The Eagles are getting one of the league’s better special-teams players in Corey Nelson, who signed a one-year contract with the team on Thursday.
The arrival of the 6-0, 235-pound linebacker certainly will soften the blow caused by the exit of tight end and special-team ace Trey Burton, who signed a four-year, $32 million deal with the Bears on the first day of the free agency signing period.
But Nelson, who spent the last four years with the Denver Broncos, didn’t come to Philadelphia just so he could be the newest toy in special-teams coordinator Dave Fipp’s toy box.
He signed with the Eagles because he wants to be an every-down linebacker.
He signed with them because they have told him he will get that opportunity.
“I just kind of want to break the mold of me being a second-string linebacker,’’ Nelson said at the NovaCare Complex after signing his contract. “I didn’t want to have that title. I wanted to go out on a limb and show people that I can be a starter in this league.
“The Eagles are giving me the opportunity to be able to compete and work hard and try and earn that right.’’
Nelson was told he’ll be competing for the starting WILL, or weakside, linebacker job, which seems to be yet another indication that the team has put a “for sale’’ sign on starter Mychal Kendricks.
The 27-year-old Kendricks is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. Along with Nigel Bradham, he picked up the slack on the Eagles’ second line of defense after Jordan Hicks went down with a ruptured Achilles in the seventh game of the season.
Kendricks ended up playing 59 percent of the defensive snaps during the Eagles’ Super Bowl season, after playing just 27 percent the previous year as the odd man out in substitution packages.
But the Eagles don’t have a lot of salary cap space, and Kendricks has a $7.6 million cap number this year and $8.6 million next year, and they just signed Bradham to a shiny, new, five-year, $40 million deal. In addition to that, Hicks is entering the final year of his rookie deal.
Just as importantly, it’s been clear for a while that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz doesn’t have a lot of trust in Kendricks, which is why he took him off the field on third down two years ago, despite the fact that he’s one of the league’s most athletic linebackers.
So, if the Eagles, who have just six picks in next month’s draft, and only one in the first three rounds, can get a good offer for Kendricks, they will take it and give Nelson first dibs on the WILL job. If they don’t trade Kendricks, he and Nelson will have a helluva training-camp battle.
Nelson played 53 games for the Broncos during his four seasons in Denver. He started six games in 2016, when Denver had some injuries at linebacker, and he received very positive reviews for his play.
“I did a little bit of everything” with the Broncos, Nelson said. “I was a three-down ‘backer. I did it all.”
On first and second down, he played WILL in their base package, “then, on third down, they had me covering tight ends, running backs out of the backfield,” he said. ” Sometimes I even covered wide receivers, depending on the coverage that we were in.’’
Last year, Nelson’s season was cut short when he tore his left bicep in practice in October. He played in just six games. He said he is “90 percent’’ recovered from the injury.
“They say I’ll be 100 percent by the time April 16 [the start of voluntary offseason workouts] comes around,’’ he said. “At that point, I’ll be able to work out with the team and do everything they’re doing.’’
The Eagles had success with one-year deals last year. Cornerback Patrick Robinson, running back LeGarrette Blount, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery all signed one-year, free-agent contracts with the Eagles.
Nelson said he had no trepidation about signing a one-year deal with the teams.
“I like it,’’ he said. “I like it in the sense that it’s betting on myself. It’s betting on the entire league. Showing them what I’m capable of. It’s the perfect opportunity to be able to show people my skills and what I’m capable of and how hard I work and how dedicated I am to perfecting my craft.’’
At the very least, Nelson will provide a boost to the Eagles’ special teams. But they obviously hope he can be more than just a core special-teamer.
Nelson said about Schwartz, “I know he has a kick-ass defense. I know they let their d-line loose. They let them do their thing.
“In Denver, we played more of a controlled, two-gap scheme. Here, it’s kind of let the d-line fly, and let the linebackers peel off, and let the safeties fit where needed.
“I did my research on it, and I like it. When you have big guys up front like [Fletcher] Cox and those other guys, it’s perfect for a guy like me, who can just fly around with my type of speed and make plays.’’