Nigel Bradham

How will pieces of Eagles’ linebacker group fit together this year?

usa-nigel-bradham-zach-brown-kamu-grugier-hill-nate-gerry.jpg
USA Today Images

How will pieces of Eagles’ linebacker group fit together this year?

As we sit here in mid-June, one of the more intriguing positions for this Eagles team is linebacker. 

Jordan Hicks took a big contract from Arizona in free agency and then the Eagles brought in Zach Brown and L.J. Fort to supplement their linebackers group, which still includes Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill. 

While the position isn’t in the same condition as it was earlier this offseason, when a lot of the fanbase was clamoring for action, it still isn’t completely defined. 

How do all the pieces fit together? 

Well, the Eagles don’t even know yet.

“I’m trying to figure out what spot a lot of guys are best fit for,” linebackers coach Ken Flajole said. “We’ve got a lot of moving pieces right now and it’s going to be fluid all the way through training camp. We’re going to play guys at a lot of different positions.”

One thing is for sure: Bradham is going to start and he isn’t going to leave the field. 

After that … 

This spring, like Flajole said, the Eagles have been using different combinations. Bradham is getting over an injury, so he hasn’t practiced. That has gotten more players first-team reps but it has also masked any true depth chart the Eagles might have. Bradham is one piece of the puzzle, but we don’t necessarily know where his best fit is. Flajole mentioned that Bradham filled in at the MIKE the last two seasons for an injured Hicks, but admitted that might not be his most natural position. That could be true. But it could also be true that Bradham at the MIKE might be best for the team. 

Because of that, the Eagles need to figure out what they have in the other guys before they can, 1) Figure out which pieces to use, and, 2) Figure out how they all fit.  

To start mandatory minicamp on Tuesday (Bradham isn’t practicing yet), Gugier-Hill, Nate Gerry and Paul Worrilow were the Eagles’ starters in their base package. Zach Brown worked with the second team. 

Here’s a look at all the Eagles’ linebacker options after Bradham: 

Kamu Grugier-Hill: It’s hard to believe that KGH is entering his fourth NFL season, but he turned out to be quite a waiver claim for the Eagles after final cuts in 2016. He’s starting to look more like a linebacker than a safety, the position he played in college. Grugier-Hill started 10 games last season, played well and might be ready for an even bigger role. “I’d like to think that he can be a real factor for us,” Flajole said. 

Nathan Gerry: Entering Year 3, Gerry is far along in his transition from college safety. He’s the kind of rangy linebacker the Eagles like in this modern NFL. He played in 13 games last year with two starts and has been getting early run with the first team this spring.  

Paul Worrilow: After working his way back from and ACL tear last minicamp, Worrilow missed a few days of OTAs but was back on the field for minicamp. Flajole seems to like the 29-year-old veteran who has started 52 games in his career. He called him a “stallion” for his recovery. 

Zach Brown: The former division rival is still learning the Eagles’ defense, which is probably why he isn’t with the first-team defense yet. During OTAs, he did get some reps with the ones. He’s a talented guy but might end up being a two-down ‘backer for the Eagles. Still, he would be a fit at the MIKE if the Eagles decide they’re better off playing Bradham at his more natural position at the SAM. 

L.J. Fort: The 29-year-old veteran is a special teams ace, so he’ll at least have that role, replacing LaRoy Reynolds or D.J. Alexander. He was hoping to play more on defense here, but there appear to be some bodies in front of him he’d need to jump first. 

T.J. Edwards: A really talented rookie linebacker from Wisconsin, Edwards was expected to be drafted and never heard his name called. He has a shot to make this roster, but it might not be easy. If he doesn’t, the practice squad would make sense. 

Joey Alfieri: Like Edwards, Alfieri is another undrafted rookie. The Stanford product is another talented UDFA. Flajole said Edwards and Alfieri are two of the most talented UDFAs they’ve had since he’s been here. 

Alex Singleton: A little bit of a wild card, Singleton was an All-Star in the CFL for Calgary and was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2017.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles

Eagles reportedly rework contracts of Nigel Bradham, Chris Long to save cap space

ap-eagles-howie-roseman.jpg
AP Images

Eagles reportedly rework contracts of Nigel Bradham, Chris Long to save cap space

Howie Roseman continues to tweak contracts to carve out salary cap space. For who? For what? Only time will tell.

Roseman cleared about $5 million more in space by restructuring deals for linebacker Nigel Bradham and defensive end Chris Long, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.

Long had 6 1/2 sacks last year in his 11th season and has been vague about his future, so it was easy to assume this was a sign that he may be return in 2019. However, he quickly dispelled that:

The Eagles have an adjusted 2019 cap figure of $197,508,046, and according to Yates these two restructures cleared $5.032 million.

Before the restructures, Long had a cap figure of $5.6 million for 2019 and Bradham had a $9 million figure. Details of the exact breakdowns of the restructures aren't yet available.

So everybody wants to know what the Eagles have available after all their moves, and it’s a great question, but it’s impossible to answer, since details of the DeSean Jackson and Malik Jackson contracts along with the details of these restructures aren’t yet available.

It’s interesting to see Roseman clearing so much cap space — he’s also re-worked Lane Johnson’s deal to create cap space — while sitting out the expensive first wave of free agency.

It’s still possible this is all a precursor to a massive, long-term deal in the $30 million per year range for Carson Wentz, although it’s no lock that will happen this offseason.

The Eagles will need between $6 and $7 million to pay their rookie draft picks.

Beyond that? We’ll all find out soon! 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the 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

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Eagles