Eagles Add Linebacker Depth, Sign L.J. Fort

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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor

The Eagles have signed a veteran, though it is not one that many fans were hoping for.

On Thursday morning, it was announced that the Eagles had signed linebacker L.J. Fort.

While it certainly isn’t a major deal, the move does show some faith in the veteran who has spent time with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

The team gave themselves option years that allow them to keep the linebacker if he rises to the occasion. While he has mainly been a backup and special teams ace, he will get the chance to compete for the starting job vacated by Jordan Hicks.

Fort has potential (he graded as the 19th best linebacker according to Pro Football Focus last season), but while there is reason that this deal could become a steal, PFF is not the end-all, be-all.

Consider two other players ranked well by PFF, Treyvon Hester (2018) and Corey Nelson (2017). The most direct comparison would be the Eagles signing Nelson, who had just graded as one of the best linebackers in the league, to a “steal” of a deal. The only problem was that Nelson was not good, could not make the roster and his only impact on the Eagles was to put Paul Worrilow on IR for the entire season.

Meanwhile, Hester played very well, but in limited snaps. His 12th ranked grading is not a sign that he is a starter, but that he is an excellent, perhaps top-tier, back-up/rotational player.

If Fort can be more like Hester than Nelson, the team will be in good shape with some excellent depth at the position should they find their third starter.

His signing makes the return of linebackers and special teams aces LaRoy Reynolds or D.J. Alexander unlikely.

Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia gave a breakdown of the three-year contract..

His average annual value is a bit under $2 million, so it should not affect any of the Eagles top four compensatory picks, though it will likely cancel out a lower one that would not have been awarded anyway. In more blatant terms, the signing should not affect the team’s 2020 compensatory picks.

Spotrac has cap hit for 2019 at $1,410,416 after the roster and signing bonuses are added to the salary.

Of note here is that the Eagles will either have a cost controlled veteran for three years or can move on after the season with only a $500,000 in dead cap space.

Eagles Salary Cap Transaction Table

Transaction Salary Change New Cap Space
Cap Space as of February 25, 2019 $3,613,815
Eagles Extend Brandon Graham +$3,500,000 $113,815
Eagles Decline Tim Jernigan’s Option -$7,000,000 $7,113,815
Eagles Extend Jason Kelce -$4,000,000 $11,113,815
Eagles Extend Isaac Seumalo +$800,000 $10,313,815
Lane Johnson Restructures Deal -$8,200,000 $18,513,815
Eagles Trade Michael Bennett -$7,200,000 $25,713,815
Eagles Sign Jason Peters to One-Year Deal -$2,000,000 $27,713,815
Eagles Decline Wisniewski’s 2019 Option -$3,000,000 $30,713,815
Eagles Tender Nate Sudfeld +$3,095,000 $27,618,815
Eagles Sign Malik Jackson +$7,200,000* $20,418,815
Eagles Acquire/Extend DeSean Jackson +$7,000,000* $13,418,815
Eagles Sign L.J. Fort +$1,410,416 $12,008,399

* – Indicates number is a projection and not yet official

With the new deal in place, the Eagles still have at least $5.5 million in cap space to use in free agency after the $6.5 million they’ll need to sign their draft picks.

The team likely has more as my estimated cap hits on the Jacksons are rather conservative and the true hits will likely be smaller.

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