Philadelphia Eagles: Moving on from Jordan Hicks was a mistake

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

As the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to enter the 2020 NFL calendar year with one starting linebacker under contract, it’s hard not to miss Jordan Hicks.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a linebacker problem.

Sure, they still have safety-turned-weakside linebacker Nathan Gerry, who earned a nice little pay bump for his 2019 efforts, but after years of undervaluing the position both in free agency and the draft, the cupboard is looking pretty bare.

Nigel Bradham? Gone. L.J. Fort and Zach Brown? Neither could even make it through the 2010 season. As sad as it sounds, Gerry is the longest-tenured backer on the Eagles’ roster, and he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

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Now I get that linebacker is rapidly becoming the defensive equivalent of running backs in the NFL, in that they aren’t particularly valuable, are seldom paid like stars, and are best deployed in a platoon, but a team can’t go into the regular season with just one starting-caliber player, right? Even the dime package has one linebacker on the field.

But here’s the thing, it really didn’t have to be this way. The Eagles had a really solid coverage linebacker under contract last year, and erroneously allowed him to walk in free agency to sign a league-average contract with the Arizona Cardinals: Jordan Hicks.

The highest-drafted linebacker selected by the Eagles since 2015, Hicks served as the Eagles’ inside linebacker for the better part of four seasons. Initially tabbed to be the heir to DeMeco Ryans as a defensive signal-caller – the Simba to Ryans’ Mufasa, if you will – Hicks took over the position full-time in 2016 and manned the middle of the field as the defensive signal-caller for both Billy Davis and Jim Schwartz.

Despite being dubbed slightly undersized by some old school scouts coming out of college, Hicks rapidly developed into the prototypical modern-day coverage middle linebackers.

Measuring in at 6-foot-1, 236 pounds, Hicks can pretty much do anything a team would want their inside linebacker to do regardless of scheme. Over 59 career games, Hicks has defended 25 passes, intercepted 10, and sacked the quarterback 6.5 times. While none of these numbers are particularly elite, save maybe the interception total, they come together Voltron-style to make a player well worth paying $8 million a year.

That’s what Hicks is being paid to play for the Cardinals by the way, $8 million a year. The Eagles let the best linebacker they’ve had in a decade walk for $500k less than what they paid Ronald Darby in 2019.


Now to be fair, Hicks was not a riskless, can’t miss potential signee. Over his first four seasons with the Eagles, Hicks played 16 games exactly once, in 2016. Despite consistently grading out as one of the Eagles’ best linebackers when available, it’s hard to invest big in a linebacker who averaged a little less than 11 games a season, especially when those issues existed over his tenure at Texas as well.

Then again, Hicks played all 16 games for the Cardinals in 2019 and had a higher Pro Football Focus rating than every linebacker on the Eagles roster right now. *sigh* I guess the grass is always greener.

Look, I get it, Schwartz is not well-known for his reliance on top-tier linebacking talent. His defense is built on gap penetration from the front door and blanket coverage from the secondary, with linebackers playing a hybrid role between the two. Linebackers, in 2020 especially, are a dime a dozen outside of the truly elite.

Next. Justin Jefferson is Jordan Matthews 2.0. dark

That being said, retaining Jordan Hicks would have just made things so much easier. Hicks could drop into coverage, at the run, and even rough it up as a blitzer when his number was called. He was also a more than solid defensive signal-caller in the middle of the field, even if there isn’t a stat to prove it. And yet, for whatever reason, Howie Roseman opted to save a couple bucks to sign L.J. Fort instead, only to waive him after four unproductive outings. Hindsight being what it is, a Hicks-Gerry tandem would look pretty good for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020.