The Detroit Lions cut ties with veteran linebacker Stephen Tulloch earlier today, leading many to wonder if the Philadelphia Eagles would pursue the 31 year old. While the fit is obvious and the connection to Jim Schwartz is appealing..it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
Yes, the Eagles have a glaring need at linebacker when it comes to depth. In fact when you take into account that neither Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham or Mychal Kendricks have started a full 16 game season, it becomes quite alarming.
Tulloch played in all 16 games during the 2015 season..but only 3 in 2014 due to tearing his ACL after celebrating a sack. In fact, 2014 is the only year of his career in which Tulloch didn’t play in all 16 games. But after such a strong career, it appears the road is beginning to toughen.
The full story with Stephen Tulloch: He had off-season surgery, didn't pass a physical until today, which is why Lions waited to release him
— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) July 5, 2016
If the Eagles are going to add depth to their linebacker core, they’d be wise to sign someone who they can rely on. Tulloch had his worst season statistically since 2008 last year, despite leading his team in tackles. If he’s only just passed a physical, there’s no telling how strong his ankle is after surgery. Sure, Tulloch could have probably resumed his reduced two-down role in Detroit without much trouble..but there is a reason that the Lions had reportedly informed him of the impending cut as early as February…and there’s no guarantee he could he play in such an aggressive Defense without risking re-injury.
In a worst case scenario, the Eagles would sign Tulloch who would be a situational linebacker and a backup to the likes of Jordan Hicks. If one of the Eagles linebackers went down with injury..taking into account that the bye week is as early as 4 games into the season, there would be concerns over Tulloch’s ability to last the duration of the year. If he couldn’t, the Eagles have an even more alarming problem on their hands..and the chances are, they’d need to cut talent in another position to bring Tulloch onto the 53-man roster.
With plenty of holes still on the team and vicious competition at almost every position heading into Training Camp, could the Eagles afford to let go a rookie linebacker with a high ceiling or a young corner in place of a veteran situational linebacker who has looming injury concerns?
Tulloch was dominant under Jim Schwartz..and was one of the Eagles Defensive Coordinator’s most notorious linebackers throughout his coaching career. After being drafted by the Titans in 2006, Tulloch followed Schwartz to his new HC role in Detroit. In each of the three years spent with Schwartz as a Lion, Tulloch posted 110+ tackles and was easily one of the biggest factors in the success of Schwartz’s “wide nine” scheme.
The problem is that the Eagles have to be careful not to create a Jim Schwartz B-Team on Defense. Ron Brooks, Leodis McKelvin and Nigel Bradham all have plenty of upside and an abundance of experience in Schwartz’s system. There’s no doubt that they have been bought in for these reasons and because of their efficiency under Jim Schwartz and their ability to mentor what are very young position groups. If Tulloch was signed, that’s all he would become. A mentor. Which isn’t a bad thing at all..but is it really worth choosing Tulloch over a player with a much longer career ahead of him just to have an effect that someone like Nigel Bradham is already going to have on top of his high ceiling?
Signing Tulloch would infer a clash of visions. On one hand, the Eagles want to get younger, more versatile and strike gold with the mid-low round draft picks while dumping big salaries. On the other, they want experienced players who can come into a familiar system and make an impact. The Eagles can’t afford the jewels in the crown of Jim Schwartz’s career standouts..and with three starting roles on defense all but secured by former Schwartz players, would signing another send mixed signals?
The result would be a strange blur. Would Tulloch go on to take a roster spot from someone like Myke Tavarres or Joe Walker? The two rookies could contribute in ways Tulloch simply can’t…special teams being one of them.
The average age of Eagles linebackers is 24. At 31, Tulloch defines veteran. In fact if the Eagles were to sign him, he would become the fifth oldest player on the roster..and third if you exclude the special teams unit.
There is no doubt that Tulloch could still play well in the NFL. One of the best run-stuffers in the game and a refined tackler, Tullouch would be everything the Eagles could need in a linebacker. His relationship with Jim Schwartz and knowledge of his system played large parts in his extensive and successful career. It would not be a mistake in signing Stephen Tulloch..but it would also not be a mistake to pass on trying to relight a candle that’s losing its scent.
They say that you should chase good management in jobs..and it’s something Tulloch has done since being drafted by the Titans. But eventually, time catches up with you and the management have to move on to find their next employee of the month.
Photo credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports