Going into the season with Jamar Chaney and Casey Matthews as the starting middle linebackers was a mistake. That much is clear now. Did they both improve as the year went along? Sure they did. But do either of them project to be good enough to anchor this defense next season? The answer is still a resounding “NO!”. You could argue that having no middle linebacker talent was one of the biggest reasons the Eagles struggled to adjust to the wide nine in the beginning of the year. And I would argue that the lack of middle linebacker talent is still a problem for this team.
How do you atone for this mistake? Well, you could always draft Luke Kuechly. Or, you could sign one of the 10 starting middle linebackers that are about to hit free agency. That would work too.
Here is a quick overview of middle linebackers that are going to hit the market this March.
Stephen Tulloch 27
|Curtis Lofton 25||D’Qwell Jackson 28||David Hawthorne 26|
|111 tackles||147 tackles||158 tackles||115 Tackles|
|55 stops||60 Stops||62 stops||48 Stops|
|5 TFL||8 TFL||9 TFL||7 TFL|
|3 Sacks||1 Sack||3.5 Sacks||2 Sacks|
|2 Interceptions||2 Interceptions||1 Interception||3 Interceptions|
|5 Passes Defensed||7 Passes Defensed||3 Passes Defensed||6 Passes Defensed|
|0 Forced Fumbles||1 Forced Fumble||1 Forced Fumble||0 Forced Fumbles|
|+20.8 PFF Grade (7th)||+12.9 PFF Grade (15th)||+17.7 PFF Grade (9th)||+8.77 PFF Grade (16th)|
Stephen Tulloch is the short and stocky middle linebacker that we all wanted a year ago (he’s 5’10” and about 245 pounds). Tulloch is a physical and intense player who has a nose for the football. He is one of the best run stoppers in the business and he has proved his worth on two teams. He is also experienced behind the wide 9 defense.These 3 are the premier expiring contracts on the market. All three are established studs in the middle and they’re all in the middle of their primes. Each on has their little nuances but all in all, when at their best they’re pro-bowl caliber players.
Curtis Lofton is probably the key to all of Atlanta’s defense. If we were able to nab him we would be adding a pro-bowl linebacker (who is only 25) and the Eagles would significantly weaken a big conference rival. He has a skill-set that is very comparable to Stephen Tulloch, he’s just a bit bigger (6′ tall and about 250 pounds). He has a good nose for the football, plays downhill (60 stops and 8 TFL) and is underrated athletically. If the Eagles signed Curtis Lofton, it would be a complete and total coup. He’s a stud.
D’Qwell Jackson had one of the best years of any linebacker in football this past year and he has always been extremely productive when he is on the field. But that’s the problem, he isn’t always on the field; Jackson has missed 31 games in his career. He’s a smallish linebacker at about 6′ tall and 230 pounds but he really flies all over the field and he has an aggressive temperament. If the Eagles signed him and he stayed healthy, it would be a fantastic signing.
David Hawethorne is an explosive young linebacker who plays with near unrivaled intensity. He is a guy who probably possesses the best athletic skill-set of any of the free agents. He can thrive in every aspect of the game, he is a good run defender, pass defender and blitzer. He’s a guy who could anchor this defense for years and stay on the field for every-down. And should the Eagles switch schemes at some point, he is scheme transcendent (he fits in multiple schemes).
|London Fletcher – 36 yrs||Dann Connor– 26 yrs||Jonathan Goff– 26 yrs|
|166 Tackles||75 Tackles||80 Tackles|
|59 Stops||33 Stops||37 Stops|
|84TFL||3 TFL||7 TFL|
|1.5 Sacks||0 Sack||1 Sacks|
|2 Interceptions||0 Interceptions||0 Interceptions|
|8 Passes Defensed||0 Pass Defensed||2 Passes Defensed|
|3 Forced Fumbles||1 Forced Fumbles||1 Forced Fumbles|
|+19.8 PFF Grade (8th)||+4.8 PFF Grade (27th)||+10.2 PFF Grade (22th)|
This is the second tier of players available.
London Fletcher will undoubtedly play like a first tier option but the problem is that he is already 36 and the length of his services would be in question. He could just be a one year stop gap option. He’s really had a hall of fame type career and he’s probably one of the most underrated players of this generation. Despite all the hype around guys like Urlacher and other flavor of the year players, it has been Fletcher who has been pacing Ray Lewis for the past decade and a half. He’s a savvy veteran who does all the little things and is a good all around player who can still do anything you ask.
Dan Connor was really, really productive this year when you consider that he only played a little under 500 snaps this year. He is one of the better run defenders in the NFL whenever he hits the field but unfortunately for him, he’s been buried behind Jon Beason a bit and he lacks the pass coverage skills that would get him recognized as a top tier linebacker. As a two down run stuffer it would be hard to do much better than Dan Connor. Durability is an issue with him too.
Jonathan Goff is coming off a torn ACL (which practically means the ink is probably drying on his contract now!) but he was really productive in 2010, especially as a run stuffer. He is a guy who isn’t the most physically gifted but he’s a masher who gives his all and will mix it up. He’s a top notch run stuffer if he can regain his pre-ACL form. He’s still only 26 too.
|Joe Mays – 26 yrs||Kirk Morrison – 29 yrs||EJ Henderson – 31 yrs|
|75 Tackles||7 Tackles||110 Tackles|
|49 Stops||5 Stops||50 Stops|
|8 TFL||0 TFL||7 TFL|
|0 Sacks||1 Sack||2 Sacks|
|0 Interceptions||0 Interceptions||0 Interceptions|
|2 Passes Defensed||1 Pass Defensed||2 Passes Defensed|
|0 Forced Fumbles||0 Forced Fumbles||3 Forced Fumbles|
|+10.8 PFF Grade (17th)||-0.4 PFF Grade (N/A)||+5.4 PFF Grade (25th)|
Why does the name Joe Mays sound so familiar? Probably because we traded him for JJ Arrington in 2010 training camp. Why does JJ Arrington not sound familiar? Because we cut the bum in the same training camp. And because we cut him we got a 2012 6th round pick, YAY! Joe Mays has since become one of the most underrated run stopping linebackers with the Broncos while we haven’t even gotten anything in return… Just sign him again. The guy is everything we thought he could become, he is a short and powerful run stopper who can be a very good 2 down linebacker.
Kirk Morrison got the shaft in Buffalo this year but he is still only one year removed from starting in Jacksonville. Prior to this year he had 720 tackles in 6 seasons. He is an experience player who is a proven run stopper. I’d welcome him with open arms.
EJ Henderson’s skills aren’t what they once were but he’s still more than serviceable and a considerable upgrade over what we’ve got. He is still one of the best run defenders in the NFL today thanks to his powerful frame and instincts.
JUST GET A MIDDLE LINEBACKER, PLEASE.