Jordan Hicks

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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With future hanging in balance, Jordan Hicks ready for playoff debut

With future hanging in balance, Jordan Hicks ready for playoff debut

The hardest part came on game days. 

During last year’s playoff run, Jordan Hicks still felt like he was one of the guys during the week. He was around the team, he could shoot hoops with them on the Pop-A-Shot hoop in the Eagles’ locker room, they could go out to dinner, go to meetings and pretty much do most of the things he wanted with his teammates. 

Except on Sundays. 

“When it’s game day, it’s a different animal,” Hicks said Friday. “When you’re not dressing up, you really feel secluded in a way.”

After missing the entire playoff run a year ago and after recovering from a calf injury that kept him out for four games this season, the Eagles’ 26-year-old linebacker is going to make his playoff debut this Sunday in Chicago. And after all he’s been through, he’s not going to take it for granted. 

Adding to the drama is that every game from here on out could be his final game with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2015 draft. 

Hicks is set to become a free agent in March, although he tries his hardest to keep those thoughts from creeping into his head:

Obviously, the focus is on this game, at the end of the day. It’s what it is. It has to be. The moment I start focusing on something else, I’m wrong. There’s times where it tries to trickle in, but I try to block all that out. I owe it to this team to give it everything I have to this game Sunday. 

It was one of the saddest moments of the season to date: I was on the field at the Superdome in New Orleans well after the butt-kicking was over and the locker room had cleared. Hicks was one of the last players to make the long walk across the field to where the Eagles’ team buses were parked. He walked with a pronounced limp and wore a worried expression on his face. 

The doctors gave Hicks a 4-6 week prognosis and Hicks made it his goal to make it four. Despite what he called some “flashback-y” feelings to last year, Hicks missed four games and returned two weeks ago against Houston. 

Since returning a couple weeks ago, Hicks has played in a more limited role. He claims he’s completely bought in to doing whatever the coaching staff wants of him, but said he felt like he really turned a corner from a health standpoint this week. He’s feeling really good going into Wild Card Weekend. 

Hicks made a point to say he was proud of the fact that he played in 641 consecutive defensive snaps to start the season. Injuries have really plagued his young career; he’s played all 16 games just once in four seasons. 

That inability to stay healthy will probably negatively affect his potential earnings when he hits free agency in a few months. It might also affect his likelihood of coming back to Philly if the Eagles feel like they can’t depend on him. 

But at least he doesn’t have to watch these playoffs like last year. 

“It’s a hard position to be in,” Hicks said. “And it’s all about the desire to want to be out there and make a difference in the game.”

He’ll get that chance Sunday. And it might be his last chance as an Eagle.

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Eagles injury update: Jordan Hicks, Jason Kelce return as Eagles near regular season finale

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Eagles injury update: Jordan Hicks, Jason Kelce return as Eagles near regular season finale

Updated: 3:19 p.m.

Jordan Hicks (calf) and Jason Kelce (knee) were back on the practice field on Friday after missing Thursday’s session and are listed as questionable for Sunday. 

Head coach Doug Pederson said both were given rest on Thursday. 

Hicks had a little inflammation in his injured calf, but was a limited participant in today’s indoor practice. Hicks returned last week in a limited fashion after missing the previous four games. 

Kelce popped up on the injury report with a knee injury this week and was also limited on Friday. 

“He’ll be good,” Pederson said. “He’ll practice today. We’ll see where he’s at on game day.”

Here are game statuses for Sunday: 

Out: LB D.J. Alexander (hamstring), CB Sidney Jones (hamstring), G Isaac Seumalo (pectoral), WR Mike Wallace (ankle), QB Carson Wentz (back)

Questionable: DE Michael Bennett (foot), LB Jordan Hicks (calf), C Jason Kelce (knee), T Jason Peters (quadricep)

Rest has been a theme during the last few weeks of preparation. In fact, Pederson the last two weeks has actually eliminated Wednesday practices in favor of walkthroughs with the goal of keeping his decimated team healthy. 

As a former player, Pederson said he would think about how he would handle a team if he were ever in that position and is doing this to rest his players so they can play on Sundays. He has had previous coaches back off reps, but going to walkthroughs is his own idea. 

Late last season, players actually went to Pederson and asked to put the pads back on and he obliged. He said if they make the playoffs, there’s a chance they could do that again, but based on not having a bye week in that scenario, that seems unlikely. 

Some more notes: 

• Isaac Seumalo (pec) is out, so Wiz will start at left guard. 

• Mike Wallace came through his first practice in months fine and was limited on Friday. He has already been ruled out as he recovers from that broken fibula. If Wallace plays again this season, it would be in the playoffs … if the Eagles get there. 

• Michael Bennett (foot) missed practice for the third straight day. He has been missing practice time and has been questionable for about a month now. But he keeps playing on Sundays, which is all the Eagles can ask for. He’s officially questionable. 

• Jason Peters (quad) was at practice on Friday after being limited on Thursday. The expectation is for him to start on Sunday, but Halapoulivaati Vaitai has to be ready to go in, which has been a theme all year. Peters is questionable. 

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