The Eagles received devastating news earlier today regarding the future of Jordan Hicks. The former Texas Longhorn ruptured his Achilles in last night’s win over Washington and his season is over as a result. This is the fourth time in six years that Hicks has suffered an injury setback and partly why he was still available in the third round three years ago. Hicks is a phenomenal talent and an inspirational leader…but this injury will sting the Eagles. How do they go about replacing such an irreplaceable linebacker? Here’s a look at some of the potential options:
The immediate notion would simply be to promote Kendricks to the middle role. After a 17 tackle performance against Carolina, Kendricks would miss the MNF clash against Washington, making the injury to Hicks hurt that much more. The pass-rusher has had an outstanding season so far despite limited snap counts. After forcing himself into contention during camp and preseason, Kendricks has batted passes, sacked the quarterback, and been a force throwing linebackers to the ground.
Moving to the middle would be a very different challenge however and it’s one of the reason’s why he saw so few snaps last season. Kendricks would be at a huge disadvantage against some of the more athletic tight ends and slot wideouts in the league which overrides his ability to shoot the gap and contain running backs. Elevating Kendricks may be the easiest move to make, but is it the best?
The best of the rest
The Eagles saw a committee effort take full flight last night. Najee Goode, Joe Walker and Kamu Grugier Hill helped fill the giant void left by Hicks with mixed success. The three linebackers rotated in and out and had some impressive moments that were often overshadowed by mistakes. Walker looked lost on a deep completion in the second half while Najee Goode took a few bad angles in the process. The Eagles need stability over the middle and while these depth options prevent the injury stinging from an optionality standpoint, they don’t set the world on fire or provide the starting quality that the team need.
The Eagles recently promoted Nate Gerry to their active roster. Gerry was the only 2017 draft choice not to make the final roster but brings a very unique skillset. In the mold of Kurt Coleman, Gerry’s hybrid S/LB play could inject some physicality into the Eagles pass rush. The problem is that the Nebraska product struggled with consistency throughout camp and preseason and wasn’t able to beat out the aforementioned names. Gerry could come in and play some sneaky blitzing snaps, but don’t expect huge contributions just yet.
The Eagles did actually workout three linebackers after Hicks strained his calf in the win over the Panthers just one week ago. Any of these three could be seen as insurance policies with league experience who bring potential starting quality to a position that is now running low.
Butler is a former third round pick of the Chargers. The 28-year old played in a total of 71 games with the team before injuries and some mentality setbacks began to ripple through his career. With 279 tackles, 7 sacks and 14 passes defensed, Butler has plenty of league experience…but hasn’t been able to live up to the form he once showed as a Charger.
After being cut in 2016, Butler signed with the Dolphins as a depth linebacker, playing in 14 games and amassing 28 tackles. Eventually becoming a starter in five games, the Dolphins also decided to let the pending free agent walk. The outside linebacker may not have the coverage prowess of Jordan Hicks or Nigel Bradham, but would theoretically bring experience and reliability. However as a Dolphin, Butler seemed lost at times on the field and allowed some huge rushing lanes, most memorably for Melvin Gordon against the Chargers.
Spence, who also worked out for the Niners, has long been a consistent linebacker in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers after being drafted in the third-round back in 2012. Spence eventually found his way to the Colts after his stint with Pittsburgh came to an end, but was unable to make the final cuts. Despite being re-signed by Indy, Spence was released earlier in October. With 97 tackles and 5 sacks to his name, Spence has plenty of NFL experience and is young enough at 27 to prove valuable depth…but will he be the answer to a potential Eagles problem?
Finally, there’s Jelani Jenkins. The 25-year old former fourth-round pick of Miami has 163 tackles in 53 games. The production of Jenkins has never been the question, but his injury status has. Jenkins actually signed with the Oakland Raiders in March but was placed on injured reserve just months later. From there, Jenkins was signed to the Bills roster only to be waived at the same time as Trae Elston, who was picked up by the Eagles.
There is of course the possibility that the Eagles explore the trade market with the deadline looming. Whether or not there would be a suitor or not is another debate entirely. The one thing I would say is this. We know how the mind of Howie Roseman works and how ruthless he is as a trade negotiator. If bringing in a veteran top 20 linebacker keeps a championship bid alive, would he pull the trigger on another shock move?
Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports