Eagles Offseason Outlook: OLB
Throughout the next two weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason. We have covered the quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive line and defensive line so far. Now it’s onto the outside linebackers.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
There are all kinds of question marks at this spot going into the offseason. The biggest one concerns Brandon Graham, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent.
The second concerns Trent Cole, who is due a base salary of $10 million and carries a cap hit of $11.625 million for 2015.
That means two of the three outside linebackers who were in the rotation last year (Connor Barwin being the third) face uncertain futures. Marcus Smith II, meanwhile, couldn’t get on the field as a rookie and was shuffled back and forth between outside linebacker and inside linebacker. The coaches hope he’ll show progress in Year 2, but that’s certainly not something they can count on.
And Travis Long will be looking to return from an ACL injury.
Overall, lots of decisions to be made at this spot.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
The Graham situation will provide some insight into how the new powers-that-be are going to operate. Under Howie Roseman, it seemed relatively straightforward. The Eagles identified the players they wanted, figured out “walk away numbers” and knew exactly how much they were willing to spend. The team didn’t always get the guys it wanted, but maintained financial flexibility.
How will the Chip Kelly/Ed Marynowitz crew operate? That remains to be seen.
The guess here is that the Eagles will make a push to sign Graham, but ultimately he’ll land with a 4-3 team that views him as a starter. Graham played 43 percent of the snaps last year and performed well in a rotational role, but it’s clear he wants to get more opportunities to rush the passer. Having said that, it’s not a given that he’s gone, especially when you consider it’s a pretty strong market for edge defenders (see next section).
I think the team will restructure Cole’s deal and bring him back. After the final game of 2014, the 32-year-old seemed like he’d be open to a new agreement, and at his age, it’s unlikely he’d get a monster payday on the open market.
Smith will #sportscience it up in hopes of getting stronger, but he’ll have to earn his snaps. Kelly made that clear last year.
This is an area where the Eagles could very well add a player through free agency. Which brings us to…
THE FREE AGENT LIST
Here are the top-10 edge defenders, per Rotoworld:
1. Justin Houston
2. Jerry Hughes
3. Jason Pierre-Paul
4. Greg Hardy
5. Brian Orakpo
6. Pernell McPhee
7. Jabaal Sheard
8. Jason Worilds
9. Brandon Graham
10. Derrick Morgan
There are some intriguing names for sure. Coming off a 22-sack season, Houston is going to demand a big-time payday. Hughes, Pierre-Paul and Hardy are more defensive ends than outside linebackers.
Orakpo has missed 24 games in the past three seasons, but has played in a 3-4 and could be of interest depending on what the market is for him. McPhee was a rotational player with the Ravens and only dropped into coverage 32 times all season (per Pro Football Focus), so I’m not sure he’s a scheme fit.
Word out of Cleveland is that Sheard might be better suited as a 4-3 DE.
Worilds is definitely a name to watch. There was indication last offseason that the Eagles were interested, and the Steelers run a similar scheme to the Birds. Worilds turns 27 next month and had 7.5 sacks in 2014.
Morgan played in a 3-4 for the first time last year and is only 26 years old. He too could be an option.
If the Eagles don’t bring Graham back, they are in a position where they pretty much have to add an outside linebacker with starting potential through free agency.