Philadelphia Eagles are an injury away from a linebacker disaster

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

After the release of Corey Nelson, the Philadelphia Eagles are dangerously thin at linebacker going into the 2018 NFL season.

As of right now, the Philadelphia Eagles linebacker corps has started a combined 107 games in the NFL.

In case it’s not immediately evident, that makes the Eagles linebacking group easily one of the least experienced position groups in the league.

Now that lack of experience wouldn’t necessarily be a huge deal if they had one or two high-profile rookies preparing to take on sizable roles in Jim Schwartz‘s defense, but unfortunately for the team, they don’t have that either.

No, when Howie Roseman and company decided to release opening day free agent acquisition Corey Nelson a week before the team’s final preseason game against the New York Jets, they all but committed themselves to rolling with their current core in the back half of their front seven, a move that could spell disaster should either of their incumbent starters, Nigel Bradham or Jordan Hicks, go down with any sort of long-lasting injury.

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Want proof? Well, you won’t have to wait long, as Bradham is officially suspended for the team’s opening day throwdown with the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Though this is only one game, it will serve as a perfect dress rehearsal for a defense featuring first-time starters Kamu Grugier-Hill, a special teams ace, and Nathan Gerry, last year’s fifth-round pick out of Nebraska who couldn’t even make the team after attempting to transition from safety to linebacker.

It’s safe to say the Falcons are going to spend a lot of time in their two tight end base package a week from Thursday.

Though it’s no longer essential to have three elite linebackers in a 4-3 defense, as highlighted by a disgruntled Mychal Kendricks who was forced to play only about a third of the team’s snaps over the last few years when the defense was fully healthy, in 2016 Hicks and Bradham were each on the field for over 95 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps.

With Kendricks now gone, losing either of those players would be a disaster.

Now granted, a team can mask only having two starting-caliber linebackers in a variety of ways, like utilizing a part-time run-stuffing thumper on short yardage plays, or by deploying a third safety in a big nickel package, but covering up two linebacker positions with only one true starter can really limit in a defensive coordinator’s ability to disguise coverages, and utilize a variety of different defensive sets.

Is it too early to ask if the Eagles have a linebacker problem?

With less than a week to go before the team has to trim their roster down to 53 (Saturday at 4 pm est) there are only so many options the team has to fix this issue.

They could opt to sign one of the remaining free agent linebackers still on the open market, like everyone’s favorite former Penn State All-Pro NaVorro Bowman, but last season, the Hall of Fame-bound middle linebacker struggled to transition into the Oakland Raiders scheme after being cut midway through the season by San Francisco, an issue that may persist if he signs in Philly, as Bowman hasn’t played in a 4-3 defense since his time in Happy Valley.

But unfortunately, the other options aren’t all that much more appealing.

They could simply wait to see if any quality linebacking prospects are released from their current contracts on Saturday and put in a waiver claim to secure the rights, but currently sitting with the 32nd place on the waiver wire, that too is a task easier said than done.

Who knows, maybe Philly could swap reportedly on the block guard Chance Warmack to a team like the Arizona Cardinals for an on-the-bubble linebacker like Scooby Wright?

So outside of flipping their high upside former third-round pick Rasul Douglas, the obvious odd man out in the Eagles’ current cornerback rotation to a defensive back desperate team like their frequent trade  partners the Miami Dolphins for a starting caliber player like Mike Hull, it would appear that Philly will be entering the forthcoming season with one of the least experienced linebacker rotations in the league.

While this could all be for not, as it’s totally possible that the Eagles make it through the season unscathed, but between Bradham’s off-field issues, and Hicks’ incredibly well-documented injury history, that’s a task easier said than done.

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Though it may not be fun to admit, maybe Kendricks was right after all when he said that the Cleveland Browns do, in fact, have more talent in their linebacking room than the reigning Super Bowl champs.