The Eagles had an unprecedented lack of experience at linebacker.
Then their most experienced linebacker retired.
Jatavis Brown’s surprise retirement Sunday leaves the Eagles with just three linebackers that have played a single NFL defensive snap and none with more than 16 career starts.
Only two — Nate Gerry and T.J. Edwards — were on the 53-man roster on opening day last year. Only one has played more than 115 snaps in an Eagles uniform.
Brown, who the Eagles signed as a free agent in March, has played 56 games and started 23 and has 1,834 career defensive snaps.
He’s played more snaps than every other Eagles linebacker combined.
It wasn’t clear exactly what Brown’s role would be here, but he started seven games at outside linebacker as a rookie with the Chargers in 2016 and 16 more with the Chargers over the last three years.
In a linebacker room with precious little experience, he's been around a little bit.
The only remaining Eagles linebackers who’ve ever played defense in a regular-season NFL game are Duke Riley, Nate Gerry and T.J. Edwards.
Gerry started 12 games and played 630 snaps last year and had two interceptions, 2 ½ sacks and four tackles for loss.
Edwards started four games as an undrafted rookie last year and played 115 snaps.
Riley only played 29 defensive snaps after being acquired from the Falcons a month into the season, but he was a part-time starter in Atlanta in 2017 and 2018.
Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley and Dante Olson are rookies, and Alex Singleton is in his second year after playing only on special teams last year.
The entire group has played a total of 1,549 career defensive snaps. Considering that the average NFL game includes about 65 snaps, that means the Eagles’ linebacking corps combined has played the equivalent of about 24 games.
Here’s a look at the games, starts and defensive snaps the Eagles’ current linebackers have under their belts, with their age in parentheses:
OLB Duke Riley (26): 44 games—16 starts—660 snaps
OLB Nate Gerry (25): 39—15—774
ILB T.J. Edwards (23): 16—4—115
OLB Alex Singleton (26): 10—0—0
ILB Shaun Bradley (23): 0—0—0
ILB Dante Olson (23): 0—0—0
OLB Davion Taylor (22): 0—0—0
The good news is the Eagles rarely use more than two linebackers at a time. They only played 109 snaps with three linebackers last year and 11 snaps with four linebackers. That leaves 914 snaps — 88 percent — with two or fewer linebackers on the field.
But it leaves the Eagles very little veteran depth.
When last year began, the Eagles still had Super Bowl starters Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill in the mix, but they didn’t try to re-sign either one. And they cut ties with both promising L.J. Fort and veteran Zach Brown early in the season.
Bradham is now with the Saints, Grugier-Hill with the Dolphins, Fort with the Ravens and Brown is out of football.
The Eagles did replenish the roster with young linebackers this offseason.
Taylor was a third-round pick out of Colorado — the highest Howie Roseman has selected a linebacker since second-rounder Mychal Kendricks in 2012. Bradley was a fifth-round pick out of Temple via Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly. Olson is undrafted out of Montana.
And Singleton is a former CFL star who was the Calgary Stampeders’ defensive MVP in 2017.
Gerry plays hard and is productive. Edwards showed flashes. Riley had his first offseason learning the defense.
Maybe they can all stay healthy and be productive. Maybe Taylor can contribute off the bat. Maybe one of the other youngsters can find his way onto the field. Maybe Roseman can scrounge somebody decent off the street.
But with Brown gone, an already thin group is even thinner.
It’s a precarious situation. And in a season where everybody expects players to come and go all year — if there is a year — the Eagles have a glaring lack of experience at linebacker 34 days before the season is scheduled to begin.
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