Wake-Up Call: A New Emphasis On Linebacker
There was a formula in place during the Joe Banner/Andy Reid reign that helped decide where resources were allocated, and that formula served them well in many respects. The team invested heavily in linemen (both offensive and defensive), cornerbacks and of course the quarterback position. Occasionally they would pony up for a receiver. They prioritized a few positions, went light in other areas and put themselves in a situation where they had the most critical spots (in their view) covered but still enjoyed financial flexibility overall because of their selectivity.
Linebacker, judging by the team’s actions, ranked low on that priority list. Fifteen linebackers were drafted by the Eagles between 1999-2011. Zero were selected in the first round, three were taken in the second round and the remaining 12 were picked in the third round or later. From 2008-11, the Eagles waited until at least the fourth round to pluck a linebacker off the board. Similarly, significant free-agent dollars seldom flowed in the direction of linebackers. Even Jeremiah Trotter — selected in the third round the year before Reid took over — had to go to Washington to get his pay day before eventually re-signing with the Eagles in 2004 for the veteran minimum.
Trotter went to the Pro Bowl in ’04, and the Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl that season. Those events weren’t mutually exclusive, necessarily. In fact, the Eagles recently concluded that there is a link between having a go-to man in the middle and Lombardi trophies, as Howie Roseman explained to Birds 24/7.
“Having a quarterback of our defense, having leadership from our defense, having it from the middle linebacker position…When we went back and studied championship teams, we saw that they all had a quarterback for their defense, and we felt like we really needed one,” said Roseman. “And who better than a character guy like DeMeco Ryans?”
In March of ’12, the Eagles dealt a fourth-round pick and exchanged third-round picks with Houston for Ryans, who is scheduled to make $6.6 million this season. To put that in perspective, the salaries for all seven of the linebackers on the 2010 roster totaled just under $6.3 million.
Ryans had 115 solo tackles and 16 tackles for loss last season, both highs during the Andy Reid era. Through 11 games this year, the 29-year-old has 133 tackles (94 solo) according to the team with two sacks and two interceptions while serving as the QB on defense that the Eagles were searching for. He has a chance to become the first Eagle to finish the season in the top five in tackles since the team began tracking the stat. (He’s currently sixth, per NFL.com).
“We felt like he had a lot of football left in his tank,” said Roseman, “and he’s showing it now.”
One month after trading for Ryans, the Eagles selected Mychal Kendricks with the 46th overall pick in the draft. The only linebacker to be taken higher during Reid’s 14 years was Barry Gardner back in ’99 (35th overall).
The Eagles have since switched to a 3-4, making linebacker that much more of a priority. Connor Barwin signed a six-year, $36 million deal this offseason to man one of the outside posts. There are now nine active roster spots and some $17.5 million committed to the position. Safe to say, the formula is much different these days on the defensive side of the ball.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Nick Foles and the Eagles are about to be placed in some hot water.
Ryans is contributing in pass defense even though it’s not his strength. Sheil explains how with help from the All-22.
How did Sunday’s games affect the Eagles? Kapadia takes a look.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
LeSean McCoy talks to Chris McPherson about a moment that helped shape his perspective.
With the Crusaders marching down the field for the go-ahead score late in the game, McCoy suffered a compound fracture of his right ankle. McCoy’s high school career ended right then and there. Bishop McDevitt would not win the state title that year. McCoy’s high school coach, Jeff Weatcher, still has the cleat worn on that day. McCoy still says to him that the cleat should be a championship ring.
“You feel like your dreams are all crashing down,” McCoy said. “Each day, I went out on that field and played, and all that I could think about was going to the NFL and playing ball in college and being on TV playing ball. When that injury happens, you don’t know where your life will go, or where your career will go.”
Peter King has the Eagles ranked 10th in his “Fine Fifteen”.
Kudos to Mike Vick for saying the other day he couldn’t justify pulling Nick Foles to return himself to the starting lineup. Everybody can see that, and often the incumbent quarterback can’t.
Eagles are back at it. Chip Kelly will address the media at 11:40 right before practice.
Sheil Kapadia contributed to this story.