Philadelphia Eagles positional reviews: Will linebacker Mychal Kendricks be here in September?

Philly.com has been looking at the Eagles’ 90-man roster since last Monday, before they begin organized team activities on May 23. Here’s the schedule:

May 8: Wide receivers
May 9: Running backs
May 10: Offensive linemen
May 11: Tight ends
May 12: Defensive ends
May 15: Defensive tackles
May 16: Linebackers
May 17: Cornerbacks
May 18: Safeties
May 19: Quarterbacks

LINEBACKERS

Spotlight on: Mychal Kendricks

In March, the Eagles were actively shopping Mychal Kendricks, but they wanted a fifth-round draft pick in return. That sounded like a fair swap, considering the linebacker’s relative youth – he’ll be 27 in September – but teams seemed to balk at giving up anything for a player whom the Eagles could eventually waive. I thought that Kendricks might be dealt during the draft, but the NFL market overall was quiet and, as of this writing, he’s still on the roster.

Kendricks was present for the first day of offseason workouts last month. It would have made no sense for him to skip the voluntary sessions. If he were to suffer a significant injury while on Eagles property, they would be on the hook for his base salary this year. Still, it’s a mild surprise that he’s still on the team. Kendricks is making $4.85 million in base salary and has a $6.6 million salary cap number. That’s a chunk of change for a player who was on the field for only 27 percent of defensive snaps and who most likely won’t play more in 2017. Kendricks played on a number of special-teams units for the first time last year – and he actually thrived there – but that’s still a lot of money for a part-time contributor. He wasn’t happy, clearly. He tried to play the dutiful soldier, but that just isn’t in his makeup. He wants to play and he’s in his “prime” years, so it’s understandable.

The Eagles would prefer to get something for Kendricks. He has played both strong- and weak-side in a 4-3 and inside in a 3-4, so there could be a number of teams interested. He has phenomenal physical skills. But he needs to be freed to play in space and rush the passer. Kendricks hardly played on passing downs, but he was sent after the quarterback on only 9 of 106 snaps. Jim Schwartz would rather not have to send more than four linemen. Kendricks can get undisciplined and will overrun the occasional tackle attempt or take a bad angle in pass coverage. But, again, he’s only 26. A player-for-player exchange could make more sense than a deal for a draft pick.

If the Eagles were to waive Kendricks, they would save only $1.8 million against the cap. But if they were to do so after June 1, they would trim $5 million off the top. You don’t see that very often and it’s not as if the Eagles are very deep at linebacker. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham played in all 16 games last season, but how likely is that to happen again?

On the 53-man roster: Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Kendricks, Joe Walker

Bradham played 97 percent of the snaps on defense, and Hicks played 95 percent. They were the Eagles’ three-down linebackers, and both had strong seasons. Hicks’ was particularly impressive. He might have been the defense’s best player. The middle linebacker was certainly its most consistent. He finished the season with 95 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, four hurries, five interceptions, six passes defensed, and one fumble recovery. He led all NFL linebackers in interceptions. Hicks is the first NFL linebacker to record 11-plus takeaways (7 INTs and 4 fumble recoveries) in his first 24 career games since the Steelers’ Jack Ham.

The No. 1 concern about Hicks entering 2016 was his durability. He had several injuries in college and missed half his rookie season with a pectoral tendon tear. But he was healthy all of 2017 and enters an important season in terms of his future with the Eagles. A strong third year could propel the team to lock him up to an extension next offseason. And they might be able to get him at a discount. Hicks had a season on par with those of some of the top linebackers in the league and yet earned little recognition. If he repeats that feat, the secret could be over.

Bradham was the only former Schwartz player to be a successful free-agent addition. He was a bargain at a $2.75 million cap number. But that number jumps significantly this season to $4.75 million. Can Bradham have as good a year? He has had some down years before. His numbers were equally impressive. He logged 99 tackles, seven tackles for loss, two sacks, two hurries, one interception, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery at strong-side linebacker. But Bradham had more than just gaudy numbers. He made game-changing plays (see: the pick in Chicago) and he played consistently (except for maybe the first Redskins loss).

Walker missed all of his rookie season with a torn ACL. He suffered the injury during the preseason. He was the backup to Hicks through training camp. The team liked the seventh-round pick’s transition into the pros. But it’s difficult to project how he’ll play in the NFL and if there will be any lingering effects from the injury this year.

On the 53-man bubble: Najee Goode, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Goode is entering his fifth season with the Eagles. He signed a one-year, $875,000 contract. Only a $50,000 workout bonus is guaranteed, so it’s not as if his place on the roster is secure. But Goode has found a niche with the Eagles. He’s one of their best special-teams contributors – he finished second to Chris Maragos (13) in tackles with 12 – and he can play all three linebacker spots in a pinch. With the addition of rookie Nathan Gerry, Goode might find himself without a role, but it would seem that Grugier-Hill would be the more likely of the two reserve linebackers to go if a final roster spot came down to one man.

Grugier-Hill was picked up off waivers just before last season. He had been selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Grugier-Hill made a strong impression in his debut when he snuffed out a Browns fake-punt attempt. It was the highlight of his season. He did record an additional four special-team tackles. Grugier-Hill missed four games because of a hamstring injury.

On the 90-man bubble: Don Cherry, Steven Daniels

Cherry was first signed by the Bears as an undrafted rookie. The Eagles picked him up in July, but released him before the season. The Villanova product was then signed to the practice squad, where he spent most of last year. With the Eagles light at linebacker, they’ll be looking for ways to improve their depth. Cherry shouldn’t rest. Daniels was claimed off waivers from the Redskins last month. A seventh-round draft pick last year, he missed all of 2016 with a torn labrum. He could be a sleeper to make the roster. Daniels (5-11, 245 pounds) had a productive college career for Boston College. He mostly played middle linebacker and was known as a thumper. He’s not especially fast, but he has instincts and plays with physicality.

Draft picks: Nathan Gerry

The Eagles drafted Gerry, a Nebraska safety, in the fifth round and plan to move him to linebacker. He started his college career as a linebacker, but moved to safety as a sophomore. He played the position at around 210 pounds, but added about 10 pounds during the pre-draft process. He’s got good length (he's 6-2) and a large frame and shouldn’t have much trouble adding bulk. In fact, when I saw him in the locker room during rookie camp, I could already see the physical transformation under way. Gerry would seem to project to play weak-side linebacker. If the Eagles were to part with Kendricks, Gerry could be an option to replace him. He’s a tough, physical player, but struggled in coverage. But that was as a safety.

“He wasn’t just a safety that could play down in the box,” Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas said. “He was an athletic guy that could range all over the field, and I think you’re going to see that range even more so at the linebacker position.”

We’ll see.

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