The Remaining Options At Middle Linebacker

Kirk Morrison sees the light. I bet there is a glowing Andy Reid over there softly whispering "Play for the Eagles".

The Eagles have put together “The Dream Team” (don’t fight it…), there is talent all over when you look at the roster on paper. Oh wait… Who’s that? Casey Matthews? The rookie that was drafted in the 4th round? That guy is starting? In the words of Beyonce (the Eagles management has really taken these words to heart lately) “Lemme, lemme upgrade ya”. Or something like that… After the free agent frenzy over the past week, there isn’t much linebacker talent left on the market. The Eagles have reportedly been looking at the linebacker market and monitoring veteran linebackers. It’s only a matter of time before the Eagles swoop in and snap up a veteran linebacker on the cheap. So with that in mind, lets take a look at the most notable middle linebackers that remain on the market.

Kirk Morrison: 29 Years Old
Last Season: 89 tackles, 4 stuffs, 1 pass defended, 3 QB hurries and 2 QB hits
2009 Season: 133 tackles, 8 stuffs, 2 sacks, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 pass defended and 2 QB hurries.

Kirk Morrison is solid and that is exactly what the Eagles have been lacking at the MLB spot ever since Stewart Bradley’s 2008 season. Sometimes solid guys are just the kind of guys you need. If you need an impact guy who makes flashy plays, you’re going to have to trade for one but if you want a linebacker that is in the right spots, is a good tackler and isn’t a big liability in coverage, Morrison is your guy.

5 reasons for the Eagles to sign Kirk Morrison:

  1. Kirk Morrison has never missed a game and has started all but one game in his career.
  2. Kirk Morrison has averaged 120 tackles per season on his career. Tackles are a very questionable stat in terms of performance indication but when you’re putting up those kind of numbers time after time, you have to take note. Kirk Morrison has a nose for the football.
  3. Kirk Morrison is a very well spoken likeable player who is very team oriented and hard working. He is more than capable of quarterbacking a defense and being a leader in the locker room. The young linebackers would benefit from being around Kirk.
  4. According to ProFootballFocus, Kirk Morrison led the Jaguars team with 43 stops. This is a tribute to his run stopping ability and instincts, he might not be a downhill playmaker but he does a good job preventing first downs.
  5. Kirk Morrison missed one tackle last year according to ProFootballFocus. Think about that. Don’t you want that kind of stability at the MLB spot? I mean just look at the playoff game against the Packers to see what bad tackling can do, getting someone like Morrison would be a huge jump from having Ernie Sims and Stewart Bradley as starting linebackers.

Lofa Tatupu: 28 Years Old
Last Season: 88 tackles, 2 stuffs, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 INT, 1 TD, 8 passes defended, 2 QB hurries and 1 QB hit.
2009 Season: 32 tackles, 1 stuff, 1 sack, 2 passes defended, 2 QB hurries and 1 QB hit.

Tatupu is an interesting guy. On one hand the guy has a history of being a top notch linebacker. On the other you have a guy who had his season ended early in 2009, then cameback in 2010 and had the worst year of his career.

Can Tatupu return to form as he continues to get healthier? Can he get healthy? He missed 2009 with a torn pectoral muscle, he had hamstring issues in the season, he had a concussion last year and he had knee surgery in the offseason. Is he worth the risk?

IF he returns to form you’re getting a highly intelligent linebacker that is a tackle machine and a playmaker in coverage.

IF he doesn’t return to form you’re getting a washed up, injury prone linebacker whose best attribute is the leadership he bring to the table. You’d be getting a guy who lost a lot of lateral agility and missed a lot of tackles last year because of it. You’d be getting a guy who has lost a step in coverage.

Is he worth the risk? Or should the Eagles just stick with Casey Matthews over Tatupu? Tatupu is a risk-reward signing that could pay huge dividends if completely healthy or he could be a player that drags the defense down.

Channing Crowder: 27 Years Old
Last Season: 39 tackles, 1 stuff, 1 pass defended and 3 QB hurries.
2009 Season: 51 tackles, 3 stuffs, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 passes defended, 2 QB hurries and 1 QB hit

You might recognize this name mainly because Channing Crowder has a habit of making headlines for not being the sharpest tack in the box. Look at some of his most memorable quotes, the guy isn’t afraid to say whatever he is thinking. He has fought Matt Light and lost a dreadlock in the process. He was spat on by Leron McClain, somehow that story blew up. And then there is his heated back and forth with Rex Ryan who claims that he has “walked over tougher guys than Crowder going to a fight.” Channing Crowder is known as a talker, a guy who runs his mouth more than he should.

But enough about stupid stuff, Channing Crowder is actually a decent player. Crowder struggles against the pass, he doesn’t redirect well, he gets lost and doesn’t have good ball skills. But against the run he is a different story. Channing Crowder is a big linebacker at 6’2” and 250 pounds and it shows against the run. Channing Crowder can take on blockers very well and can hold his own at the point of attack. Crowder can make some big hits. But he isn’t just a big, slow guy because he can get to the perimeter as well (though no one will ever call him rangy).

Crowder might actually be a very good fit for the Eagles at linebacker. The Eagles have a stunning lack of size at linebacker and they’re searching for a run stuffer. They’re so desperate for some size in short yardage and run situations that they had Greg Lloyd (the 7th round pick) lining up with the ones today in goal line situations. With Crowder the Eagles would be getting a proven run stopper at the linebacker spot. He could play as a 2 down player, situational player that comes off in favor of guys like Keenan Clayton, Casey Matthews, Brian Rolle or Akeem Jordan in obvious passing situations. The Eagles would get size, experience and a run stuffer at the linebacker spot if they signed Crowder, he would be a very nice fit.

And for those who didn’t know, Crowder has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses so the 4-3 won’t be new to him.

Akin Ayodele: 31 Years Old
Last Season: 160 tackles, 3 stuffs, 2 forced fumbles and 4 passes defended.
2009 Season: 71 tackles, 3 stuffs, 1 FF, 1 FR, 6 QB hurries and 2 QB hits.

Alright, I’ll be honest, I never watched a Bills game and paid much attention to Ayodele. All I know is that he was shipped out of Dallas and Miami in years past and now the Bills aren’t making an effort to bring him back. He is a middling veteran at the linebacker spot who is a secure tackler and a decent enough cover linebacker. If he were to come to Philadelphia he wouldn’t be a long-term solution, he would keep the starting MLB spot until Casey Matthews is ready to take over.

Gerald Hayes: 30 Years Old
Last Season: 33 tackles, 2 stuffs, 1 FR and 1 QB hurry
2009 Season: 62 tackles, 7 stuffs, 1 FF, 1 pass defended and 3 QB hurries

Hayes is a wily veteran now. He is a short-ish and squatty linebacker who makes plays in run support with his combination of instincts, tackling ability and ability to take on blocks (good strength and leverage). He isn’t particularly athletic; he just works hard and is a sure tackler. He isn’t a good pass defender either. Arizona let him go after Daryl Washington played very well in his rookie year. He might have trouble adjusting to the 4-3 defense and playing in space but he is certainly an option right now as a reserve and situational run stuffing linebacker.

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