While Chip Kelly is not ready to put a label on his defense, and decisions will be personnel-driven, by all accounts, a scheme change from the traditional 4-3 is coming.
As we’ve discussed throughout the week, the purpose of free agency is to fill needs. In the past year, the Eagles have parted ways with Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. Free agent Darryl Tapp will almost certainly be gone too. That means the Eagles will be in the market for versatile defensive linemen.
And look for them to add a piece or two at outside linebacker as well. Trent Cole, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry are all expected to make the switch from DE, but the Eagles will likely seek someone who has proven cover skills.
Keeping those things in mind, here are some outside linebackers and defensive linemen expected to be on the market. If you’re looking for nose tackles, click here.
Paul Kruger – In a different market, I’d say the Eagles would definitely have interest in Kruger. The 6-4, 270-pound outside linebacker had nine sacks for the Ravens last year and has experience in coverage. But chances are, he’s going to command a hefty pay-check. And keep in mind, Kruger only played 22 of 62 snaps in the Super Bowl (according to Pro Football Focus) because the Ravens’ coaching staff felt it had better options to play the run. He’s 27-years-old.
Cliff Avril – You can never have too many pass rushers, and Avril has totaled 29 sacks the past three seasons. He’s 6-3, 260 and played defensive end in Detroit’s 4-3 scheme the past five seasons. But there have been reports that 3-4 teams are looking at Avril at outside linebacker. If the Eagles believe the 26-year-old can be an elite pass rusher, they could take a look. But on the surface, it seems his skill set isn’t much different than the guys they currently have on the roster.
Connor Barwin – He had 11.5 sacks in 2011, but managed just three last season. Barwin, 26, was an every-down player at outside linebacker last year, staying on the field for 94 percent of the Texans’ defensive snaps.
Victor Butler – He’s an under-the-radar name to keep an eye on. Butler’s 25 and hasn’t had much of a chance to prove himself in Dallas, playing behind Anthony Spencer. Originally a fourth-round pick in 2009, he’s been lining up as an outside linebacker in Dallas’ 3-4. Butler (6-2, 245) started two games last year, appeared in all 16 and had three sacks. He could play OLB in a 3-4 and might be a fit at SAM in a 4-3 under.
Jason Jones – If the Eagles are looking for versatile defensive linemen with length, Jones (6-5, 276) could fit the bill. He was originally a second-round pick of the Titans in 2008 where Jones played for Jim Washburn in a 4-3. But he spent last season in Seattle’s hybrid scheme, which could have some similarities to what the Eagles are going to run. Jones has the ability to play defensive end or defensive tackle. He turns 27 in May.
Ricky Jean-Francois – Ian Rapoport of NFL.com indicated on Twitter that the Eagles could have some interest in the versatile 26-year-old defensive lineman. Jean-Francois (6-3, 295) played in just 25.6 percent of the 49ers’ snaps last season, but Adam Caplan expects him to have more than a handful of suitors. He fits as a defensive end in a 3-4.
Desmond Bryant – Originally an undrafted free agent out of Harvard, Bryant (6-6, 311) has good length and could provide versatility up front. He has been playing defensive tackle in the Raiders’ 4-3, but could potentially swing out to the 5-technique (defensive end between the tackle and TE) in a 3-4. Bryant is 27.
Michael Bennett – Of all the defensive linemen on this list, he was the most productive in 2012 with nine sacks and three forced fumbles. On the surface, though, Bennett (6-4, 274) doesn’t appear to have a natural fit in a 3-4. He is 27.
Glenn Dorsey – He’s an option as a 3-4 defensive end. And if the Eagles do go to a 4-3 under, here’s how Pete Carroll once described the strong-side defensive end, per FieldGulls.com:
“The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher.”
Dorsey (6-1, 297) could fit that description, although he might be better suited as a 4-3 defensive tackle. The No. 5 overall pick in 2008 suffered a season-ending calf injury with the Chiefs last year. He’ll be 28 at the start of next season.
Mike DeVito – Not an exciting option (2.5 sacks in six NFL seasons), but DeVito (6-3, 305) brings experience as a defensive end in the Jets’ 3-4. He turns 29 in June, but could get a look depending on how the market plays out.