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8 linebacker options for the Eagles

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Oakland Raiders v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Eagles have a need at linebacker after seeing Jordan Hicks sign with the Arizona Cardinals in NFL free agency. Nigel Bradham will return as a starter in 2019 but who will line up next to him?

Philadelphia has some internal options worth considering. Kamu Grugier-Hill stepped up to become the Eagles’ WILL linebacker last season. The team seemingly has some level of hope for 2017 fifth-round pick Nathan Gerry. Paul Worrilow, an experienced veteran, is set to challenge for a roster spot after missing the entire 2018 campaign with an ACL injury.

But while those guys will be in the mix, they certainly shouldn’t (and won’t) prevent the Eagles from adding more bodies at linebacker. Here are some external options for them to consider.

Note that these players aren’t really sexy additions. I don’t think the Eagles will look to invest heavily at the position as much they’ll look to plug a hole and potentially pick up a Day 3 linebacker in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Zach Brown

UPDATE: Shortly after publishing this post, Washington released Zach Brown. He might be too expensive for the Eagles’ taste but he’s an intriguing option. Brown was PFF’s fourth highest overall graded linebacker in 2018. He’s always passed the eye test for me. It helps that signing him wouldn’t count against Philly’s compensatory pick formula.

Josh Bynes

I previously explained why the Eagles should target the 29-year-old Bynes.

Bynes makes sense for an Eagles team that could be looking for an immediate starter to pair with Nigel Bradham. He could be an adequate, inexpensive stop-gap option that buys the Eagles time to find a long-term option at middle linebacker. The fact that Bynes was cut by the Cardinals means he won’t count against Philly’s compensatory pick formula, which is another bonus. [...] Pro Football Focus actually graded him 14th out of 96 linebackers who played at least 20% of a team’s defensive snaps in 2018.

Bynes played for the Ravens from 2011 through 2013 while Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas was working for Baltimore. There’s a level of familiarity here, which is something Philly’s front office typically values. Familiarity, experience, versatility ... Bynes seems like a logical fit for the Eagles.

Mark Barron

The Rams recently cut Barron. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft began his career as a safety but eventually moved to linebacker. Jim Schwartz has previously shown interest in linebacker/safety hybrid types (Grugier-Hill, Gerry) so maybe Barron is on his radar as well. Barron has 93 career starts to his name. Here’s some perspective on why he was a cap casualty from Turf Show Times:

Barron is the most likely candidate to be released as he’s simply paid too high of an amount. Barron is a 29-year old linebacker who transitioned from safety many years ago after the Rams secured him in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Barron actually turned out to be a fantastic addition as his physicality, nasty demeanor, and lack of fear proved the transition to be the correct move. The issue becomes his price tag ($9.6m for the 2019 season) and his inability to stay healthy. Barron hasn’t played a full season since 2016 and has seemingly missed a ton of offseason and in-season training the past two years due to nagging injuries. Releasing Barron would save the Rams $6.3m on the cap this year, though they’d also eat a penalty of $3.3m. Barron is currently the sixth highest paid ILB in football, and with the current quality of his play, it doesn’t make financial sense to keep him around at that figure.

L.J. Fort

Fort is a player that BGN’s Michael Kist has been suggesting for the Eagles. Fort actually started his first career game against Philly all the way back in 2012. The former undrafted free agent had his most productive season in 2018 with 48 tackles, three quarterback hits, and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. Fort only has three starts in 61 career games played but maybe he’s ready for a bigger role. PFF graded him 19th out of 96 linebackers in 2018.

Brandon Marshall

The Broncos released the 29-year-old Marshall earlier this offseason. Marshall has started 63 games for Denver over the past five seasons. He’s logged 423 tackles, five forced fumbles, and two interceptions in that span. He could be a solid stop-gap starter.

Jake Ryan

Ryan, a fourth-round pick by the Packers in 2017, turned 27 last month. He missed the entire 2018 season due to a torn ACL. Prior to that, he made 27 starts in 43 games played for Green Bay. He was showing signs of development prior to the injury, according to PFF:

The Michigan alumnus dramatically improved his overall grade each year of his career with his best season coming in 2017, where he earned a 75.7 overall grade and a 72.9 run-defense grade. Green Bay has no shortage of talented young linebackers with Oren Burks, Antonio Morrison and the emergence of 25-year old Blake Martinez all on relatively cheap contracts. This depth could cause the Packers to let go of Ryan in free agency, but he should have no shortage of potential suitors.

Manti Te’o

The former Notre Dame star has made 47 starts in 59 games played after being selected in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He’s spent the last two years with the Saints, where he’s been able to make some positive contributions. Te’o is another stop-gap type option.

Darron Lee

There’s an expectation that Lee could be available in a trade following the Jets’ signing of C.J. Mosley. New York’s 2016 first-round pick has had a bit of a bumpy road in the NFL. The team suspended him for a game for being late to practice in 2017. The league hit Lee with a four-game PED suspension in 2018. Lee is only 24 years old and his 2019 base salary is just over $1.8 million. Taking a shot on his upside at the cost of a late-round pick (or pick swap) could be worth it for the Eagles. PFF had Lee graded as their third best cover linebacker last season.

Poll

Who do you want the Eagles to acquire?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Josh Bynes
    (689 votes)
  • 10%
    Mark Barron
    (563 votes)
  • 2%
    L.J. Fort
    (125 votes)
  • 13%
    Brandon Marshall
    (721 votes)
  • 2%
    Jake Ryan
    (130 votes)
  • 5%
    Manti Te’o
    (298 votes)
  • 20%
    Darron Lee
    (1045 votes)
  • 2%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (154 votes)
  • 28%
    Zach Brown
    (1477 votes)
5202 votes total Vote Now