Eagles: Does T.J. Edwards deserve to be a long-term starter?

The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t had a great, let alone good, linebacker in quite sometime.

The last time Philly had a Pro Bowl linebacker was in 2005 with Jeremiah Trotter. They’ve had capable linebackers since then, like Stewart Bradley, Jordan Hicks, and more recently Nigel Bradham. But it’s taken a major nosedive since the departure of Bradham and it hasn’t fully recovered.

The same story of poor linebacker play was felt for the majority of this year until T.J. Edwards was elevated to a starting role in Jonathan Gannon’s defense.

He’s a familiar face. He played 59% of the team’s defensive snaps last season and he was able to help mitigate the horrendous play of Nate Gerry. This season, he’s on pace to play the most snaps he’s ever played in a season and he’s making the most of it.

Since Week 8, Edwards has played 85% of the defensive snaps. During that time, he’s recorded 34 tackles (11.3 tackles per game), and he’s posted 14 defensive stops (tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense) per Pro Football Focus.

The Eagles run defense, a major weakness for the unit during the better part of this season, has improved drastically since Edwards’ insertion into the lineup. The defense was allowing an average of 133 rushing yards per game through the first seven weeks of the season. Over the past three games, just 80.6.

That’s probably not all Edwards’ doing, but the correlation between Edwards getting the starting gig and the Eagles improvement against the run is evident.

He’s been a bit below average in pass coverage, which is the only area that’s holding him back from becoming a mainstay in Gannon’s defense. The front office tried to address the coverage issue in the linebacking corps this past offseason with the acquisition of Eric Wilson, but he didn’t even make it halfway through the year before getting cut.

That’s clearly something the team values in their linebackers. It’s the reason they gave Gerry such a long leash. They want their linebackers to be able to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. Unfortunately, Edwards hasn’t proven he can do that on a consistent basis. But, it does appear that he’s improving in that area.

Over the past two games, Edwards has posted an average PFF coverage grade of 73.0. It’s important to note that Edwards played at least 93% of the defensive snaps in both of those contests and he was targeted a combined eight times. It’s not a huge sample size and it’s not enough to draw any grand conclusions, but it does tell us he’s at least improving.

Now, will Edwards play well enough this year to warrant a starting spot heading into camp next year? He’ll be a restricted free agent this offseason, so the team will have to place a tender on him to ensure no one scoops him up. But if history is any indicator, Howie Roseman would probably prefer bringing Edwards back as opposed to spending valuable draft capital at the position.

If he continues to improve, he’ll certainly have a role with this team moving forward. And until the team invests legitimate assets into the position, he’ll more than likely be their best option.

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