Why the Eagles would be smart to pursue LB Stephen Tulloch upon his release

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The Philadelphia Eagles are wrapping up yet another hectic offseason. From hiring a new coaching staff, re-signing core players, trading away disgruntled and overpaid players, to trading up in the draft, and acquiring the quarterback of the future. The team recently wrapped up their mandatory minicamp and won’t reunite fully, until July 27th, when the whole roster reports for training camp.

There are still some issues that the Eagles must address still. Of course, every single NFL team has holes on the roster, but the Eagles have a glaring need at linebacker depth. Neither of the Eagles starting linebackers Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, or Jordan Hicks have started a full 16 game season yet.

Jordan Hicks is coming off of an explosive, yet shortened rookie season. He may be good to go by the opening week, but he’s suffered the injury bug quite a lot in his football career. He suffered back to back season ending injuries in 2012 and 2013, during his tenure at the University of Texas. Hicks has unfortunately always been labeled as an injury prone player, which ultimately hurt the former five-star prospect’s draft stock.

Nigel Bradham was signed during the offseason due to his connection with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The two spent the 2014 season together, with the Buffalo Bills, where Bradham had career highs in every defensive category. The most starts Bradham has had in his brief NFL career is 14, which came during the 2014 season (he missed the first game of the season due to suspension). He started 11 games last year for the Bills, missing five games.

Mychal Kendricks, who’s made the most NFL starts out of the three linebackers, also seems to find himself on the injury report more than he would like. He’s been active for 15 games twice in 2012 and 2013, but hasn’t started a full 16 game season in his career. He missed three games for the Eagles this past season.

So clearly as you can see above, the Eagles linebacker depth could play an important role this season if history is to repeat itself. With that being said, the group of backup linebackers all share a common trait. They’re a very inexperienced group. Joe Walker, Myke Tavarres, and Quentin Gause are all rookies. Walker went in the 7th round, while Tavarres and Gause were undrafted free agent signings.

Najee Goode, Deontae Skinner, and Travis Long round up the group. Goode has the most experience of all the Eagles linebacker depth, but he’s only made one NFL start. He originally didn’t make the Eagles 53 man roster last season, due to the surplus at inside linebacker, but was brought back following Kiko Alonso’s week two injury.

Skinner has been active for seven NFL games in his career with the New England Patriots, but has also only started one game. Travis Long hasn’t played a down in the regular season and has missed the last two seasons tearing his ACL twice. The Eagles currently have Long listed as a linebacker on their website, but could move him to defensive end.

The Eagles desperately need depth, but more importantly at middle linebacker. Joe Walker has currently taken the second team reps there and has reportedly looked good in coverage. But it may be foolish to trust a late 7th round pick to step in and contribute, maybe for a large portion of the season. Remember Jordan Hicks missed the remaining eight games of the 2015 season, due to the pectoral injury he suffered versus the Dallas Cowboys.

There is a solution for securing solid depth at middle linebacker. His name is Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch is currently on the Lions roster, but as NFL network Ian Rapoport has pointed out, he may not be there for much longer.

Tulloch has strong ties with Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He started out his professional career under Schwartz, with the Tennessee Titans. Tulloch was a 4th round pick of the Titans back in 2006, but didn’t become a full time starter for the team until 2008. That was the only season he started for the Titans under Jim Schwartz. But that didn’t stop them from reuniting.

Tulloch signed with the Detroit Lions, prior to the 2011 season, to be reunited with his former defensive coordinator, now head coach Jim Schwartz. In the three seasons Tulloch spent with the lions under Jim Schwartz, he finished each of those seasons with 110+ tackles (111 in 2011, 112 in 2012, and 135 in 2013). He was one of the best run-stuffing linebackers at the time, which played a huge factor in Schwartz’s “wide nine” scheme.

The Detroit Lions are poised to move on from the veteran Tulloch. He’s 31 heading into his 11th season, and the Lions want to go younger at the position. His impending release has been rumored for months, but it’s looking to happen any day now.

It’s fair to wonder if Tulloch would even consider signing with the Eagles. His role would definitely be a backup one, more than likely to Jordan Hicks, while there could be starting opportunities for him around the league. Thankfully for the Eagles, the Lions waited so long in the process to release him that many teams have filled up most of their roster holes. That’s not any indication on Tulloch’s potential market. He’s more than likely to have suitors for his services, but it does help the Eagles if they look to acquire him.

The Eagles actually pursued Tulloch during the 2011 offseason. Tulloch had ties to birds defensive line coach Jim Washburn, at the time. Clearly the Eagles knew how well Tulloch played in the “wide nine” scheme, but he ultimately decided to sign with the Detroit Lions and reunite with Jim Schwartz.

Well, as luck would have it..Jim Schwartz is now with the Eagles. If Tulloch wants to continue the pattern of following Schwartz, then he’ll choose the Eagles, once he’s released. As we mentioned before, Jordan Hicks missed the final eight games last season, and also had two season ending injuries in college. There is a chance Tulloch sees the field in Philadelphia, while his backup role would mean a cheap, short-term solution to a long-term problem for the Eagles.  Middle linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense. If Hicks was to go down again this season, the Eagles would be in good hands with an experienced Stephen Tulloch.

 

Photo credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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