Above the empty locker near the back left corner of the NovaCare Complex locker room, the nameplate simply reads, “Philadelphia Eagles.” It has been swept clean of socks, shirts, equipment, shower sandals, and every reminder that 29-year-old linebacker Zachary Brown occupied that space until he was cut without fanfare Monday evening.
The Eagles announced the transaction in a five-word text after the close of business hours. The 6:38 p.m. message read: “Eagles released LB Zach Brown.”
Who knows what becomes of the old nameplates – like the one emblazoned “52 – Zach Brown” – after the occupants move on, and their names are replaced by the generic sign that reminds all the players who really owns their homey cubicles. Maybe the plates are filed away, should the player return. In the case of Brown, this seems pretty unlikely.
“We were good buddies,” said Nathan Gerry, who has the locker just to the right of the now-empty stall. “To be honest, a lot of cuts happen, and you kind of get caught off-balance. Any time you see that, especially to a starter, it’s a shocker. But like I said, [stuff] happens.”
Some of the stuff that happened to Brown on Monday was of his own doing. In fact, all of it was. Had he been playing at a higher level, the Eagles might have overlooked his unfortunate pregame scouting report on Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. Additionally, had he not decided to rip Cousins last week, perhaps his average play would have been tolerated a little longer. It was the combo platter that got him, and the Eagles decided they had enjoyed enough of his company.
The season is teetering on a precipice at the moment, and this would seem an inadvisable time to shake the ground. On the other hand, the calculation might be that the team needs to be taken out of its comfort zone.
Head coach Doug Pederson began the week with a solid declaration that Sunday’s game at Dallas would be a victory. He later downgraded that prediction from “guarantee” to “show-of-confidence” status, but, nevertheless, the gauntlet had been shown to the team. When Brown was excised later that day, the message wasn’t lost on anyone: Bad things happen when you lose, and they could happen to you, too.”
“I feel like we just have to continue to work,” Pederson said Wednesday. “We’re six weeks in. Really, you look up, and you have a 10-game season in front of you. So, nothing that’s happened this week is any indication of how I feel about the football team.”
OK, it was all a coincidence after that free fall in Minneapolis. No need to use either carrot or stick as the team heads into a Cowboys game that could revive its chances or further diminish them. We’ll take him at his word.
Either way, the team is thin at linebacker now, which is fitting, since the defensive scheme doesn’t seem to think much of them or use more of them than necessary. Kamu Grugier-Hill, just back from a training-camp injury, and Gerry figure to get most of the snaps if Nigel Bradham is unable to shake off an ankle injury suffered in Minnesota. Bradham did not practice Wednesday.
In his absence, there would also be a sprinkling of T.J. Edwards when three linebackers are required, or to give the others a quick rest, and there is the slight possibility of a Duke Riley sighting. These are not household names, even in the households of most ardent fans, but that’s who the Eagles have. Edwards is an undrafted rookie, signed as a free agent, and Riley was acquired in a trade two weeks ago with Atlanta for safety Johnathan Cyprien. Filling out the linebacker corps this week is Alex Singleton, promoted on Wednesday from the practice squad.
“Obviously, we’re based on performance,” Pederson said when asked about the reasons Brown was cut. “I’m not going to get into a lot of the whys as to why we did it, but we need more production there, and so we made a change.”
Figuring out how the production improves by replacing Brown with a practice-squad player isn’t that easy. Maybe it was simply that Brown wasn’t going to play much with Grugier-Hill healed, and the team had also tired of his act.
“It’s a crazy league. Guys come in and out,” Grugier-Hill said. “It’s part of the business. That’s what happens. Our job is to be ready, and I’m confident I can pick up where I was before the injury.”
Grugier-Hill said he expects a great game against Dallas, and he left it at that this time. Last year, prior to a December meeting of the teams in Arlington, Texas, Grugier-Hill said, “I mean, you look at Dallas’ history, they always choke, so we’ll go down there and make them choke.”
The coaches and front office weren’t happy with him about that one – particularly after the overtime loss that followed – but Grugier-Hill still had a locker the following week. Luckily for him, the Eagles still needed him.