The Philadelphia Eagles were thin at linebacker already. Now, they might be forced to make a roster move ahead of the season opener. ESPN’s Tim McManus suggested GM Howie Roseman would make a move for an edge rusher to replace Michael Bennett and Chris Long. But the Eagles have a more pressing need at linebacker now that Kamu Grugier-Hill is expected to miss several weeks and multiple games.
Adding another wrinkle to the equation is the fact that Zach Brown, the former Redskins linebacker the Eagles signed as a free agent, has been underwhelming through the first two weeks of training camp. Again, it’s important to not read too much into these early practices as players like Brown do have a tendency to show up when the lights are the brightest. However, let’s take a look at some possible linebackers available via trade or in free agency.
1. Mason Foster, Free Agent
The Eagles could scoop Foster off the scrap heap and stick it to their divisional rivals in D.C. Think about it: Foster spent the past four years with the Redskins and surely knows all the dirty secrets of the Eagles’ Week 1 opponent. Foster was the starting middle linebacker and captain of the Redskins’ defense last year when he played on 99-percent of the snaps and led the team in tackles.
He also knows Zach Brown very well, a guy that left Washington on not-so-good terms. The two combined for 229 total tackles — Foster recorded 133 himself — and two sacks in 2018. The 30-year-old Foster is a gamer and might be worth a look. However, he does bring some off-the-field baggage after feuding with Redskins fans in a publicly stated “F*** this team and this fanbase” on social media.
2. Danny Trevathan, Bears
This move would require nifty cap maneuvering as Trevathan is due $5.8 million in base salary this year from the Bears, with his cap number sitting at a steep $7.65 million. Trevathan was Chicago’s second-leading tackler in 2018 with 102 combined tackles, including six tackles in the team’s playoff loss to the Eagles. The eight-year veteran has been one of the best at this position going back to his days in Denver when he helped anchor one of the greatest defenses of the modern era.
Playing alongside new Eagles defensive tackle Malik Jackson on the 2015 Denver Broncos, Trevathan won a Super Bowl and eventually cashed in on the open market. But he has dealt with a myriad of injuries over his first three seasons with the Bears and the team has yet to commit to extending him. The common belief is they will let him walk in 2020. If Chicago can get something back now — do either Mack Hollins or Jordan Mailata have any trade value at this point? — then why not pull the trigger. The Eagles would be foolish not to make that call.
3. Brandon Copeland, Jets
Copeland is very familiar to the Philadelphia area having attended the University of Pennsylvania. In fact, the highly-educated linebacker even taught a class at the college on financial literacy. Copeland has been known to save his entire salary and reinvest it in real estate and other things. While Copeland signed a one-year contract last March to return to the Jets, the team doesn’t seem intent on locking him up to a long-term deal.
Why does Copeland make sense for the Eagles? For starters, the 27-year-old fits the mold of the pass-rushing specialist that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz values most. He had five sacks and 35 tackles for the Jets in 2018, including 14 quarterback hits in 10 starts. Of course, there is also the connection to Joe Douglas in New York. Douglas was the former right-hand man to Howie Roseman in Philadelphia and the two remain close friends. It wouldn’t take too much coaxing to start the conversation, but what would it take to pry Copeland loose? Remember, Douglas does love Cre’Von LeBlanc.
4. Manti Te’o, Free Agent
He may not be the flashiest name out there, but availability is sometimes the best ability in the NFL, right? Te’o has been sitting on the streets since the Saints waived him and had been linked to the Raiders as recently as March. His injury history is well-documented, but the Eagles just need him to come into training camp and compete. Te’o did little to impress in New Orleans, mostly serving as a healthy scratch on game day, but maybe he can channel his early-career success.
The talent has to be there inside of him. Te’o was a stud coming out of Notre Dame, a Heisman Trophy finalist and second-round draft pick, and recorded 216 total tackles in his first three seasons with the Chargers. Can someone pull out all that untapped potential? Perhaps he just needs a change of scenery and a trip to a Super Bowl contender might reignite the fire. Then again, he might not want to come back. He has stated previously: “I’m in a position where I know that if I get a call, I’m ready, and if I don’t, I’m good.”
5. A.J. Klein, Saints
Klein has struggled mightily during his first two seasons in New Orleans despite starting in 27 games. Pro Football Focus gave the oft-injured linebacker an abysmal 69.7 overall rating. Again, there is a ton of bad film out there on him. But that might play right into GM Howie Roseman’s hands as he can low-ball the Saints with a trade offer for a still-developing young player — Klein just turned 28 years old — and add depth to his roster at the same time.
Klein has shown small flashes of greatness. In 2018, he led the Saints in tackles for loss with 16 and logged 669 snaps. Klein is on the books until 2020, but there’s a voidable year on his contract, according to Forbes. If he gets cut before the final day of the 2019 league calendar, the team saves $9 million. Is he worth a one-year rental? Maybe. Better yet, Klein could probably be had for a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick.
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