In the wake of the Philadelphia Eagles' middle linebacker Stewart Bradley’s season ending ACL tear, the linebacking corps are left perilously thin.
Before Bradley’s injury and resulting surgery, Philadelphia was set to begin the season with Chris Gocong on the strong side, rising star Bradley manning the middle, and the winner of the Akeem Jordan/Omar Gaither training camp competition on the weak side.
With Bradley’s injury, the linebacker landscape changes significantly.
Second year man Joe Mays, along with former MLB starter Gaither, figure to be the leading candidates to take control of the defense, but not without questions. With all of his focus being shifted to the WILL position, will Gaither be able to revert back to the MIKE position seamlessly? Is Mays, who only dressed for two games during his rookie year, ready to be an every-down player in the NFL? What will happen if another Eagles’ linebacker goes down with injury?
The Eagles also just signed former San Diego Chargers middle linebacker Matt Wilhelm, a six-year pro out of Ohio State. Wilhelm played mostly special teams in San Diego, until starting 21 games during the past two seasons, with modest results (115 solo tackles, one sack, and four interceptions).
While Wilhelm is a solid player with experience, he is by no means better than average. Expecting Wilhelm to be anything near the player Bradley has become would be a mistake.
This leads to another option, one that the Eagles would be wise to pursue, for a variety of reasons, sign All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Brooks, after spending his entire 14-year career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is currently an active free agent waiting to be signed. He is an 11 time Pro-Bowler, a nine time All-Pro, the 2002 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Super Bowl XXXVII Champion.
Only five players have ever been voted into 10 Pro Bowls: Brooks, Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, and former Eagle great Reggie White. Brooks has surpassed the 100 tackle mark seven times and has picked off 25 passes throughout his career, six of which he returned for touchdowns.
Brooks has also proven to be one of the most durable defensive players in history, currently leading all active defensive players with well over 200 consecutive starts dating back to 1995.
Brooks would be a perfect fit for the Eagles' defense.
First, he could either take over in the middle, leaving Gaither to battle Jordan for the WILL position, or shift Gaither back inside and leaving Jordan as the top backup. Never underestimate the power of competition to make players better.
Second, Brooks is as intelligent as it gets and should have no problem picking up the Eagles' multifaceted defensive schemes. Additionally, there is no doubt he has some gas left in the tank, and has always been praised for his speed and ability to instantly read the play.
Third, Brooks would provide a phenomenal mentor for the entire linebacker corps. Bradley, who will be doing a lot of learning on the sideline this season while recovering from his knee injury, can simultaneously learn the intricacies of linebacker from one of the greatest to ever man the position. It would be foolish to think that Joe Mays, Akeem Jordan, Gaither, Chris Gocong, and the others would not use Brooks as a tremendous resource for improving their own games.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, Brooks can fill the defensive leadership void created by the death of Jim Johnson, the departure of Brian Dawkins, and the injury to Stewart Bradley. While some will ask, "How can a new acquisition step in and be a leader on a new team?" realize that Brooks instantly commands the respect to take on such an important responsibility through his credibility as the consummate All-Pro.
The Eagles need a voice and a leader on defense, something Brooks can provide with stellar play and valuable mentorship, as Philadelphia strives for the Super Bowl.