Leading up to the start of free agency, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the players on the Eagles roster who are scheduled to become free agents this offseason and how the team should look to handle each.
In this edition, we will be covering linebacker Jordan Hicks.
A third-round pick of the Eagles in the 2015 draft, Hicks is set to reach free agency for the first time in his career. While he was certainly not the player that anyone expected the Eagles to draft with five other promising linebackers already at the position, Hicks is the only one still with the team.
It really cannot be argued that Hicks is not a productive player. In addition to being one of the better coverage linebackers in the league, Hicks has developed into a good spy and an effective pass rusher/run stopper. While many fans were not thrilled with Hicks this season, Hicks was leading the team in tackles with 58 following the second Giants game – a game he didn’t play. His turnover numbers aren’t there, but it is difficult for a linebacker to get interceptions when the pass rush isn’t getting home (which was the case for much of the beginning of the season) or force fumbles when there is no one else around to make the tackle and they need to wrap up rather than make a play on the ball.
Hicks has been involved in 14 different turnovers in his four seasons. That may seem like a small number, but it is a lot for a player that has only played one full season. He was placed on IR to end his rookie season following week eight and following week seven of his third season. While not placed on IR, Hicks also missed four games in 2018 with injuries. The injuries are a concern, but, while Hicks is on the field, he is the play caller for the defense and, when he is out from injuries, he maintains a presence of leadership on the sideline.
The Eagles have a thin linebacker room next season. In fact, it is already a thin group. This season, the only real backup behind the trio of Hicks, Nigel Bragham and Kamu Grugier-Hill is Nathan Gerry. Paul Worrilow hit IR early on in training camp and DJ Alexander and LaRoy Reynolds are on the team to play special teams. Worrilow, Alexander and Reynolds will be free agents following this season.
The Eagles will have only three known linebackers under contract to start next season. Other than the trio of Bradham, KGH and Gerry, the Eagles have BJ Bello, who plays special teams, Alex Singleton, who is from the CFL, and Asantay Brown, who was on the practice squad all this season, under contract in 2019. They will certainly need to bring in more players at the position to provide a safety net. Preferably, these linebackers will play both defense and special teams rather than just special teams.
Update: The Eagles have re-signed Paul Worrilow. He will compete for a starting spot and can provide excellent special teams in addiction to playing defense.
While Sportrac.com doesn’t have a projected contract for Hicks, they do note that players with similar production to Hicks (leading up to their current contracts) are Luke Kuechly, Wesley Woodyard, Jon Bostic, Cory Littleton and Avery Williamson. Since Littleton is on his rookie deal, I removed him from the equation. The other four have contracts that average out to 3.25 years, $24.7 million. Adjusted for a solid number, that comes out to 3 years, $22.8 million or $7.6 million per year, which is probably too high for the Eagles to afford.
In an attempt to account for injuries, I found that, in his first four seasons, Hicks played about 69.22% of defensive snaps. In the three years leading up to each of the similar players signing, their current deals, they played the following amount of snaps: Kuechly – 93.55%, Williamson – 77.24%, Woodyard – 60.84% and Bostic – 31.24%. Hicks is between the snap percentage that Williamson had prior to signing his three-year, $22 million contract and Woodyard had before signing his three-year, $10.5 million deal. With that snap percentage, he will likely lean more in the direction of a three-year, $16.35 million deal. Coming off of a major injury in 2017 and not having the turnovers in 2018 may limit his offers, however.
Bostic, on the other hand, took a sort of “prove-it” deal in that he took two years, $4 million in the hopes that he could prove that he could stay healthy for an extended period and sign his big contract after that. Hicks may be able to get paid via the free agent market, but the Eagles could approach Hicks with a smaller offer as a “prove-it” deal where he would get to stay with his original team and a contender for a while longer. Something like a one-year, $3.5 million or two-year, $8 million deal should be affordable for the Birds.
If Hicks were to sign a three-year, $16.35 million contract elsewhere, the average annual value would be $5.45. Based on this past offseason, that would line the Eagles up with a sixth-round compensatory pick. League rules stipulate that a team may only receive a maximum of four compensatory picks and with the contracts that other Eagles free agents may be able to sign, the Eagles may very well get nothing should Hicks leave.
Hicks is certainly someone with a high injury risk, but the man can be an absolute ball hawk. In a full season, he is consistently going to be among team leaders in tackles and, with an effective defense around him, he will continue to create turnovers and be among the teams’ leaders in fumble recoveries and interceptions. Even if he does suffer an injury, he is so good at making big plays like turnovers and sacks, he is well worth having on the team. The Birds will be thin at the position, so the Eagles will need to add a linebacker through free agency unless they believe they can draft heavily at the position and those players will be ready to play immediately. While his contract may not be as inexpensive as the organization may hope, Hicks may be the cheapest impact free agent option available to start should the draft not provide what the Birds are looking for. The Birds can pay Hicks, but with a deep defensive draft, there are plenty of options there. The franchise should start a conversation, but Hicks has to be willing to take a team friendly deal.
Decision: Engage in Discussions
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Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Brandon Graham