In this week’s edition of Peter King’s, The MMQB, he revealed some of his inside knowledge on the Eagles and their plan for the offseason. According to King, the Eagles are expecting to lose Beau Allen, Trey Burton and Nigel Bradham once free agency starts later this month. This report doesn’t come as a huge surprise, the Eagles were bound to lose some of their pending free agents due to their tight cap situation. The one name that does come as somewhat of a surprise though is linebacker Nigel Bradham. I thought that Bradham would be at the top of Howie’s offseason to-do-list; I even wrote about it in an earlier piece. Bradham was arguably the Eagles’ best linebacker this season and had a handful of pro bowl caliber performances throughout the year (the Carolina game comes to mind immediately; 10 tackles with two pass deflections).
If the Eagles are to lose their starting outside linebacker, that position immediately becomes their biggest need. They already have some depth issues at that position to begin with, so losing a starter there will only make that hole even more glaring.
So how will they go about filling this hole at linebacker? My hunch is that they do so through the draft. They won’t find another linebacker on the open market that is as good as Bradham or who has the potential of being as good. Plus, any linebacker that is going to stack up with Bradham is most likely going to cost just about as much as it would to retain him. I also think that the Eagles want to inject some youth into their linebacking corps. Although Hicks is still relatively young (25 years old), his injury history doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NFL. He’s super talented and when he’s healthy he’s arguably a top 5 player at his position. But you’re only as good as your health, and Hicks’ hasn’t proven he can consistently stay healthy. All the other linebackers who got significant playing time this past season are older than Hicks, so using their 32nd overall pick on a linebacker would be their best option.
One linebacker who seemed to pique the Eagles’ interest during the Scouting Combine was Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch. A couple reports surfaced that the Eagles would “love” to draft Vander Esch with the 32nd overall pick. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Vander Esch is expected to go higher than 32. Some experts have him going as high as 14 to the Packers. It might take some maneuvering by GM Howie Roseman, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he tries to jump in the first round to snag this guy.
Vander Esch really fits perfectly with what the Eagles do defensively. He played in the same type of system at Boise State and in his final season with the team he accumulated; 129 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 4 pass deflections, and 3 interceptions. As you can see, he did it all from the linebacker position. He would be a 3-down linebacker for the Eagles and he would be able to play in both the base 4-3 and the nickel base defense.
Vander Esch could possibly end up being better than Bradham down the line. He’s just as big, and he’s a bit more athletic. Vander Esch would also be able to cover running backs or tight ends much more effectively, so the Eagles would essentially be getting a younger, more athletic version of Bradham if they decide to pursue the Boise State product. I think this is why they really don’t have interest in resigning him at this point. Why pay a 29-year-old linebacker big bucks when you can get the same type of player in the draft for much cheaper.
For as well as Bradham played in his two seasons in Philly, he is what he is. While he does show flashes of greatness, he’s not consistent enough to be a Pro Bowl player. The only way I see Howie bringing him back now is if he takes less money than what other teams are going to offer him. I highly doubt that’ll happen. Bradham wants to get paid, and he will get paid, just not by the Eagles.