It should come as no surprise there’s quite a bit of support among Eagles fans for the team to go linebacker with its first pick in the NFL draft. The only two positions people around here appreciate more are wide receivers and backup quarterbacks.
The Eagles also lost Jordan Hicks in free agency and traded Mychal Kendricks the previous offseason, leaving Nigel Bradham as the only recognizable name left in the unit. Sure, Kamu Grugier-Hill flashed potential in 2018 and the club signed L.J. Fort away from the Steelers, but these are guys better known for their special teams prowess.
Clearly, a case can be made the Eagles need another linebacker with some pedigree, somebody who brings the “thump.”
That doesn’t mean it’s necessary. While the Eagles’ base defense employs three linebackers, the reality is only two are on the field the overwhelming majority of the time, and by the end of last season, Bradham was often alone out there.
In this day and age, NFL teams really need one good every-down linebacker – Bradham – and two competent players to mix and match situationally. The Eagles appear to have the latter as well in Grugier-Hill and Fort.
It might not be sexy, and to be clear, this is not to advocate the Eagles pass on a linebacker if he’s the best player available. It’s just one of several reasons Howie Roseman won’t be forced to target the position at any point during draft weekend.
Bradham’s cap number more than doubles beginning in 2020, ballooning to nearly $9.8 million, yet the fact is he’s under contract through the next four seasons. As long as he plays like he did in 2017 and the second half of ’19, there’s no reason the Eagles can’t pay that. The contract is favorable for restructuring, and remember, they let Hicks go in part because Bradham took his job. He does turn 30 in September, which is a concern, but this front office hasn’t shied away from older players.
The Eagles already have plenty of options to pair with Bradham. Grugier-Hill played less than one-third of defensive snaps in ‘18 and recorded a sack, an interception and a forced fumble, plus finished sixth on the team with five tackles for loss. Fort was obviously brought in to compete, and Nathan Gerry showed enough that he’s still worth a look.
Watch special teams
A closer inspection at how the Eagles use their linebackers suggests this aspect of the roster is built largely with special teams in mind. Of the seven who took snaps in ’18, five saw more work in the kicking game than with the defense – and three of those guys were pretty much exclusively special teams. For pretty much anybody other than Bradham and Hicks, special teams wasn’t part of the job. It was the job.
There are bigger needs
The Eagles face questions of depth this year or have potential holes on the horizon at running back, receiver, offensive line, defensive line and cornerback. Meanwhile, Bradham, Fort and Gerry are all under contract for at least the next two seasons. Linebacker only looks like a hole because people are conditioned to think a defense needs two or three good ones, when truth be told, the position has really been devalued in pass-first NFL.
If the Eagles grab a linebacker early in the draft, great, but it’s really not an area anybody should be sweating.
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