The Eagles lost valued inside linebacker T.J. Edwards to the Bears in the opening minutes of free agency Monday.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that Edwards and the Bears had agreed to a three-year, $19.5 million contract with $12 million guaranteed just 15 minutes into the legal tampering period, which opened at noon. No deals can be finalized until 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Losing Edwards is the first of what will likely be several big blows to the NFL’s No. 2 defense.
MORE: Top Eagles storylines heading into 2023 NFL free agency
Edwards had a career year in 2022 and was the 4th-highest rated linebacker in the NFL during the regular season according to Pro Football Focus with an 84.8 grade. He was 9th as a run defender [83.4], 5th as a pass rusher [81.0] and 10th in coverage [79.7].
Edwards, who made the Eagles in 2019 as an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin, earned about $4.2 million in his four seasons with the Eagles.
Although this deal is fairly modest, averaging $6.5 million per year, it does put him among the top-30 highest-paid linebackers in the league in 2023 based on average annual salary, although that will obviously go down as other players sign.
In Chicago, Edwards will play for head coach Matt Eberflus, who was on Frank Reich’s Colts staff from 2018 through 2020 with Nick Sirianni.
The Bears haven’t had a winning season since 2018 and went 3-14 last year with the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL.
Edwards, 26, has started 47 of 54 games for the Eagles over the past three years, and this past year wore the green dot helmet that enabled him to relay play calls from defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon to the other players on the defense.
Edwards was a Gannon favorite, but with Sean Desai now taking over the defense perhaps the urgency for the Eagles to re-sign Edwards wasn’t as great.
Other key Eagles defensive players who hit free agency Monday include Javon Hargrave, James Bradberry, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Kyzir White.
With Edwards gone and White hitting free agency, the only off-ball linebackers the Eagles have under contract for 2023 are Nakobe Dean, Shaun Bradley, Davion Taylor and Christian Ellis.
Dean is expected to take over one starting spot in 2023, but it remains to be seen who the other starter will be.
The Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first two rounds since Mychal Kendricks in 2012, and they haven’t drafted one in the first round since Jerry Robinson in 1979.