Why Eagles are the perfect landing spot for UFA LB Zachary Orr


One of the heartbreaking NFL stories in recent years has been that of former Ravens linebacker, Zach Orr. Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas, Orr would sign with the Ravens and immediately make his presence felt as a special teams ace. One year later, Orr would see his first taste of defensive action, amassing 22 tackles and his first NFL sack during the 2015 campaign, bringing Carson Palmer to his knees in a tough loss. But it was 2016 that many think of when they hear Orr’s name.

In just 15 games, Orr would emerge as a starter alongside C.J Mosley and lead the team in tackles with 132…30 more than his fellow linebacker. Named a 2nd-team all-pro, Orr simply flourished as a coverage linebacker, picking off three passes (including one against Carson Wentz and the Eagles), deflecting five in total. He was a crucial cog in a Ravens Defense that ranked fifth against the run in 2016.

To put it simply, there weren’t many inside linebackers more productive than the 24-year old, who seemed destined to become one of the best at his position in 2017…until disaster struck. Orr was forced to walk away from an incredibly bright future after an MRI for a herniated disc in his back revealed a devastating spinal condition. It was thought that Orr would never be able to play the game of Football again…until this week, when some interesting news took the league by storm.

After NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo revealed that Orr had undergone further tests from different Doctors who had revealed that Orr’s risk of suffering an injury is no greater than any other player in the league, the former Ravens standout opened up on what his future may hold:

“I really don’t know [where I’ll play] yet,” he said Wednesday. “I’m eager to see. I just want to play football. I just want to play ball. I mean perfect situation, perfect scenario, of course Baltimore. I have a great relationship with everybody in that organization, teammates that I’ve got to know really well that I’ll talk to for the rest of my life…”

Well, it just so happens that four of those members of the organization are now in the City of Brotherly Love. Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl played a large hand in evaluating Orr coming out of college where he amassed 140 tackles and 5 sacks in three years, while former teammate Tim Jernigan also exploded in production last season. Finally, there’s the Eagles new Director of College Scouting, Ian Cunningham. To put it simply, if there is anybody who knows the potential that Orr possesses and how he would fit in Philadelphia, it’s three of the names who were quintessential in bringing him to Baltimore.

While that may be enticing for Orr, Orr should be enticing for the Eagles. As things stand, the Birds still have several question marks at linebacker. Jordan Hicks exploded last season and built on a phenomenal rookie year that was cut short by injury, amassing 85 tackles and becoming an interception machine, picking off five passes and deflecting eleven. But it’s beyond Jordan Hicks where the questions arise.

Nigel Bradham led the team in tackles last year, further showing how the Jim Schwartz system is a perfect fit for his skillset, but with an umbrella related trial taking place in just a few weeks, there is a slight possibility he could be suspended. Even if Bradham comes away unscathed, he is entering a contract year…so should he be just as dominant as he was in 2016, a big day is what will be needed to keep the former Bills linebacker in midnight green, something the Eagles may not be able to afford.

Beneath the two starters, things begin to get murky. The future of Mychal Kendricks is the cloudiest it’s ever been after an offseason of being shopped around and a season where he bought very little to the table. Najee Goode and Kamu Grguier-Hill are potential special teamers who could be vying for a bigger role as Orr once did heading into 2015, but there’s no guarantee that the roles are secure. Don Cherry looks to increase his role on the roster after sticking to the practice squad last year, but will be competing with the aforementioned if he is to do so.

Then things get interesting. Joe Walker was very much last year’s offseason diamond coming out of Oregon, shining during preseason and turning heads as he looked to cement a place on the roster. A torn ACL would cut his rookie season short before it had the chance to begin, and while the early signs this year are encouraging…there’s still a long road ahead.

Finally, the Eagles drafted Nebraska Safety, Nate Gerry, and decided to bring him down inside the box. While his role could remind many of former Eagle, Kurt Coleman, the ceiling is incredibly high as the hybrid Safety role continues to embed itself deep into the heart of NFL Defenses. Some late flashes during mandatory minicamp saw Gerry fit into to his new role as a linebacker quickly, but he’s considerably lighter than the traditional Jim Schwartz prototype, so may not be a three-down linebacker.

A lack of linebacker depth hurt the Eagles in 2016. Sure, the starting tandem of Bradham and Hicks were rarely off the field and dominant throughout, but it was rare that the team actually lined up with three linebacker formations. Nickel looks were used more often than not, which was surprising…especially during the heart of the season. An injury to Ron Brooks would have indicated that someone like Mychal Kendricks would see an increased role, but his lack of coverage reliability meant that Safety Malcolm Jenkins was having to take on slot duties, putting even more pressure on the backend to hold their own.

With the addition of Orr, the Eagles would have yet another coverage linebacker who is an incredibly secure tackler and has a nose for the ball. The good news is that with such a secure tandem for this year at least, Orr could rotate in and lift the weight off of the shoulders of Jim Schwartz when it comes to defending the pass. The Eagles could then afford to rest Hicks or Bradham for certain stints of the game, knowing there won’t be a dip in tackling at the second level or contributing to picking up tight ends and slot receivers.

The Birds may wish to run with the nickel for the majority of the time, but a perennial special teamer who showed he has the ability to become one of the best linebackers in the league would be a welcome addition to the Eagles. With one of the healthiest teams in the league and a credible sports science program, Orr could be a low-risk, high-reward target who finds pastures new in the City of Brotherly Love.

The fit is seemingly hand in hand…and what better way to support a dangerous front seven than with a ruthless rotation of linebackers? Especially considering that last year was the first time both Bradham and Hicks completed a full 16 game season without injury.

The question is, will the Eagles pull the trigger? With Orr now free to sign with ANY team he wants after not officially signing any retirement papers, the interest around the league is bound to be high. Will the Birds’ be in a position to lure Orr into the NovaCare Complex? Coming from Baltimore, Orr had a franchise quarterback, a solid offense filled with playmakers and one of the scariest defenses in the league…it sounds familiar, right?

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports