Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Closer look: Eagles' LB situation

The Eagles acquired linebacker Ernie Sims from the Lions on Monday. What does this mean for the linebackers already on the roster? And will the Birds target an LB in this week's draft?

Closer look: Eagles' LB situation

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The Eagles have a lot riding on the right knee of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer).
The Eagles have a lot riding on the right knee of middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer).
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With the Eagles acquiring Ernie Sims from the Lions in a three-way trade today, let's take a look at the team's linebacker situation and tie things into our LB draft outlook.

Middle linebacker

Everything here depends on the health of Stewart Bradley. The Inquirer's Jeff McLane recently provided an update on Bradley's recovery from a torn ACL during last summer's training camp. All indications are that he'll be good to go. And the Eagles better hope that's the case because the last thing Sean McDermott needs is the linebacker shuffle we saw last season - different players rotating in and out of the middle, none getting the job done.

The other players on the current Eagles' roster are not ideal fits: Omar Gaither, Akeem Jordan and Joe Mays. Gaither beat out Mays for the starting position after Bradley was sidelined and was up and down in the first five games of the season before going down with a season-ending foot injury. Jordan got a chance in the middle later in the year, but did not produce.

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The bottom line is it can't be overstated how much is riding on Bradley's right knee. If he's 100 percent or close to it, the Eagles transform a position of weakness into a major strength. If he's not, they are in the same position they were in last year.

Weak-side linebacker

The acquisition of Sims is an interesting one for a number of reasons. Going back to Jordan, he manned the weak-side position through the first eight games last season and did a very nice job. He was easily the team's best linebacker and really was one of their top defensive performers overall. He got pressure when called on to blitz. He continued to show good coverage skills. And I thought he did a nice job against the run also.

Which brings us to Sims. At 6-0, 230 pounds, it would make sense to assume he'll compete at the weakside position. That is where he played with the Lions last year, according to MLive.com. It should be noted that Sims told Les Bowen over at Eagletarian that he hasn't discussed his role yet with the Eagles.

The Eagles' other option on the weak side would be Gaither, who has seen significant time there in the past.

I'll confess to not having seen Sims play a lot with the Lions, but on the surface, it seems like a low-risk move. Sims is in the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make just $1.05M next season. He's a former top-10 pick and just 25 years old. A good year in 2010 could earn Sims a big payday. And if he doesn't pan out, the Eagles only gave up a fifth-round pick.

Strong-side linebacker

This is the position where the Eagles have the fewest options. Moise Fokou and Alex Hall, who was acquired in the Chris Gocong/Sheldon Brown trade, appear to be the most likely candidates to battle it out.

Fokou drew criticism from fans, piling up 73 penalty yards last season, the most of any Eagles defender. But keep in mind that he was a seventh-round pick, who fought his way on to the roster in training camp and then was thrown into the starting lineup. Not making excuses for him, but he did not go through the typical rookie learning process.

As for Hall, I don't think anyone knows what to expect.

Draft outlook

We all know the Eagles do not typically target linebackers early in the draft, and I would be surprised if they went that route in the first round.

But could one of those five selections in the first 87 be used on a linebacker? Absolutely. I see cornerback as the most immediate need, but the next tier includes an interior offensive lineman, safety and linebacker - middle or strong-side.

It make sense to find someone who can compete with Fokou and Hall, and also someone who can provide depth or insurance in the middle for Bradley.

Earlier, we rounded up several more mock drafts.


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Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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