In a league where guys like Randy Moss only fetch fourth-rounders, this might be one of the biggest steals in recent history.
Andy Reid admitted that the move was made necessary when Omar Gaither sprained his foot during last Sunday’s loss to the Raiders.
But it goes beyond that, as it nicely shores up a problem area now and makes the linebacker position a strength for the Eagles heading into next year.
Much like Gaither, Witherspoon has started both in the middle and on the weak side in his previous stops in St. Louis and Carolina.
However, unlike the incumbent MIKE, Witherspoon is an excellent coverage backer who can handle assignments on the quickest of running backs or the craftiest of tight ends.
And if you haven’t noticed, the latter has become an issue. In the last two weeks, the tandem of Kellen Winslow and Zach Miller have torched the Birds for 15 catches, 241 yards, and all three of the touchdowns they’ve allowed since the bye.
Reid has long coveted Witherspoon, who signed with St. Louis in 2006 after four years in Carolina. Incidentally, 2006 was the final year of Jeremiah Trotter’s second stint in Philly, as the Birds drafted both Gaither and Chris Gocong (and Jason Avant, Brodrick Bunkley, Winston Justice, and Max-Jean Gilles, for that matter).
There is no word yet on how long Gaither will be out—as Andy Reid put it in his press conference, “It doesn’t look like Omar’s going to be able to go for a little bit here.”
Of course, that’s usually Reid-speak for a season-ending injury, and with all the foot maladies going around, it’s a wonder the Eagles don’t have a podiatrist on call at the NovaCare Complex.
So, in his stead, the Birds get a three-down backer who will be the default starter in the middle and who can play on either side of Jeremiah Trotter on running downs.
But, though he strengthens the core of the defense now, Witherspoon’s biggest upside is that he also solidifies a shaky position for the next two years.
Assuming Stewart Bradley returns to the middle in 2010, Witherspoon can move to the WILL. That can either move Akeem Jordan to the bench or to the SAM, where he can be a run defender and allow Chris Gocong to become more of a situational pass-rusher.
Best case, if the Eagles keep all five “starters”—assuming Trotter won’t be back, of course—Sean McDermott can run out a different combo of backers in different spots every down, much like he does with his linemen.
In that case, it’s very possible that opposing offenses won’t know what hit them.
Two years from now, it’s very possible that Will Witherspoon could be a Pro Bowl anchor on a top-five defense.
And all it took was a rookie wide receiver who hasn’t seen the field and a late-round draft pick.