Mar 19, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT
Almost one week has gone by since the free agency opened in the NFL, and in typical Eagles fashion, the front office has ignored the plethora of linebackers on the market.
What’s that you say? The top free agent linebackers are still available. Like, all of them?
Put it this way: the biggest name to sign anywhere to this point is Dan Connor, who joined the Cowboys for two years at $6.5 million. Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, London Fletcher, and practically every other name you would recognize are waiting for contracts.
So what exactly is keeping these players, any of whom Eagles fans would take in a heartbeat, from striking deals? The short answer is these players aren’t as valuable as many seem to believe. Here’s why:
The obvious stumbling block is money. The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane reports Lofton wants around $9 million per year, which sounds insane for a slightly above average player. McLane adds Tulloch wants no less than five-year, $42.5 million D’Qwell Jackson got for re-signing with Cleveland.
Tulloch is the consensus best linebacker out there, but is he worth $8.5 million a season? Does Tulloch, or any other free agent, have an impact on the game in the mold of a Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis? The feeling right now around the league is no, and that these guys are going to have to come down on their demands eventually.
2. Prevalence of two-down linebackers
Lofton wants $9 million per. The problem: while he’s a solid run defender, some teams, including his own Atlanta Falcons it would seem, fear he needs to come off the field in passing situations.
It’s the same reason why the Eagles made Connor a low-ball offer, allowing him to slip through their fingers to Dallas. It’s the same reason why we’re not talking a whole lot about the Eagles going after an outside backer like Manny Lawson or Kamerion Wimbley. Too many players today have specialized roles, and are skilled in either run support, coverage, or rushing the passer — maybe two out of three, but seldom all of the above.
What good is it to go out and drop a load of cash in the first few days of free agency on a situational player? None, and the Eagles aren’t falling into that trap. It wouldn’t be a shock if they added one of those guys eventually, but they have plenty of situational players already, so there’s no rush.
3. 3-4 vs. 4-3 defenses
There are still places where linebacker is one of the most coveted positions on the field, but those clubs usually operate a 3-4 defense. Why are linebackers more valuable there?
For one, as the name indicates, they utilize up to four linebackers at a time, as opposed to three in a 4-3. We’re sure that blows your mind, but what we’re getting at is those teams need more linebackers on their roster, and their linebackers are often asked to do more, and therefore are required to be more versatile.
Outside linebackers, in particular, are more important in the 3-4, because those are typically the primary pass rushers in those defenses. In fact, those players often translate to defensive ends in a 4-3, so even though Mario Williams is listed as an OLB on the free agency tracker, he would be playing with his hand in the ground all the time had he signed with Philadelphia rather than in Buffalo.
None of this is to say the Eagles couldn’t use an upgrade at linebacker, or that they haven’t made some mistakes along the way evaluating talent at the position. But when you look at the sorry state of the position on 4-3 defenses around the league — and search no further than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants for proof — it’s not specifically Andy Reid and the Eagles who don’t “value” the position.
- Just to further update the status of those players, the belief is Tulloch will wind up staying in Detroit, though McLane reports the Lions are bringing Hawthorne in for a visit. Hawthorne and Lofton both visted New Orleans over the weekend as well. The Eagles haven’t had contact with any of those players, that we know of at least, and McLane’s sources indicate the price tag will not drop low enough for the team to jump into the mix.
- Even though it has little to do with the Birds, Peyton Manning finally made his decision, choosing the Denver Broncos over finalists Tennessee and San Francisco. Denver has a decent defense, and plays in the wide-open AFC West, where the path to the playoffs goes through teams like Oakland and Kansas City. However, Peyton’s success at this point boils down to two factors: 1. how well can he throw the football, and 2. can he stay healthy? I wouldn’t count him out, but I’m glad I don’t have to pin my team’s Super Bowl hopes on number 18.
- In case you were wondering what I think of Tim Tebow, who should instantly become available as a result of the Manning signing, I think he’s not a very good quarterback. Moving on…
- Mike Tolbert, one of T7L’s depth targets for the Birds, left San Diego to sign with the Carolina Panthers. Speculation is Tolbert’s arrival makes Jonathan Stewart expendable, who would be another person of interest to back-up LeSean McCoy, but the Panthers allegedly will hold on to the former first-round pick.
- Super Bowl hero and suddenly overrated wide receiver Mario Manningham left the Giants for the San Francisco 49ers. In five games against Philadelphia, he averaged 2.8 receptions for 31.4 yards per contest.
- There are some rumblings that the Eagles have made contact with Plaxico Burress, and some rumblings that this simply isn’t true. Even though he would make an excellent addition for inside the red zone, I don’t believe the front office is too keen on the idea, or Plaxico too keen on the money/role. My guess is reports in this case may be driven by the agent.
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