Free Agent Linebacker Preview



DeMeco Ryans was the leader of the Eagles defense in 2013, will prized pupil Mychal Kendrics take the reins in 2014? (Image Courtesy of

Over the next couple of weeks, Eagledelphia will be addressing the Eagles free agents needs while evaluating producing a position-by-position analysis.

The today’s area to be addressed: Linebacker.

If there was one position that improved the most during the season, it was the linebackers. With the Eagles transition to a 3-4 defense, it provided added pressure for the new linebacking unit to contribute, and contribute they did.

In a 3-4 defense, the linebackers are needed to rush the quarterback, stop the run, and defend the tight end. A linebackers job in a “34” may be one of the hardest positions to address, but the Eagles did just that in free agent signee Connor Barwin. Barwin, who came over from the Houston Texans after signing a six-year deal with the Birds, was second on the team in sacks with five while contributing 59 tackles. While Barwin may have been the Eagles most versatile linebacker with his ability to rush the passer and defend the pass, it was his former running mate in Houston who led the Eagles in tackles.

DeMeco Ryans was perhaps the Eagles defensive MVP and also team leader in tackles with 127 while also contributing four sacks and two interceptions. Exiled from Houston because the Texans felt that he would not be able to transition successfully to a 3-4 defense as well as return from an Achilles injury, the Eagles defense gained a leader and teacher. Ryans most prized pupil is second year linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

The linebacker from California appeared to take the “next step” in his development. Kendricks started 15 games (missing one game due to injury) and racked up 106 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions. Kendricks was lauded throughout the season for being able to react to a play rather than thinking while using his speed to become better in pass protection. At just 23 years old, Kendricks will be the leader of the defense in no time.

Rounding out the starting unit is veteran Trent Cole. The Cincinnati alumni had perhaps the most difficult transition to outside linebacker after spending the first seven years of his career as a defensive end. After registering just one sack in the first ten games, Cole came alive for the last six games as he recorded seven sacks to lead the Eagles with eight total. With a 6.6 millions cap hit coming in 2014, Cole could be asked to take a pay cut or find a new employer in 2014.

If the Eagles do jettison the veteran Cole, they will be in the market for a pass rush specialist, specifically in the form of a versatile linebacker. Although the draft provides several options such as UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, or Auburn’s Dee Ford, the Birds could scour the free agent market to fill the need.

Below are a list of linebackers the Eagles could be interested in if they decide part ways with veterans Trent Cole and DeMeco Ryans.

1. Brian Orakpo. Perhaps the best pass rusher to reach free agency, Orakpo is known not just for his speed and ability to get to the quarterback, but also for his injury history. In 2012, he missed all but two games while missing one game last year. When on the field, the former Texas Longhorn is a thorn in any defenses side. He recorded ten sacks last year and has 39.5 in just five seasons.

2. Perry Riley. If the Eagles miss out on Orakpo, they could take a run at the another Washington free agent. Riley was all over the field during the 2013 season and finished the year with 115 tackles and three sacks. Although he does not provide the pass rush the Eagles are looking for, Riley is a physical and versatile linebacker that can play all three linebacker positions.

3. Jason Worilds. It is rare that a Pittsburgh linebacker leaves the Steelers and is just as successful in their next destination. Worilds could be the exception. He led Pittsburgh with eight sacks while starting just 11 games. At only 25 years of age, Worilds could be in line for a big contract, one that could overpay the Virginia Tech product.

Keep an eye on: Shaun Phillips. The Philadelphia native could return home on a short contract after an outstanding season in Denver. Although Phillips is 32, he appeared to find the fountain of youth playing for the Broncos, as he recorded 10 sacks. The product of Purdue, Phillips could be used as a veteran leader as well as a gap for a soon-to-be drafted linebacker.

 Hal Greenblatt covers the Eagles for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter: @HMGreenblatt

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