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What the Eagles should do at linebacker

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Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The 2020 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have a lot of tough decisions to make as they try to get this team back to Super Bowl contention. Today we continue our position-by-position roster outlook series by examining the linebacker position. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Offensive guard | Center | Defensive end | Defensive tackle.

THE PLAYERS

NIGEL BRADHAM

Regular season stats: 717 defensive snaps, 11 special teams snaps, 61 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception, 1 defensive TD

Playoff stats: 63 defensive snaps, 5 tackles

Review: Bradham made a big play early in the season when he caught the Aaron Rodgers goal line throw that was deflected by Craig James for a game-sealing interception. It was his first pick that he actually caught (he’s dropped a number of interceptions) since the 2016 season. Bradham suffered an injury in Week 6 and then didn’t return to the field until Week 12. Bradham’s next most memorable moment was when he returned a Dwanye Haskins fumble on the final play of the game in Week 15 to put an exclamation point on the Eagles’ victory. Outside of those two highlights, though, it wasn’t a super memorable season from Bradham.

Outlook: The Eagles have a decision to make about Bradham’s future. The team must choose whether or not to pick up Bradham’s $8 million option for the 2020 season. Is allocating that much money to Bradham, who turns 31 in September, the best use of resources? I think the front office could want to move on, especially when you consider Howie Roseman talked about needing to get younger. But I also think Jim Schwartz really values Bradham (despite once calling him a dumbass) and Schwartz reportedly does have clout when it comes to personnel moves. Maybe Bradham is back for one more year but I don’t think it’s a lock.

Poll

Nigel Bradham: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Stay
    (2919 votes)
  • 52%
    Go
    (3185 votes)
6104 votes total Vote Now

NATHAN GERRY

Regular season stats: 620 defensive snaps, 335 special teams snaps, 72 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown

Playoff stats: 52 defensive snaps, 19 special teams snaps, 6 tackles

Review: Gerry began the season as the team’s third linebacker behind Bradham and Brown. The 2017 fifth-round pick then saw more playing time when Bradham got hurt and Brown was released. The Eagles’ coaching staff trusted Gerry to call plays for the defense. Gerry had a number of miscues and missed tackles but, as his stats show, he did make some big plays as well. In addition to contributing on defense, Gerry also played a lot of special teams snaps. And he did it all while playing through a core muscle injury he suffered back in training camp and didn’t have surgery on until after the season. Tough dude.

Outlook: There’s a bit of disconnect when it comes to how observers value Gerry and how the team values him. Eagles linebackers coach Ken Flajole literally said something to the effect that Gerry knows more about football than he does. The team seems to value Gerry’s mental ability and his toughness. To the chagrin of some, I think we could see the Eagles sign him to a below market contract extension this offseason ... not dissimilar to the approach they took with Isaac Seumalo last year. “Whitesnake” is likely here to stay.

Poll

Nathan Gerry: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 84%
    Stay
    (5000 votes)
  • 15%
    Go
    (936 votes)
5936 votes total Vote Now

KAMU GRUGIER-HILL

Regular season stats: 300 defensive snaps, 126 special teams snaps, 22 tackles

Review: Kamu was looking pretty great in offseason practices; it looked like the Eagles’ special teams captain was ready to make a leap as a defender in 2020. Then he unfortunately suffered an MCL injury during a training camp practice. Kamu was out until Week 4 and only had a limited role immediately upon returning. Kamu role’s grew with Bradham hurt and Brown cut but his playing time declined as the season went on and Bradham returned. Kamu suffered a concussion on the first play in Week 13 but he hid it from the medical staff and Doug Pederson expressed disappointment about that. Kamu missed the team’s Week 14 game and then suspiciously only played five defensive snaps upon returning in Week 15. Adding to the suspicion, Kamu was shut down for the season with a back injury that he hadn’t been previously listed with on the injury report. One could perceive Kamu shut himself down after the Eagles may have punished him for hiding a concussion.

Outlook: Kamu is going to be a free agent and I’m guessing he’s not going to be re-signed. It doesn’t seem like him and his agent are on the same page with the team given how his season abruptly ended. Further, the Eagles gave away Kamu’s special teams captaincy to Riley in the playoffs. I like Kamu and I think it’s unfortunate he couldn’t stay healthy this season. But I get the sense he’s going to be leaving.

Poll

Kamu Grugier-Hill: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Stay
    (2263 votes)
  • 59%
    Go
    (3259 votes)
5522 votes total Vote Now

ZACH BROWN

Regular season stats: 268 defensive snaps, 36 special teams snaps, 29 tackles, 2 passes defensed

Review: Signing Brown after the 2019 NFL Draft seemed like a good bargain pickup by Howie Roseman. Alas, it was not. Brown struggled to play well and he unnecessarily gave the Vikings extra ammo in Week 6 when he said Kirk Cousins was the weakest part of Minnesota’s offense. Brown then dodged questions about his Cousins comments after the Eagles’ defense got shredded by the Vikings’ quarterback. Not a great look! The Eagles cut Brown after that Week 6 loss and he didn’t play a single game the rest of the season. Good riddance.

T.J. EDWARDS

Regular season stats: 112 defensive snaps, 334 special teams snaps, 22 tackles

Playoff stats: 10 snaps, 22 special teams snaps, 1 tackle

Review: Edwards notably made the 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie free agent. He didn’t really see playing time until Bradham got hurt and Brown got released. Edwards isn’t known for his coverage skills but he was able to contribute as a run defender. He primarily served as the third linebacker in the Eagles’ base 4-3 defense in addition to playing special teams.

Outlook: The thinking here is the Eagles view Edwards as a third or fourth linebacker behind their primary two starters. It’ll be interesting to see if the 23-year-old can exceed expectations and take a step forward this offseason. But he might just be a backup, which is fine.

Poll

T.J. Edwards: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    Stay
    (4340 votes)
  • 12%
    Go
    (613 votes)
4953 votes total Vote Now

DUKE RILEY

Regular season stats: 28 defensive snaps, 254 special teams snaps, 5 tackles

Playoff stats: 6 defensive snaps, 19 special teams snaps

Review: The Eagles unexpectedly traded Johnathan Cyprien and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2020 seventh-round pick in exchange for Riley and the Atlanta Falcons’ 2020 sixth-round pick in early October. Riley largely served as a special teams contributor in addition to being a fourth linebacker in occasional defensive packages. Riley finished the season tied with Craig James for the Eagles’ lead in special teams tackles. Riley was also voted as the new special teams captain for the playoffs, replacing the injured Grugier-Hill in that role.

Outlook: Acquiring Riley was a low key shrewd move by Roseman. He got rid of Cyprien, who was struggling and would’ve been cut anyway, for a useful special teams contributor/backup linebacker. Oh, and Roseman jumped up a round in the draft in the process. Riley’s presence on the roster makes Grugier-Hill expendable and gives the Eagles depth in 2020.

Poll

Duke Riley: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Stay
    (3799 votes)
  • 17%
    Go
    (784 votes)
4583 votes total Vote Now

ALEX SINGLETON

Regular season stats: 0 defensive snaps, 198 special teams snaps

Playoff stats: 15 special teams snaps

Review: The Eagles signed Singleton to a futures deal out of the CFL last offseason. He really impressed in the preseason games but didn’t make the roster and was instead signed to the practice squad. Singleton got called up to the 53 in Week 7 and helped out on special teams for the rest of the year.

Outlook: I don’t know if Singleton, who turns 27 in December, is anything more than a special teams contributor. But he can at least do that. He’ll need another good offseason to fight for a spot on the 2020 team.

Poll

Alex Singleton: Stay or go?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Stay
    (1910 votes)
  • 49%
    Go
    (1867 votes)
3777 votes total Vote Now

L.J. FORT

Regular season stats: 0 defensive snaps, 75 special teams snaps

Review: The Eagles signed Fort to a contract worth nearly $2 million guaranteed in free agency last year. So, the front office seemed to like him. But the coaching staff didn’t seem to be on the same page. Fort didn’t play at all on defense before the Eagles cut him after Week 4. The Baltimore Ravens picked up Fort and he played well for them, even earning a contract extension during the season. It’s understandable why the Eagles got Fort to preserve a 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick ... but they didn’t have to release him as early as they did. The Eagles kept Andrew Sendejo, who was in the same comp pick boat, as long as they possibly could (Week 9). The Eagles could’ve at least used Fort around for when Bradham go hurt and Brown got cut. But what’s done is done, he’s gone now.

FREE AGENCY OR TRADES

Two names to watch here: Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski.

My BGN Radio co-host Jimmy Kempski wrote about Littleton and talked about him even more on last week’s podcast. A sampling:

The Eagles haven’t had a consistent playmaking linebacker since the 2016 season, when Jordan Hicks had 85 tackles (6 for loss), 5 INTs and 11 pass breakups. They have a chance to add an impact linebacker in Littleton this offseason, who would be a great fit in the Eagles’ scheme, primarily as a coverage linebacker, but who can also do so many other things. There’s a lot to like here. [...] Littleton’s 22 passes defensed over the last two seasons lead all NFL linebackers. His 259 tackles rank sixth among linebackers. And oh by the way, he also has five blocked punts.

Littleton only turns 27 in November so he could be a nice play-maker in the Eagles’ defense for several seasons. The Los Angles Rams aren’t in a perfect spot to keep him since they’ve spent so much money at other positions.

Kwiatkoski is a player the Eagles showed a ton of interest in leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft. The team hosted him on an official pre-draft visit, they interviewed him at the Senior Bowl, they attended his pro day, and they put him through a private workout. Kwiatkoski ended up being selected in the fourth round, between a large gap from the Eagles’ third-round pick (Isaac Seumalo at No. 79) and the Eagles’ fifth-round pick (Wendell Smallwood at No. 153). Had the Eagles had a fourth-round selection, maybe Kwiatkoski would’ve been the pick.

In any case, Kwiatkoski has had a limited role with the Chicago Bears since they’ve had talented inside linebackers in Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. Kwiatkoski could be looking for a bigger role and the Eagles could offer that to the 26-year-old.

The Eagles could move on from Bradham and get younger at the position by signing one of these free agent linebackers.

NFL DRAFT OPTIONS

Written by Ben Natan:

The Eagles could certainly benefit from adding a talented young linebacker to the defense. While Isaiah Simmons and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray will probably go before the Eagles pick first, there are a few names to consider in the back half of the first round and into day two.

I mentioned Zack Baun among edge prospects to consider but I think his value increases when viewing him as an off-ball linebacker. Baun is going to be the consolation prize for whichever team wants and can’t get Isaiah Simmons. Baun was a dominant player for Wisconsin in 2019 and is a true do-it-all defender. He can rush the passer off the edge, blitz off ball, defend the run and has shown ability in coverage. Baun would take some developing as a linebacker, but the upside for him would be huge.

Another name to consider later in the draft is Oregon’s Troy Dye. The senior linebacker is a solid, consistent and physical player who was a leader for the Ducks on and off the field. He would bring a vocal presence to the Eagles defense while also providing every down dependability.If the Eagles want to wait late in the draft and still hope to land a playmaker, keep eyes on Markus Bailey out of Purdue and Cal’s Evan Weaver. Bailey had his last season cut short by injury, but the speedy linebacker had tons of hype coming into this season. He is a coverage player who can also attack the run and blitz. Evan Weaver is more of a classic banger at the position, but a dependable tackling machine who is better than advertised in pass coverage.

Solid linebackers are not too hard to find and the Eagles will likely be in the market for one this offseason. However, don’t discount what adding a dynamic defender to your line backing group can do for a defense. The Eagles surely have to consider spending a high pick here.