Executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman says the Eagles are a better football team after free agency and the draft. We're putting his claim to the test, breaking down the depth chart position by position to examine whether the roster really improved or actually took a step back this offseason.
The series continues with the linebacker position, where Nate Gerry is leading a youth movement.
By releasing Nigel Bradham and choosing not to sign one of the veteran free agents, not only did the Eagles aggressively signal a desire to get younger at linebacker. They also wanted to get faster. They didn't address the position the way they normally do, either, signing a couple undrafted rookies and plucking special teamers and prospects off waivers and opposing teams' practice squads.
They actually invested some draft picks here.
Coming off a solid season and arguably still developing, Nate Gerry is joined by third-round selection Davion Taylor and sixth-rounder Shaun Bradley. The Eagles also dealt for former third-round choice Duke Riley in the middle of last season. Now here's the thing: all four of Gerry, Taylor, Bradley and Riley clocked sub-4.6 times in the 40-yard dash. Even the free agent the club did sign, unheralded Jatavis Brown from the Chargers, once clocked a 4.44 at the combine.
In other words, these guys are fast, whereas Bradham was slowing down from injuries and with a 31st birthday approaching.
Sometimes there's no accounting for experience, something Bradham brought to the table in the form of eight seasons in the league. Kamu Grugier-Hill was allowed to walk as well, taking four more seasons with him.
The Eagles aren't lacking experience entirely, as Gerry, Riley and Brown all have at least three years under their belts. Just nowhere near Bradham's level. Kinda scary because we don't really know whether any of them will ever be as good as Bradham at the top of his game, either.
Gerry is the only real constant here, and he's coming off a fine season, perhaps even still developing.
A fifth-round pick in 2017, Gerry finished last year with 85 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 2 interceptions while playing all 17 games with a core muscle injury. The volume of missed tackles do stand out, though you could attempt to explain that away with the news after the fact he was hurt. Even if you prefer to sleep on Gerry instead, he's entering his fourth season in the defense and possesses sub-4.6 speed, so there's still upside.
Worst-case scenario, Gerry is a competent player who makes some plays and can lead the unit until somebody better comes along.
With so many young players, there are a lot of wild cards, but the one who doesn't appear to fit the mold the Eagles are making is T.J. Edwards.
As of now, Edwards projects as a potential starter alongside Gerry. As an undrafted rookie, he looked like a tackling machine, managing to rack up 30 while only playing 11 percent of the defensive snaps, and all of that production coming after Week 5. The thing is, Edwards is on the slow side, reportedly timing in the high 4.7s, so you have to wonder if the Eagles view him as a part-time player used primarily in base defenses.
Speed isn't everything, and Edwards seems to have a natural instinct for the position. But if opponents are going to be able to throw the ball over him and around him, you can understand why the Eagles are kicking the tires on more promising athletes.
Better or worse?
Bradham was a tough, smart player. What he did in 2017 and '18, taking over for Jordan Hicks, undoubtedly gave a lot of people new appreciation for what he brought to the table. He's just getting old and beat up, and clearly the rest of the league feels the way the Eagles do, because he's still a free agent.
Somebody will give Bradham a shot in camp at least, so we probably haven't seen the last of him. At this point though, Gerry and a bunch of unproven or second-chance linebackers is probably an upgrade. Bradham gutted it out last season despite the fact he wasn't 100 percent, but it showed — and who knows if he'll ever be 100 percent again.
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