We all know that the No. 1 need for the Philadelphia Eagles is a middle linebacker. And, for those of us familiar with Andy Reid, we know that the linebacker position is treated like a hemorrhoid that occasionally flares up and becomes a nuisance.
He sees it as a pain in the ass that will eventually pass if you do just enough to relieve the symptoms. However, he never invests in a cure for the ailment.
Heading into this offseason, I’ve believed that the Eagles’ plan of action for the MLB position would be to acquire a veteran free agent. I still believe that will be the plan, but the recent news of D’Qwell Jackson signing a five-year contract extension with Cleveland worth $42.5 million, with a reported $19 million in guarantees (or $10.4 mil if you believe this PFT report), makes me seriously lower my expectations come March 13th.
There is no way on God’s green earth that the Eagles will pay a linebacker that kind of money.
Jackson had a pretty decent year in 2011, but he wasn’t outstanding. He was injured for most of the previous two seasons and was sweating whether or not he’d even have a job last year.
Jackson is a solid player and he was very active in the Browns’ defense, but he’s basically a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. However, he may have just set the free agent market for solid, but unspectacular linebackers this offseason. I’m sure the agents for players like Stephen Tulloch and Curtis Lofton paid very close attention to Jackson’s contract.
Granted, the free agent market for middle linebackers isn’t exactly stellar this year, but Tulloch and Lofton are now the top guys slated to be available and will likely seek a contract in the neighborhood of what Jackson signed for, or maybe more.
Last year, Tulloch was looking for $6 million annually but ultimately settled on a one-year, $3.25 million deal. The latest word on his situation is that he and the Lions are not close to a new deal, which tells me he’s looking for big money.
Both Tulloch and Lofton are every-down players, which is something the Eagles need. I’m tired of seeing them rotate linebackers in and out based on defensive packages. They need a leader who’s out there for every situation.
However, would the Eagles pay Tulloch or Lofton the kind of money that D’Qwell Jackson received? Hell, I’d have a hard time seeing them pay that kind of money for Ray Lewis in his prime (even though that would be a steal).
Many times, average to slightly above average players who make it to free agency tend to get paid more than they’re worth because teams typically have to overpay for them. Tulloch and Lofton are solid players, though neither of them are “studs”, and they’ll probably get overpaid if they hit the open market.
Therefore, the Eagles will likely be looking at the second-tier middle linebackers or guys that are willing to sign one-year deals.
This means that a player like Seattle’s David Hawthorne (less money for multi-year deal) or Washington’s London Fletcher (one-year deal candidate) could be a primary target.
There are a few other potential considerations like Carolina’s Dan Connor or Minnesota’s E.J. Henderson, but do they get you excited about improving the weakest spot on the Eagles’ defense? (Therefore, they’ll probably sign one of these two guys)
If Tulloch were to make it to free agency, he was my primary target for the Eagles and I view him as an acceptable solution to the MLB problem. Tulloch didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Detroit, but he’s the best fit for what we need and he’s a solid player, ala D’Qwell Jackson.
Lofton was my second choice. However, after him, there’s a drop off to David Hawthorne. I’d be okay with Hawthorne but not really excited about it. Same goes for Fletcher and Henderson.
I want the Eagles to apply more than just the annual band-aid to this perpetual sore. I’m tired of veteran castoffs, journeymen, and late round draft picks. At the least, I want a guy who can take charge in the middle, be consistent, be a sure tackler and make a play once in a while.
Ideally, I want a stud like a Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis or Brian Urlacher. However, that’s just not going to happen unless the Eagles draft one — which is why I’m starting to develop a liking for Luke Kuechly now since he’s the closest thing resembling a stud MLB and within the Eagles’ reach.
But I’ll save my new-found Kuechly love for another day. For now, I’m focusing on acquiring a linebacker in free agency and I’m not liking the vibe as we move forward.
The Jackson deal has all but crushed my hopes for landing Tulloch or Lofton. Now, I’ve lowered my expectations to London Fletcher. Don’t get me wrong, Fletcher wouldn’t be a bad option, I just don’t see him as anything more that a one-year stopgap.
Fletcher, even though he’ll turn the ripe old age of 37 in May, could command a decent salary on the open market too. His production warrants it, but his age does not. That’s why I can foresee him signing a one, maybe two-year deal for an “Eagles eligible” price.
If the Eagles sign Fletcher to man the middle but don’t draft a high-end linebacker to serve as his understudy, I’ll be disappointed. Like I said, I’m tired of having gypsies for linebackers, I want the constant problem at linebacker resolved for the long-haul.
However, when it comes to the Eagles and linebackers, I’m used to disappointment.