One of the less talked about free agent conundrums the Eagles will be faced with in upcoming weeks is at outside linebacker.
The Eagles are more or less set with their starting four — a healthy Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans will man the inside and join Trent Cole and Connor Barwin outside.Emmanuel Acho is an inside linebacker with a lot of potential, and he’ll certainly be in the mix in 2015.
In 2014 the Eagles linebackers had a banner year, helping the defense compile 49 sacks, second most in the NFL behind the Bills.
But there is not much depth at the position, and after the repeated injuries to the Eagles’s starters last season (only Cole and Barwin managed to stay healthy all year) it is certainly an area that needs to be improved.
Both Casey Matthews and Brandon Graham are free agents and the Eagles will give much thought to bringing them back — especially Graham.
The one-time first rounder was fourth on the Eagles with 5.5 sacks last year and has shown he can handle more snaps on the field as a member of a defense that is on the field more than any other in the NFL.
“I think Brandon can be an every-down outside linebacker,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said at the end of last year. “But you also have to look at what’s on your roster. You’re not going to sit another guy just because you think this guy should be an every-down [player] because Trent [Cole’s] been a very, very productive player for us, so has Connor [Barwin]. So I think it really depends.”
Kelly and the Birds reportedly already offered a four-year deal to Graham, but the edge-rusher wants to test the open market, eyeing a deal in the $30 million range.
Another factor regarding linebacking depth, though probably not as big a factor as Eagles fans may have hoped, is last year’s first round pick Marcus Smith III, who peculiarly was unable to crack the roster and failed to record a single tackle in his rookie season. What’s his future?
“If anybody realizes one thing about this place is nothing is handed to you,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to be better than the guys that are playing in front of you if you’re going to earn playing time.”
Though an area of strength, the Eagles can still improve the depth of their linebacking core. And doing so will help a defense that struggled to the tune of 28th place of 32 teams in total defensive yardage and 22nd in points allowed in 2014.