles will probably let him seek greener pastures via free agency.
Akeem Jordan: After initially winning the starting strong side linebacker position in training camp, Jordan struggled to find the ball and was eventually demoted. His lack of aggressiveness will likely prevent him from regaining his starting position with the team, but he still has the skills and versatility necessary to contribute as a backup to all three linebacker positions. His contract is up this year, but the Eagles could very well bring him back for one more year.
Ernie Sims: One of the most gullible players on the Eagles defense, Sims' 2010 season was marred by his inability to recognize a fake or, as our friend Gary Cobb aptly put it, his tendency to "eat the cheese." After only one season with the team, Sims will join the list of one-and-done linebacker acquisitions like Takeo Spikes and Will Witherspoon.
Who Could Leave
Omar Gaither, Ernie Sims
Who Could Sign
Chad Greenway is the name on everyone's mind when it comes to available linebackers. He is just coming off one hell of a season in which he totaled an NFC-leading 144 tackles, yet was surprisingly snubbed from the Pro Bowl. However, before you get too excited about Greenway becoming a great fit in Philadelphia, know that there have been rumblings that the Vikings will use their franchise tag on either him or Sidney Rice.
Unhappy with his previous contract and in search of big money, MLB Barrett Ruud will likely be hitting the free agent market soon. The 27 year old Nebraska product has shown himself to be a hard worker and a playmaker during his six seasons with the Buccaneers, posting tackle totals of 114 or more for the past four years. Similar to Chaney, Ruud is the kind of guy who does his homework before each game, and it's certainly paid off for him so far. The Eagles could easily afford Ruud's high asking price, so look for him to be a target this offseason.