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.

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utliity man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan, but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in AAA while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

A healthy Nolan Patrick to Flyers? 'He won't let anybody down,' Brandon GM says

As he met with general manager Grant Armstrong, Nolan Patrick had just finished an injury-marred junior season.

The 18-year-old missed the WHL playoffs and was limited to 33 games because of two separate injuries. He underwent a sports hernia surgery the offseason prior, a major impediment to his summer training. He never quite "caught up to the year," as Armstrong put it.

"I don't think he really ever got himself into a situation where he was 100 percent," the Brandon Wheat Kings GM said in a phone interview last week with CSNPhilly.com.

But none of that was about to crack Patrick's confidence.

"When we had our exit meetings, he told me he was going to play in the NHL," Armstrong said. "I wished him the best of luck and I expect that's where he'll be next year."

Where he could be is Philadelphia sporting Flyers orange. Patrick and Nico Hischier are the consensus top-two picks for the June 23-24 NHL entry draft. The Flyers, of course, with a stroke of good luck, will be happily sitting at No. 2 overall. The Devils will make Ron Hextall's decision much easier when they pick at No. 1.

The Canadian Patrick and Swiss-born Hischier are both centers. Coming into the season, Patrick was viewed as the draft's top dog, but his health and Hischier's rise have tightened the race.

Will the injuries cause apprehension?

"I think there's no concern at all," Armstrong said. "Injuries are a part of the game and I don't see it being an issue for Nolan at all. He trains well, he works hard at it and rehabs properly. I don't see it being an issue and currently, I think he's at 100 percent."

Despite the hampered summer and shortened season, Patrick showed why he's so heralded by still compiling 46 points in 33 games for the Wheat Kings, his third year with the junior club. He scored 20 goals and collected 26 assists. Why that might not be mind-blowing is because Patrick had 102 points in 2015-16 on 41 goals and 61 assists for an astounding plus-51 rating. He went on to record 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) in 21 playoff games, leading Brandon to its first WHL title in 20 years alongside current Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov.

Similar to Provorov, Patrick's hockey smarts are well beyond his age.

"His presence on the ice, he just thinks the game, he puts himself in positions to be successful all the time," Armstrong said. "He's almost above the ice in his thinking aspect. He sees the game so well, he's a student of the game, he understands and puts himself in positions of success. That hasn't changed, it's only getting better for him.

"He's a difference-maker."

Armstrong joined the Wheat Kings last summer but had scouted and seen plenty of Patrick as Armstrong worked the previous four seasons for the WHL's Victoria Royals.

"He's a very elite player with a tremendous hockey sense," Armstrong said. "I think that's his biggest attribute is he thinks the game so well, he thinks it ahead of what's really happening on the ice a lot of the times. He's a player that's really starting to come into his own. 

"This next season will be a real opportunity for him to showcase his elite hockey sense and his athleticism and all the things that combine to make him a great player."

It appears Patrick, who has great size at 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, is ready to showcase those traits at the NHL level. His future club will ultimately decide that in training camp.

"We would like to think we know that, but until the kid comes in and shows you what he can do," Hextall said earlier this month. "You make an educated judgment and then you go from there. A player has to come in and prove that he's ready and at this age not many are, so we'll wait and see which way [the player] goes from there."

Armstrong said there's constant communication between Brandon and NHL teams throughout a season and that it escalates this time of year as the draft nears.

What about with the Flyers?

"The Flyers are a great organization and obviously we have ties to their GM," Armstrong said. "It's a good fit and they know what's going on.

"They're dialed into what's going on and they have all kinds of ways to communicate with people."

While Patrick may not jump off the charts with Connor McDavid-like scoring ability, he prides himself on being complete. Armstrong said Patrick models his game after Kings center Anze Kopitar, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2015-16 Selke Trophy winner as the NHL's top defensive forward.

It's the do-it-all mentality Armstrong believes was special, night in and night out.

"Just the way he makes small plays in a game that would set up a teammate," he said. "He plays a 200-foot game, he's coming back hard and supporting the D in the defensive zone. Switching to offense, he's quick and he does things that make him such a great player.

"I think everybody thinks that a No. 1 or 2 centerman is going to be completely focused on the offensive side, but no, he's very committed to the defensive side of the puck — I think that's one thing that's a little bit misunderstood about him. He's got such an ability to play in any situation — killing penalties, late in the game, taking big faceoffs, that's his game."

Armstrong extolled Patrick for making everyone around him better on the Wheat Kings.

If that's with the Flyers next, Armstrong believes you won't be disappointed.

"I think they just have to be patient and allow the player to grow. He won't let anybody down," Armstrong said. "I just think he's an elite talent with an elite sense for the game. At some point, he'll be a great two-way centerman in the league. He'll put up offensive numbers. They won't be in the elite category, but he'll be a guy that'll chip away at his game, he'll produce. You just have to take your time and be patient."