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Four thoughts on the Eagles signing Zach Brown

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Analyzing Philadelphia’s latest roster move.

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NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
Once enemies, now teammates.
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The Philadelphia Eagles signed veteran free agent linebacker Zach Brown to a one-year contract on Friday morning. Here are some more thoughts on the move.

1 - The Eagles filled a need

Brown made sense as an Eagles target. Philadelphia needed more help at linebacker after losing Jordan Hicks in free agency. Brown brings plenty of experience to the table considering he has 74 career starts to his name. He also doesn’t impact their compensatory pick formula since Washington released him.

Brown often caught my attention when I watched Washington’s defense. It seemed like he was always making plays. The stats back up that sentiment: in 29 games over the last two seasons, Brown has logged 153 total tackles, 22 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks, three passes defensed, and two forced fumbles. That’s quality production.

I’m not expecting Brown, who turns 30 in October, to regain Pro Bowl form or anything but that’s fine. He just needs to at least be a solid contributor to this defense and I think he’s more than capable of doing that. Brown can handle a good amount of snaps playing next to Nigel Bradham.

Signing Brown pushes the team’s other linebackers down the depth chart, which is a good thing. It’s not ideal for the Eagles to be counting on the likes of L.J. Fort, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Paul Worrilow, Nathan Gerry, and/or T.J. Edwards as full-time starters. They’re more suited for rotational/backup roles.

2 - The Eagles have options at linebacker

Brown has the experience and versatility to play multiple linebacker positions. It’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles line him up. Brown could get looks at MIKE but he typically hasn’t been the one calling plays in the past. The Eagles might prefer to shift Bradham from SAM to MIKE, which is a role he handled quite well after Hicks got hurt in 2017. In any case, Brown and Bradham figure to play a lot.

They won’t be the only linebackers to see the field. The likes of Fort* and Grugier-Hill could be competing for playing time, especially at WILL. Both players have coverage ability. Worrilow, who is coming off an ACL injury, is versatile but ideally more of a backup. Gerry and Edwards could make their living on special teams, assuming they make the roster.

There’s been some talk about how Brown isn’t great in coverage and that he’ll be more of a two-down linebacker. While I can see why that’s said, Brown’s numbers suggest he wasn’t some total liability in coverage last year. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks had a 87.4 passer rating when targeting players covered by Brown. Only 13 linebackers allowed lower ratings than that.

*One note on Fort: I’ve seen some suggest the Brown signing makes him expendable. It’s true that the Eagles could cut Fort to save a fourth-round pick compensatory pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With that said, cutting Fort only saves $93,750 in cap space compared to $1,316,666 in dead money. It’s not like the Eagles CAN’T move on from him but I don’t think they will. The team said he was someone they actively targeted leading up to free agency. Andrew Sendejo remains the more likely cut in terms of comp pick considerations.

3 - One must wonder why Brown was available

Speaking of PFF, Brown was their third best graded linebacker in 2018. So ... why was he cut, then?

Read this from ESPN:

Brown would make flashy plays, but Washington wanted more consistency, both as a run-stopper and in coverage. Though he played with an oblique injury last year, he was relegated to a backup role for the final four games more for those issues than because he was hurt. After his benching, Brown said he could see the “writing on the wall” with his time in Washington. […] They re-signed him last offseason to a three-year year deal worth up to $24 million, though the decision was not viewed as a unanimous one throughout the organization.

It’s also worth noting this year isn’t the first time Brown has lingered on the free agent market. It was several weeks into the new league year before Brown left the Titans to sign with the Bills in 2016. Coming off both Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors with Buffalo, Brown took about a month before signing with Washington in 2017. This year, Brown was available for just under two months despite the fact he wouldn’t count against a team’s comp pick formula.

Point being: teams haven’t exactly been blowing down Brown’s door to get him... or trying to retain him once they have him. One can only wonder about the reasons why Brown has struggled to find stability in the NFL.

4 - The Eagles’ roster sure is looking good

Howie Roseman’s done a strong job of both adding and retaining talent this offseason. Philadelphia arguably has one of the best rosters in the NFL.

Signing Brown filled one of the Eagles’ biggest remaining roster holes. What weaknesses remain?

The Eagles could afford to add some more interior offensive line depth with Brandon Brooks coming off an Achilles injury and Stefen Wisniewski potentially leaving in free agency. Signing Ezekiel Ansah after May 7 could be a real nice move to bolster the defensive end rotation, especially if Chris Long isn’t coming back. Adding another safety (claiming Blake Countess on waivers?) wouldn’t be the worst idea.

The Brown signing is a perfect example of how the Eagles are always looking to improve the roster. We can reasonably expect Roseman and co. to continue to upgrade the roster as the regular season slowly approaches.