Two days removed from another subpar linebacker performance, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz pushed back on the notion that the Eagles haven’t prioritized their cheapest position.
The Eagles went into the season with the fewest cap dollars spent at linebacker in the NFL. They let veteran linebackers Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill walk in the offseason and released L.J. Fort midway through last year. Grugier-Hill (Dolphins) and Fort (Ravens) went on to have success as starters at their next stops.
Still, Schwartz pointed to the team’s willingness to sign Bradham two offseasons ago and the recent draft capital spent at the position as a counterargument to those who claim the Eagles don’t care about linebackers.
“Every position is a priority for us,” Schwartz said. “I mean, every position is important on the field. And I disagree that we haven’t spent resources on it. I mean, you mentioned some of those guys we’ve had. We pay free-agent money to guys like Nigel. This year, we put some draft picks in there. We have the guys that we have. We’re going to work hard to put those guys in good position. But I don’t think from anyone’s standpoint it’s not a priority for us.”
It’s worth noting the Eagles signed Bradham in 2016 and re-signed him to an extension in 2018 before releasing him last summer. When pressed on the lack of recent signings the team has made at the position, Schwartz deferred to general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson. While Schwartz has had sway on personnel decisions in the past according to an Inquirer report last November, he said he’d let his higher-ups handle the roster-construction questions.
“I’ll leave team building stuff and roster management to Doug and Howie,” Schwartz said. “So I really can’t answer your question right there. I’m confident in the guys we have. We’re getting the young guys up to speed. I think our emphasis is on 11 guys playing better, not any one position.”
It is true the Eagles invested draft picks in the position, taking Davion Taylor in the third round of last April’s NFL draft and selecting Shaun Bradley three rounds later. Taylor was billed as a raw prospect with special athletic traits but a lack of fundamental knowledge and instinct, because he was relatively new to football after religious obligations, kept him from playing much in high school.
Taylor may be one of the players most hurt by the lack of OTAs and rookie minicamp this offseason. By the time the Eagles returned to the practice field, the former Colorado standout was buried on the depth chart and has yet to play snaps outside of special teams this season.
Bradley, considered a more ready-made linebacker coming into camp, broke onto the second-team defense at times during a solid summer, but the Temple grad has also been mostly utilized as a special-teamer in the regular season. During the Eagles' 38-29 loss to the Steelers, Bradley played 14 defensive snaps, the first time he’s been on the field with the defense. He was used primarily in run-down situations and at the goal line, and made a nice play to stop a Pittsburgh run at the goal line in the first quarter.
The calls for the rookies come after Nate Gerry struggled at times Sunday, most notably on a coverage assignment late in the game that led to a decisive touchdown for Pittsburgh. Gerry was lined up over Steelers rookie receiver Chase Claypool, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger recognized it and changed the play to exploit the mismatch. Claypool blew by Gerry, and Eagles safety Rodney McLeod was late to help over the top, leading to Pittsburgh’s final score.
With the Eagles' linebacking corps struggling so mightily, could Schwartz turn to the rookies as reinforcements?
“They are all making progress,” Schwartz said. “They are physically talented. When we can work them in, we’ll work them in when it makes sense to the 11 guys on defense. We’re in the business of trying to do whatever we can to win games, and doing what we think is best to win games. When it’s time for those guys that we think it’s best for us to win games with them on the field, we’ll do it.”