2012 NFL Free Agents: Philadelphia Eagles Interested in Free-Agent Linebacker

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2012 NFL Free Agents: Philadelphia Eagles Interested in Free-Agent Linebacker
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Arguably no team in the NFL is in need of more linebacker help this offseason than the Philadelphia Eagles. The club has been linked with several names in both free agency and the 2012 NFL draft.

You may be able to add Carolina Panthers free-agent linebacker Dan Connor to that growing list. 

According to Geoff Mosher of the Delaware News-Journal, the Eagles are interested in acquiring the former Penn State linebacker once free agency begins on March 13. 

Several league sources confirmed the team’s interest in the former Penn State All-American who just finished his fourth season in Carolina, although the degree of interest remains unclear. At least two sources close to the situation believe Connor, a native of the Delaware County suburb of Wallingford, Pa., is high on the Eagles’ wish list. 

Mosher also points out that the Eagles have expressed an interest in Connor before, as recently as last season. 

All sources interviewed confirmed that the Eagles were interested enough in Connor last August to approach the Panthers about a trade, but Carolina’s uncertainty regarding the health of Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason made the Panthers reluctant to pull the trigger.

Connor, 26, is widely expected to leave Carolina in hopes of finding a starting job on the open market. Former Pro Bowler Jon Beason will return to the Panthers' starting lineup next season after missing all but 38 snaps in 2011. 

After Beason went down, Conner went on to play almost 500 snaps for the Panthers' defense last season. According to Pro Football Focus, no Carolina linebacker had a better year than Connor, as he graded out highly in run defense and missed just five tackles. He also recorded 33 "stops," which records tackles that result in a negative play for the offense.

The Eagles could certainly use a presence like that in the middle of its defense.

Jamar Cheney, who started 14 games at middle linebacker for the Eagles in 2011, graded out as PFF's 41st-best interior linebacker (out of 50 eligible) last season. Too often, the Eagles were exposed inside against run in 2011.

If you had the choice, would you want the Eagles to acquire Dan Connor in free agency or Luke Kuechly in the NFL draft?

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Chaney could move back outside, where Mosher says the team likes him best, if the Eagles acquired Connor to man the middle.

Signing Connor would also help Eagles coach Andy Reid continue his trend of not taking a linebacker high in the NFL draft. Under Reid, the highest a linebacker has been selected by the Eagles is just 35th overall. 

Many have speculated that Reid's trend may break this April, as Boston College's Luke Kuechly has been widely mocked to the Eagles at No. 15 overall. College football's top tackling machine impressed at the combine and should be a top-20 pick.

The Eagles could address other problem areas if Connor is the pick over Kuechly, who may not be a huge improvement over Connor in the long-run, anyway.  

While Connor will certainly attract a few teams in free agency, the fact he played his college ball at Penn State and grew up in the Philadelphia area should give the Eagles an early lead to sign Connor should they show an interest. 

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