Given the terrible news coming out about the lockout recently, the start of free agency could be more than a month away—if even that early.
But in the mean time, it’s worth talking about guys the Eagles could target when the free-for-all begins.
Nnamdi Asomugha is a popular choice that has been talked about to death, as have other options at cornerback, but linebacker should be the key focus of re-tooling this defense; for the first time under Andy Reid, thanks to the promotion of former USFL linebacker Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator, there is a strong possibility that linebacker will be at the top of the priority list.
At the top of the short list of free agent linebackers should be current Tampa Bay Buccaneer (but only thanks to the lockout) middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
Ruud would be forced to make a position change—likely to WILL—in Philadelphia, but he seems athletic enough to do it. At 6’1", 242 pounds, Ruud is big enough to play MIKE but isn’t too big to play the weak side.
He has a quick first step, great instincts, and is a very good tackler. Putting him at WILL would allow him to react more than think, so it’s likely he could be even better. Jamar Chaney will probably lock down the spot in the middle and, if the Eagles are smart, Stewart Bradley will get kicked out to the strong side where he’s always belonged.
Reid and company drafted Casey Matthews in the fourth round this year and Keenan Clayton in the same round last year, but both guys are projects. Matthews is not the same player as his brother Clay, and Clayton was a hybrid safety/linebacker at Oklahoma and even during his rookie season.
There would be some growing pains with those guys that this defense likely cannot afford.
Ruud is going to be 28, so he’s still young, but he also has enough years in to know what he’s doing. If he’s brought in to start for two years while Matthews or Clayton is allowed to grow into the role, the Eagles can bridge that gap and have a ton of success in the meantime.
Bobby April and his special teams units would also get a boost having two linebackers at their disposal full-time. Contrary to what Reid has fielded in the past, special teams should be made up of linebackers and safeties, not wide receivers and running backs.
A trio of Ruud, Chaney, and Bradley could create fits for opposing offenses because they’re all sure tacklers (at least, when healthy, in Bradley’s case) and are all athletic enough to play any of the three positions. When Castillo goes into the nickel package, he can mix and match who stays out on the field and doesn’t have to worry about any one guy being completely useless in that package a la Jeremiah Trotter even in his prime.
The secondary obviously needs addressed, but teams have shown they can win with only average secondaries—Pittsburgh and Baltimore come to mind. Teams cannot win and defenses cannot be effective enough to win championships, however, with poor linebacker play.
See the Eagles for the past decade or so.