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.

Instant Replay: Central Florida 71, Temple 69

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USA Today Images

Instant Replay: Central Florida 71, Temple 69

BOX SCORE

Temple and UCF went for punch-for-punch in the final two minutes, and the Owls missed their final swing in a 71-69 loss Wednesday at the Liacouras Center.

Down by one with 20 seconds left, Temple fouled Tacko Fall to attempt a one-and-one. The 7-6 center, who is a 47 percent free throw shooter, missed a and Temple gained possession. 

Temple had a chance to gain the lead on the ensuing possession out of the timeout, but Mark Williams missed a wide-open three-pointer from the wing. 

The loss is Temple's fourth in five games and forces them to 14-15 on the year and 5-11 against AAC opponents. Meanwhile, UCF won for the third straight time to improve to 18-10 (9-7 AAC).

Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has only finished with a record under .500 twice since becoming the Owls’ head coach in 2006.

Ding ding
Midway through the second half, Matt Williams threw an elbow at Shizz Alston Jr. that left the Temple freshman on the floor and a bloody lip. Alston followed by getting in Williams' face as the refs separated the two from each other. 

The refs ruled the elbow by Williams a basketball play and no foul was called.

Williams and Alston were involved in another scuffle at the scorer’s table after Alston got a steal. Williams shoved Alston and was called for his first personal foul as the two again had to be separated. 

Inside the box score
• Fall finished the game with 14 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and two assists in the contest.

• After finishing the first half 0 for 3 from the field, Obi Enechionyia caught fire for the Owls by shooting 5 of 6 from downtown in the second half. The junior led the Owls in scoring with 17 points. He also had five rebounds, two assists and a steal.

• Temple shot 47.6 from beyond the arc. The Owls are 6-3 this season when they shoot ball 40 percent or better from three-point land.

• B.J. Taylor finished the game with 19 points, three rebounds and three assists. It's the 10th consecutive game he scored in double figures this season. 

• Mark Williams scored 11 points on 5 of 11 shooting off the bench.

Temple's starting lineup
For the fourth straight game, Dunphy went with the same starting lineup featuring Damion Moore instead of Ernest Aflakpui and Quinton Rose instead of Alani Moore II.

The Owls are 1-3 with this lineup so far. 

After scoring a career-high 11 points on 5 of 5 shooting against UConn on Sunday, Moore finished with two points against UCF. 

First half
Temple had a hard time avoiding the 7-6 big man, Fall, in the first half. Fall had six points, three rebounds and four blocks. But he also picked up two quick fouls, forcing him to the bench at the 4:23 mark.

While Fall watched from the bench, Temple's offense found some rhythm. 

Temple went on a 15-3 run toward the end of the first half as UCF hit only two field goals in the final eight minutes of the frame.

Rose led the Owls with eight points in the first half, while Alston Jr. and Mark Williams each had seven points.

The Owls finished the first half shooting the ball 46.9 percent from the field. That tripled their amount of points in the first half the last time they faced UCF. They finished with only 11 points in the first half in their first meeting Dec. 31.

What's next
Temple will play its final home game of the season against Tulane on Saturday at noon.

UCF will face Cincinnati at the CFE Center Sunday at 3 p.m.

Report: Bulls continuing trade push for Jahlil Okafor

Report: Bulls continuing trade push for Jahlil Okafor

The Bulls are apparently still after Jahlil Okafor.

Chicago has continued its trade push for the Sixers’ big man, according to a report Wednesday night by The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

In early February, the Bulls inquired about Okafor, according to a report by CSNChicago.com.

With Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline nearing, the clock is ticking on the Sixers’ possible trade of Okafor, who will get moved” by the mandatory cutoff date, according to NBA.com’s David Aldridge on Tuesday.

The Sixers already have one trade nearly completed. They are currently finalizing a deal that will send Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks, a league source confirmed to CSNPhilly.com Sixers Insider Jessica Camerato on Wednesday night (see story).

With Okafor, aside from the Bulls, other teams have reportedly expressed interest in the second-year center, including the Pacers, Blazers and Pelicans (who are expected to be out of the running after landing DeMarcus Cousins).

Okafor is averaging 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game this season over 38 contests. Last season, he played 53 games (48 starts) as a rookie and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds.

The 21-year-old has taken all the trade buzz in stride.

“Trade rumors are something that’s going to be part of my life probably for as long as I’m in the NBA," Okafor said on Feb. 4 after the Bulls’ reported interest originally surfaced. "I’ve been hearing it since I’ve been in the NBA about me being traded. I just try to focus on what I can. That’s being here on this team and trying to help this team win.”