Free Agency Round-up: Apparently No One Values Linebackers

Free Agency Round-up: Apparently No One Values Linebackers

Almost one week has gone by since the free agency opened in the NFL, and in typical Eagles fashion, the front office has ignored the plethora of linebackers on the market.

What's that you say? The top free agent linebackers are still available. Like, all of them?

Put it this way: the biggest name to sign anywhere to this point is Dan Connor, who joined the Cowboys for two years at $6.5 million. Stephen Tulloch, Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne, London Fletcher, and practically every other name you would recognize are waiting for contracts.

So what exactly is keeping these players, any of whom Eagles fans would take in a heartbeat, from striking deals? The short answer is these players aren't as valuable as many seem to believe. Here's why:

1. Money
The obvious stumbling block is money. The Inquirer's Jeff McLane reports Lofton wants around $9 million per year, which sounds insane for a slightly above average player. McLane adds Tulloch wants no less than five-year, $42.5 million D'Qwell Jackson got for re-signing with Cleveland.

Tulloch is the consensus best linebacker out there, but is he worth $8.5 million a season? Does Tulloch, or any other free agent, have an impact on the game in the mold of a Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis? The feeling right now around the league is no, and that these guys are going to have to come down on their demands eventually.

2. Prevalence of two-down linebackers
Lofton wants $9 million per. The problem: while he's a solid run defender, some teams, including his own Atlanta Falcons it would seem, fear he needs to come off the field in passing situations.

It's the same reason why the Eagles made Connor a low-ball offer, allowing him to slip through their fingers to Dallas. It's the same reason why we're not talking a whole lot about the Eagles going after an outside backer like Manny Lawson or Kamerion Wimbley. Too many players today have specialized roles, and are skilled in either run support, coverage, or rushing the passer -- maybe two out of three, but seldom all of the above.

What good is it to go out and drop a load of cash in the first few days of free agency on a situational player? None, and the Eagles aren't falling into that trap. It wouldn't be a shock if they added one of those guys eventually, but they have plenty of situational players already, so there's no rush.

3. 3-4 vs. 4-3 defenses
There are still places where linebacker is one of the most coveted positions on the field, but those clubs usually operate a 3-4 defense. Why are linebackers more valuable there?

For one, as the name indicates, they utilize up to four linebackers at a time, as opposed to three in a 4-3. We're sure that blows your mind, but what we're getting at is those teams need more linebackers on their roster, and their linebackers are often asked to do more, and therefore are required to be more versatile.

Outside linebackers, in particular, are more important in the 3-4, because those are typically the primary pass rushers in those defenses. In fact, those players often translate to defensive ends in a 4-3, so even though Mario Williams is listed as an OLB on the free agency tracker, he would be playing with his hand in the ground all the time had he signed with Philadelphia rather than in Buffalo.

None of this is to say the Eagles couldn't use an upgrade at linebacker, or that they haven't made some mistakes along the way evaluating talent at the position. But when you look at the sorry state of the position on 4-3 defenses around the league -- and search no further than the Super Bowl champion New York Giants for proof -- it's not specifically Andy Reid and the Eagles who don't "value" the position.

- Just to further update the status of those players, the belief is Tulloch will wind up staying in Detroit, though McLane reports the Lions are bringing Hawthorne in for a visit. Hawthorne and Lofton both visted New Orleans over the weekend as well. The Eagles haven't had contact with any of those players, that we know of at least, and McLane's sources indicate the price tag will not drop low enough for the team to jump into the mix.

- Even though it has little to do with the Birds, Peyton Manning finally made his decision, choosing the Denver Broncos over finalists Tennessee and San Francisco. Denver has a decent defense, and plays in the wide-open AFC West, where the path to the playoffs goes through teams like Oakland and Kansas City. However, Peyton's success at this point boils down to two factors: 1. how well can he throw the football, and 2. can he stay healthy? I wouldn't count him out, but I'm glad I don't have to pin my team's Super Bowl hopes on number 18.

- In case you were wondering what I think of Tim Tebow, who should instantly become available as a result of the Manning signing, I think he's not a very good quarterback. Moving on...

- Mike Tolbert, one of T7L's depth targets for the Birds, left San Diego to sign with the Carolina Panthers. Speculation is Tolbert's arrival makes Jonathan Stewart expendable, who would be another person of interest to back-up LeSean McCoy, but the Panthers allegedly will hold on to the former first-round pick.

- Super Bowl hero and suddenly overrated wide receiver Mario Manningham left the Giants for the San Francisco 49ers. In five games against Philadelphia, he averaged 2.8 receptions for 31.4 yards per contest.

- There are some rumblings that the Eagles have made contact with Plaxico Burress, and some rumblings that this simply isn't true. Even though he would make an excellent addition for inside the red zone, I don't believe the front office is too keen on the idea, or Plaxico too keen on the money/role. My guess is reports in this case may be driven by the agent.

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

Eagles' QB-rich support system for Carson Wentz paying dividends

In the wake of the Sam Bradford trade, the Eagles' announcement a week before the opener that Carson Wentz would start Week 1 was met with some skepticism and overwhelmingly tempered expectations.

But it looks like the kid can play.

And the Eagles aren’t just looking smart for drafting and playing Wentz. They’re also looking pretty smart for filling their coaching staff and quarterback room with decades of quarterback experience.

“It's a tight room,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

It’s also a knowledgeable one.

Pederson is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is a former NFL quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is a former college quarterback and NFL quarterbacks coach. And backup Chase Daniel has been in the league since 2009 and in Pederson’s offense since 2013.

If Wentz has a question, he has plenty of guys to ask. And it seems like this support system, which at one time looked like overkill, might be one of the keys that has allowed the rookie to take the NFL by storm.

“There’s no doubt. There’s no doubt,” the veteran backup Daniel said. “Obviously, he’s a very bright young mind, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the coaching in the quarterback room has played a good part into his maturation and his bringing along so fast. There’s no doubt about it.”

Through three games, Wentz has completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's the first rookie in NFL history to put up those numbers in the first three games of a career. Oh yeah, and the Eagles are 3-0.

It’s hard to believe that about a month ago, Wentz was gearing up for a redshirt year as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and Daniel. Now, he isn’t just the future franchise quarterback. He is the franchise quarterback.

And Wentz gives his quarterback-heavy coaching staff plenty of credit.

“It’s huge having them,” Wentz said. “I could never say enough how much they understand the game. They get it. They know what it’s like. As a former quarterback, they know what I’m going through and how I’m seeing things, so it’s been huge.”

The Eagles were clearly smitten with Wentz from the time they saw him in Alabama for the Senior Bowl. Eventually, de facto GM Howie Roseman was able to maneuver to the No. 2 pick to draft Wentz.

But Wentz went No. 2 and not No. 1, so it’s almost impossible to not peek over at Los Angeles and see how first overall pick Jared Goff is doing. So far, he isn’t doing much of anything. It doesn’t mean that eventually Goff won’t be a good quarterback, but through three games, he’s been inactive once and hasn’t yet played. The Rams are sticking with Case Keenum for now.

NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling compared the support system for Goff with the Rams and Wentz's with the Eagles. We’ll take a deeper look into what he started:

Rams
• Head coach Jeff Fisher: Defensive coach

• OC Rob Boras: Never a QB coach; coached tight ends in NFL from 2004-15

• QB Coach Chris Weinke: Former NFL QB for seven seasons; was highly-thought of QB draft guru with IMG academy for four years

• Vet QB Case Keenum: In league since 2012; best QB he's played with is Matt Schaub

Eagles
• Head coach Doug Pederson: 12 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Philly; OC in KC

• OC Frank Reich: 14 years as NFL QB; QB coach in Indy with Peyton Manning in 2009-10; QB coach and OC in San Diego

• QB Coach: John DeFilippo: College QB; QBs coach at Fordham, Columbia; QBs coach with Raiders, Jets, OC with Browns

• Vet QB Chase Daniel: In league since 2009; learned under Drew Brees; has been in Pederson's offense since 2013

It’s very possible if Wentz becomes a great quarterback that other teams copy the Eagles’ quarterback-heavy approach.

But it’s not just about getting a bunch of smart people and a talented rookie in the same room. Everything else has to work. The rookie has to be a diligent learner and all of the teachers have to check their egos and work together.

“I let John (DeFilippo), I let the quarterback coach run the meeting,” Pederson said. “If I interject, I interject. The way it works is I send my message through Frank (Reich), Frank through the position coaches. At the same time, if I want to interject something, I will interject. Just making sure there's one voice in the meeting room and they are not hearing three different answers from three different people, the message is the same.”

Practice squad quarterback Aaron Murray, who joined the team a couple weeks ago, thinks the quarterback room has “definitely” helped Wentz achieve his early success. While he is just a practice-squader, go ahead and add Murray — who was in the offense for two years in Kansas City — to the list of quarterback minds happy to help Wentz.

Murray, a fifth-rounder out of Georgia in 2014, has been impressed with Wentz’s ability to pick up protections and schemes at a young age. He compared him to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith in that regard. While Murray, along with everyone else, is happy to give Wentz tips, he tries to not overload him.

“You still want him to just go out there and play,” he said.

Murray is the newcomer to the room, but he’s been impressed with the dynamic so far. He’s not the only one. It looks like this quarterback experiment might just work.

“It’s awesome. It’s great,” Daniel said. “Everyone has a say in there and everyone in the room, it’s pretty crazy, everyone in the room, really except Carson, has been around it, has been in it and played. Obviously, he’s played, but been around for a while. He’s just a sponge, he’s just taking it all in.

“Maybe some stuff he doesn’t need to take in. Maybe some stuff he wants to do his own way, which is great. You want your own personality out there. But yeah, he’s been great. It’s been great for us too as players. We have almost a 2-to-1 coach-to-player ratio. It’s been great. Everyone has little tidbits here and there and we roll.”

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Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

Pete Mackanin unloads on Phillies' bullpen after latest collapse

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bullpen continued its ugly, late-season collapse on Tuesday night. It was tagged for six runs in a 7-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves rallied for the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth inning (see Instant Replay).
 
The loss came two days after the bullpen gave up 14 earned runs in four innings in a 17-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday and it left manager Pete Mackanin more than a little bit frustrated.
 
“The bullpen has just not been doing the job,” Mackanin said.
 
Jerad Eickhoff gave up just one run (on a solo homer by Freddie Freeman) over four walk-free innings to open the game. He was up 6-1 after four innings when the rains came and stopped the game for an hour and 53 minutes.
 
With Eickhoff bounced by the weather, Mackanin had to go to his bullpen. He used four relievers — Severino Gonzalez, Luis Garcia, Joely Rodriguez and David Hernandez — and all gave up runs.
 
Phillies relievers have pitched 77 1/3 innings this month and allowed 69 earned runs for an ERA of 8.03. So that’s one more thing Matt Klentak has to fix this winter, along with the offense that Mackanin wants to see addressed (see story).
 
Ultimately, Hernandez took the loss when he gave up three hits and a run in the bottom of the eighth. The other run in the inning was charged to Rodriguez.
 
As unbelievable as it may sound with rosters being expanded in September, the Phillies played this game shorthanded.
 
They did not have reliever Edubray Ramos. He had a sore elbow, Mackanin said.
 
They did not have outfielder Peter Bourjos, who had gone home to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
 
They also did not have outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who is out with a concussion.
 
Not having Bourjos or Goeddel forced Mackanin to use Darin Ruf in left field after Roman Quinn went out with an oblique injury in the sixth inning. Ruf failed to make a catch on a long fly ball by Tyler Flowers to the gap in left-center. The non-play extended the eighth inning and fueled the Braves’ comeback.
 
“It should have been caught,” Mackanin said. “If Quinn's out there, he catches it. He wasn't out there.”
 
Hernandez was the only free agent that the Phillies signed to a major-league contract this winter. The Phillies signed him with an eye toward using him as the closer. But Hernandez struggled much of the season and slipped into the middle innings while Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez rose to high-leverage roles.
 
Gomez lost the closer’s job last week and Mackanin was saving Neris to close out this game. That meant Hernandez had to pitch the eighth. He couldn’t protect the lead. He gave up the game-tying hit to Mallex Smith and the go-ahead hit to Emilio Bonafacio.
 
“Neris was going to close for us,” Mackanin said. “I thought about using him with two outs in the eighth. But, at some point, somebody else has to do a (bleeping) job. Somebody else has to (bleeping) step up. In two games now, every reliever I brought in has given up a (bleeping) run. That's unheard of.”
 
The bullpen’s unraveling threw cold (rain) water on Eickhoff’s solid start and Ryan Howard’s big night. Howard belted his 24th homer, a grand slam in the first inning, to highlight a 14-hit attack and help the Phils jump to a 6-0 lead.
 
“Eickhoff looked like he was having one of his best games and then the rain came. So that was our first disappointment,” Mackanin said. "Other than that, Howie swung the bat great. Hit that grand slam. We got 14 hits, but we stranded 12 runners. We have to keep adding on.”
 
Quinn had three of the Phillies’ 14 hits then added to his collection of injuries with the oblique strain that bounced him from the game in the sixth. He hurt himself taking a swing.
 
Oblique injuries generally keep a player sidelined for at least three weeks, so Quinn’s season is likely over. He missed six weeks with a similar injury at Double A Reading this summer. The 23-year-old outfielder came up from the minors on Sept. 11 and has been auditioning for a spot on next season’s opening day roster.
 
“It looks like it,” Mackanin said when asked if Quinn was done for what remains of the season.
 
Injuries have been a consistent hurdle for Quinn ever since he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft. He has missed significant time with a ruptured Achilles tendon, a wrist injury that required surgery, a torn quad muscle and an oblique strain. Now he has another one.
 
“It’s the same one I hurt before,” Quinn said. “It’s frustrating.”
 
Right now, just about everything is frustrating with this team. Good thing there are only five games left.

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