Roster Outlook: Six linebackers the Eagles should consider ahead of training camp
TJ Edwards and Kyzir White gave the Eagles solid production from the linebacker position last season, earning themselves lucrative contracts with new teams during free agency.
Edwards returned home to Chicago on a three-year deal worth $19.5M, while White joined former Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon in Arizona on a two-year, $10M deal.
This means Philadelphia will have two new starting linebackers in 2023. As of now, those incumbent starters are second-year player Nakobe Dean and veteran Nicholas Morrow — less than ideal for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Dean is a promising talent who excelled at Georgia, but he played in just 34 defensive snaps his rookie year and will serve as the primary play-caller in Year 2. That’s a lot to expect from a sophomore player.
Morrow is coming off a season where he started all 17 games for Chicago and led the Bears in tackles with 116, including 11 for loss. He has zero guaranteed money in his deal, however, so the Eagles aren’t necessarily tied to Morrow if he underwhelms this summer.
Free agent options are limited at this juncture, but there are a handful of linebackers the Eagles should consider bringing in ahead of training camp:
Entering July, Kwon Alexander remains one of the top linebackers available. Alexander, 28, spent his first four seasons in Tampa Bay and was a Pro Bowler in 2017 before joining San Francisco, where he helped the 49ers reach a Super Bowl.
The nine-year veteran spent last season with the New York Jets, recording 69 tackles and six tackles for loss in 12 starts. His biggest issue has been health but if the medicals check out, Alexander would be a solid option for Philadelphia’s defense.
Kwon Alexander has no regard for human life pic.twitter.com/UVQp7wczih— uSTADIUM App (@uSTADIUM) August 28, 2022
A veteran free agent who could step into a starting role is Myles Jack, a former second-round pick drafted by Jacksonville in 2016. Jack has started 95 games in his career at both inside and outside linebacker, most recently for the Steelers last season.
Jack turns just 28 years old in September and has posted a missed tackle rate below 10% in three straight seasons. His 76 defensive stops against the run over that span rank 12th among off-ball linebackers, per PFF. New Eagles DC Sean Desai wants his defense to be felt; Jack’s speed and physicality would help embody that message.
Deion Jones is coming off the worst statistical season of his career, but he’s still a talented player. Jones has logged five 100+ tackle seasons, along with an impressive five defensive touchdowns. As a rookie, Jones was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team and earned a Pro Bowl nod one year later.
Jones played in 59% of the snaps for Cleveland last season, finishing with 44 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. If he can return to his Atlanta form, Jones would be an adequate low-risk, high-reward signing for the Eagles.
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Three years ago, Zach Cunningham led all NFL linebackers with 99 solo tackles while appearing in 16 games for Houston. Last season, injuries limited Cunningham to just six games with the Titans. Still, he’ll only be 28 years old and eager to earn a roster spot.
A former first-round pick, Cunningham is a proven inside linebacker with extensive starting experience and likely won’t break the bank — right up Howie Roseman’s alley.
Zach Cunningham pic.twitter.com/1xeRlhvuzk— James Foster (@NoFlagsFilm) January 13, 2022
My colleague Brian Cass has already vouched for Evans, so I’ll echo his sentiments here:
Last year with the Falcons, Evans posted a career-high 159 combined tackles while starting all 17 games. His coverage ability does leave a little bit to be desired, however. He allowed a 112.6 passer rating when targeted last season, tied for the worst mark of his career.
The truth is, there just aren’t any standout backers remaining on the open market. At 27 years old and fresh off a career year in Atlanta, Evans at least brings some potential to the position and should be relatively cheap at this stage of the offseason.
Evans spent his first four seasons in Tennessee and has 67 career starts under his belt.
Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy is the oldest of the bunch, but he can fit multiple roles on defense. Over the last four seasons, Van Noy has recorded 159 tackles (30 for loss), 22.5 sacks, 41 QB hits, and 22 passes defended. He missed just two tackles with the Chargers last season while playing primarily as a run defender.
The Eagles have always valued versatility, and Van Noy could wear many hats for Sean Desai as he installs a new scheme. It’s honestly baffling that the two-time Super Bowl champion hasn’t been signed yet.
Kyle Van Noy (@KVN_03) with the spin move. Sells his rush upfield with speed & puts stress on the blocker’s set. Van Noy then uses the OL’s momentum against him & spins inside for the sack! #passrush #miavslac #boltup pic.twitter.com/lgJrnCHkPa— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) December 12, 2022
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Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports