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Eagles sign two veteran linebackers

Philadelphia is clearly looking for more help in the middle of the defense.

NFL: OCT 30 Steelers at Eagles Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Philadelphia Eagles are signing free agent veteran linebackers Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham, according to NFL insiders Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport.

Each player reportedly signed a one-year contract worth up to $2.5 million. It’s not currently clear how much of that money is guaranteed.

This news hardly comes as a surprise; the Eagles were looking thin at the linebacker position. Whereas last year the likes of T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White were making plays in training camp, this year’s group has been pretty quiet. The top trio of Nakobe Dean, Nicholas Morrow, and Christian Elliss have failed to really stand out in a positive way this summer.

Dean is dealing with an ankle injury that’s caused him to miss at least two practices. Rapoport noted that Dean “should be back soon” and therefore the new signings are not a reflection of status. Still, we’ve regularly noted that Dean has yet to have a flashy practice moment since being selected by the Eagles in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Morrow has lost first-team practice reps to both Elliss and Nolan Smith moving to off-ball linebacker at various points. The only time he’s been noticeable has been when he’s getting beat in coverage. It should be noted that the Eagles can cut Morrow prior to the season to clear $1.09 million in cap space with $0 in dead money.

Elliss flashed in two media-attended OTA practices and caught an interception that Marcus Mariota threw right at him on the first day of camp. Since then, however, he hasn’t really flashed.

Behind those three, the Eagles have ... Shaun Bradley and Ben VanSumeren. The former has been a special teams player not trusted to play on defense (0 snaps last year). The latter is a raw undrafted rookie free agent.

Enter Jack and Cunningham, who will now compete for spots on the 53-man roster.

The idea of the Eagles signing Jack was previously floated by ESPN back in May. With 95 starts in 103 career regular season games played (plus three playoff starts), Jack brings plenty of experience to the table. The Eagles also have some inside insight on him given that senior personnel director/advisor to the general manager Dave Caldwell was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ GM when Jack was selected with the No. 36 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Why was Jack still a free agent? Here’s some insight from our friends over at Behind The Steel Curtain:

Jack played the majority of the 2022 season injured, dealing with an ongoing groin injury which many thought severely hampered his overall ability to play on the interior. It is possible the Steelers thought this injury wasn’t getting better, and chose to go in a different direction.

Set to count $11.25 million towards the 2023 salary cap, the $8 million in Jack’s salary for the season is what the Steelers will save against the salary cap. The $3.25 million prorated bonus will go under the category of dead money.

Jack has recorded nary an interception nor a forced fumble in each of his last two seasons. According to Pro Football Reference, he allowed a 107.4 passer rating while targeted in 2022 and a 108.3 passer rating while targeted in 2021. Jack also ranked 70th out of 90 linebackers graded by Pro Football Focus (minimum 20% snaps played).

Not great! But maybe Jack can get healthy and rebound closer to earlier career form in his age 28 season?

As for Cunningham, he entered the league as the No. 57 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s logged 76 career starts in 82 games played. Cunningham mostly recently played for the Tennessee Titans. Here’s more on his exit from there via our friends over at Music City Miracles:

Cunningham is Tennessee’s fourth notable release of the day after new general manager Ran Carthon also released left tackle Taylor Lewan, wide receiver Robert Woods, and kicker Randy Bullock. Releasing Cunningham creates approximately $8.9 million in cap space while creating a manageable dead cap charge of roughly $4.5 million, per Spotrac. It was an expected move.

Recurring elbow injuries derailed Cunningham’s 2022 campaign. Cunningham finished the year on season-ending IR and did not feature in Tennessee’s AFC South-deciding title showdown versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18.

So, like Jack, Cunningham was a cap casualty.

Also like Jack, Cunningham cannot be counted on as a playmaker. The 28-year-old has zero interceptions and two forced fumbles since the start of the 2019 season. Cunningham’s career passer rating while targeted numbers are not great:

2018 — 103.2
2019 — 107.4
2020 — 126.0
2021 — 107.6
2022 — 96.2

Cunningham’s PFF grade from last year would put him 53rd out of 91 players.

And so it’s not like these linebacker signings suddenly relieve all concerns about the Eagles’ linebacker position. But Howie Roseman is throwing some more options at the wall to see if something sticks.

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