Eagles

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles’ linebackers

NFL free agency 2019: A comprehensive look at Eagles’ linebackers

Reuben Frank, Dave Zangaro and Andrew Kulp continue the 2019 edition of Stay or Go, trying to figure out the future of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

Today, they’ll look at the linebackers. 

Jordan Hicks

Roob: This is a curious one. We all know Hicks can play. We all know he can’t stay healthy. I think this works in the Eagles’ favor. Nobody is going to give him a big free agent deal now, so I expect the Eagles to bring him back on a bargain-basement prove-it contract. Really, a no-risk move. If Hicks stays healthy and plays, great. If he doesn’t, no harm done.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: There’s probably a realistic scenario where Hicks doesn’t get a deal elsewhere and he comes back on the cheap with a prove-it deal. But I can’t shake what happened this season, when Nigel Bradham seemed to play much better in Hicks’ role. That’s why Hicks didn’t take back his old role when he came back in 2018. It’s a shame Hicks can’t stay healthy, but I just don’t think they can rely on him. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: Probably not a good sign Hicks, a free agent, was replaced in the Eagles’ dime package down the stretch. Still, I think it would be a mistake to let him go. Injuries in three of four seasons, sure, but Hicks is a bright, young playmaker —  five sacks, seven interceptions, six fumble recoveries in 45 career games. If the market is soft, the Eagles should bring him back on a prove-it deal.

Verdict: Stays

Nigel Bradham

Roob: Bradham was very good the second half of the season, and his improved play was one of the reasons the defense as a unit played significantly better the second half of the season. After the first month of the season, Bradham became an every-down player and was on the field for 99 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps the last 14 games (916 of 928). Very versatile and very valuable guy.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: The Eagles could cut Bradham to save cap room, but why would they? He got off to a slower start this past season, but really started to play better when the Eagles really needed him. He’s gotta be their guy at linebacker going forward. He basically takes over as the LB who never leaves the field. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Midway through the season, I was certain Bradham was gone. He really elevated his game in the second half though. That’s two years in a row where he’s been the Eagles’ most important linebacker. Nine million dollars might seem like a tall figure, but what's the alternative? The team needs him for now.

Verdict: Stays

Kamu Grugier-Hill

Roob: Grugier-Hill is another one who I thought was essentially a special teamer and emergency linebacker, but he was fine on defense this year, playing about a third of the defensive snaps after barely playing defense the year before. All these young, special teams-playing linebackers serve an important role with cheap contracts. That’s great value.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: KGH is a player. Sure, he made headlines for calling the Cowboys chokers, but his play all season was really good. He played well when he was in there on defense and is still a huge special teams contributor. As the weakside guy, he doesn’t play a ton on defense, but he still managed to make plays and he’s a great special teamer. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: Grugier-Hill led the Eagles for the second straight season with nine solo special teams tackles. He also did a respectable job as the team’s third linebacker, recording a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. KGH is a great insurance policy, maybe more. He’ll be 25 with a year left making the minimum, though an extension might be in order.

Verdict: Stays

Nate Gerry

Roob: Although he’s mainly a special teamer, Gerry played well enough in his linebacker cameos — 134 snaps the second half of the season — to really open some eyes. Ideally, your special teams linebackers should be viable backup position players, and the Eagles should feel comfortable in Gerry’s ability to play defense if he has to.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: He didn’t have many defensive plays this year, but he is a good special teams player. He’s entering Year 3 in 2019 and is still cheap. He might never be a starter, but he’s still valuable to have. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: There were some moments where Gerry showed a real nose for the football. It was only his second season at linebacker, so he’s still learning. Not sure he’ll ever be more than a competent part-time player, but Gerry is only turning 24, has two years on his contract and was third on the team in special teams snaps. He gets another season.

Verdict: Stays

D.J. Alexander

Roob: Alexander didn’t play any linebacker this year, but his 237 special teams snaps made him one of four players on the team who played more than half the team’s special teams. Alexander is an above-average special teamer who’s actually made a Pro Bowl in the past for his special teams work. We’ll see some changes at linebacker, but no reason for Alexander not to re-sign here.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Alexander didn’t play at all on defense in 2019, but he’s another core special teams player. Injuries kept him off the field some in his first season with the Eagles. He’s a free agent, so the Eagles will need to re-sign him. Maybe they don’t. But I think he’s worth bringing back to keep some stability for Dave Fipp’s unit. 

Verdict: Stays 

Kulp: Was fourth among linebackers in special teams snaps and saw zero action on defense. I think Alexander will sign elsewhere as a free agent. Teams need guys like him. The Eagles have a bunch already, not to mention will probably want to take a look at some players with more upside.

Verdict: Goes

B.J. Bello

Roob: Bello spent some time on the practice squad, some time on the active roster, played some special teams, never got on the field on defense. He’s still on his rookie contract from his stint with the Browns so there’s no reason he won’t be in camp with the Eagles, but ultimately I don’t see him sticking.

Verdict: Goes

Dave: He’s under contract, but I didn’t see much from Bello. He’ll be in camp this summer with a chance to make the roster. He’ll have a shot, but I’m thinking the Eagles move on. 

Verdict: Goes 

Kulp: There’s something to be said for a prospect who fought his way to the 53 after three months on the practice squad. Then again, he was inactive for the final game. Bello will get a longer look, but I imagine will fall victim to increased competition in camp.

Verdict: Goes

LaRoy Reynolds

Roob: Reynolds was quietly a very important piece of the Eagles’ special teams units. Reynolds has bounced around the league, but he’s only 27 and incredibly played 400 special teams snaps this year — 83 percent. He and Grugier-Hill were the only Eagles linebackers to play every game. Reynolds is a free agent, but unless he wants some sort of outlandish contract I’d definitely bring him back.

Verdict: Stays

Dave: Reynolds actually played a little bit on defense at times this season and was a special teams contributor, but he’s a free agent too. If I had to pick between Reynolds and Alexander, I’m sticking with Alexander, who is a year younger and has been a Pro Bowl ST player before. But I think they can bring both back and if Hicks is gone, Reynolds could have an even bigger role. 

Verdict: Stays

Kulp: This might surprise people: Reynolds played the most special teams snaps on the team in 2018, on the field for over 80 percent, and only Grugier-Hill came particularly close. Reynolds is due to become a free agent, though I wonder if he’ll even hit the market.

Verdict: Stays

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40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

40-year-old Josh McCown was getting ready to play WR on Monday night

The Eagles entered Monday night’s game with just three healthy wide receivers and after Alshon Jeffery and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside got hurt, they were down to just one. 

So who would have been the next guy in? 

Well, 40-year-old quarterback Josh McCown was getting ready. 

“I was ready to go,” McCown told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark. “We had the helmet ready to go. The equipment guys were all over it. Had the radio-less helmet because you can’t have two green dots on the field at the same time.” 

McCown didn’t end up playing in Monday’s 23-17 overtime win. The Eagles got by with what they had, which meant playing third tight end Josh Perkins in several different spots. 

But the oldest player on the roster was ready. 

“We were ready to roll,” he said. “Shoot, I’d get in there and go. Obviously, as a quarterback, you know the offense. I guess it was like 12 years ago in Foxboro I had to go in and do it.”

That game McCown was talking about was on Dec. 3, 2006. That was the last time he caught a pass in an NFL game. 

In that game, McCown caught two passes for 15 yards from Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. He also caught a 31-yard pass but it was brought back on an offensive pass interference call that he claimed was “a little suspect.” 

“Hopefully, I don’t get retroactively fined,” McCown said late Monday night, 13 years after the call. 

Is there a statute of limitations on that? 

Anyway, the fact that a 40-year-old McCown was even preparing to enter a game as a receiver is telling. First, about the injuries at that position. And, second, about the poor decision to go into a game with just three healthy receivers. 

Doug Pederson said the Eagles were hoping to have Nelson Agholor for the game, but he came in questionable and was inactive. 

At least they had McCown. 

“I’m not quite the option that J.J. (Arcega-Whiteside) is or Greg (Ward), obviously, but again, we were kind of up against it a little bit,” McCown said. “Just being able to have a contingency plan was the main thing. I was ready to roll.”

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Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

Carson Wentz rallies Eagles past Giants throwing to ... who???

It was Carson Wentz’s best stretch of football this year and it occurred under some of the most unusual circumstances you can imagine.

Tight ends playing receiver. Slot receivers playing outside. Practice squad guys in key roles.

A week after the Eagles blew a 14-point second-half lead to one two-win team, they rallied back from a 14-point second-half deficit against another two-win team.

And Wentz, after another slow start, finally looked like his old self.

Wentz not only rallied the Eagles back after they trailed by 14 points with two minutes left in the third quarter, he did it while throwing to Boston Scott, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside – none of whom were even playing a month ago – as well as Zach Ertz.

It is not easy,” Ertz said. “As a quarterback, chemistry, trust and timing is the No. 1 thing, and he’s putting a lot of trust in guys that he does not have a lot of reps with, and I think that speaks volumes of him. Being able to go out there, and it doesn’t really matter who is out there, NFC East opponent, down 17-3, and play his best football in that second half all year? I am extremely proud of him tonight with the way he led us.

Wentz threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ critical 23-17 overtime win over the Giants at the Linc.

But look at his numbers on the Eagles’ five drives during their late comeback: 21-for-28 for 226 yards with two TD passes to Ertz, including the game-winner in overtime.

You go into the game with three receivers and now you’ve got Greg Ward usually in the slot and he’s out there playing (outside)," Wentz said. "You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes I’ve never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays. They did a great job.

This was vintage Wentz. But it couldn’t have happened without guys making plays around him.

And it's been a while since we've seen that.

With Nelson Agholor out, Alshon Jeffery leaving with an early injury and Mack Hollins and Jordan Matthews long gone, Wentz had to rally the Eagles back from 17-3 with guys he’s barely practiced with.

With a shot at the playoffs at stake.

Just keep believing,” Wentz said. “Keep believing and it’s time to make a decision how this is going to define us. Obviously, we knew it was not our first half. That was a rough one and that was an ugly one. We just said, ‘Keep believing and keep staying together.’ Defense was going to take care of their piece, which they did. And we were able to do enough offensively to get this win.

Wentz has had his issues this year, and he had his issues in the first half Monday night.

But it’s amazing how much better he looks when guys are actually catching footballs for him.

This was the first time the Eagles have come back from a 14-point halftime deficit since the 2014 opener, when they beat the Jaguars 34-17 after trailing 17-0.

Before that? Giants in 2010 at the Meadowlands. You might remember a DeSean Jackson punt return as time expired?

In all, the Eagles were 2-45 in their last 47 games when they trailed by at least 14 points at halftime.

Wentz was asked how big it was for him to win his first overtime game and engineer a rally from 14 down at halftime for the first time in his career.

This is huge for this whole team,” he said. “To come in after halftime, to be where we were, and obviously knowing that our backs were against the wall, season on the line-type of thing, for guys to just stay tough and stay together late in the game … and get the win and drive down to score right away? It’s huge for me personally and for this entire team.

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