The Eagles need a linebacker -- probably two.
You know it. They know it.
But how will they go about addressing the need? Will they sign one of the top linebackers in free agency? Will they acquire a starting-caliber linebacker that isn't going to command top dollar? Will they just scrape one from the bottom of the free agent pool? Or will they take one high in the draft.
Three days into free agency, the most they've done is offer Dan Connor a one-year contract, one a league source described as low. Connor, formerly of the Panthers, ended up signing a two-year deal with Dallas. If, say, Connor took the Eagles' offer, it’s safe to assume he wasn’t being brought in as a three-down guy.
The team obviously liked him or they wouldn't have offered a deal, but they questioned his pass cover skills and his durability. Connor tore his ACL early in his NFL career. It sounds as if Connor would have been brought in simply to bolster the Eagles' run defense.
Other than that, the Eagles have just sat back and let the linebacker market set itself, which means they've watched it drop like an anvil. The top two linebackers available – according to most estimates – remained unsigned.
Curtis Lofton is scheduled to visit the Saints, but other than that his prospects remain unclear. Stephen Tulloch reportedly won’t take anything less than the five-year, $42.5 million contract D’Qwell Jackson signed last month, but those demands seem out of touch with interest in the Lions linebacker apparently tepid.
David Hawthorne is in New Orleans right now, but the Seattle linebacker is unlikely to land in Philly. Indications are that the Eagles don’t have him high on their list.
Perhaps it makes little sense to focus on the free agent linebackers that are looking to dent the bank if not break it. The Eagles have never committed much of their funds to the position, this we know. The 36-year-old London Fletcher won’t command a high salary and many guaranteed years. He could be the perfect stopgap if the Eagles plan to draft a linebacker relatively high in the draft.
Maybe it also makes little sense to focus exclusively on the middle linebacker spot. They still have Jamar Chaney. He was not great in the middle last season and by the end was not playing all three downs. He moved from strong-side to the middle early in the season after it was clear Casey Matthews could not hold down the position. Perhaps the Eagles feel that he could benefit from a full off-season working at MIKE.
If that’s the case, they could be after an outside linebacker like Erin Henderson or Leroy Hill.
The Eagles have eight linebackers under contract: Chaney, Matthews, Brian Rolle, Keenan Clayton, Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Greg Lloyd and Monte Simmons. Chaney, Rolle, Matthews and maybe Clayton are probably here next season. The same can’t be said for the other four, although not much is known about Simmons, who was plucked from the 49ers practice squad.
The Eagles typically carry six linebackers. If the first four return, that leaves two spots. How will the Eagles fill them?