Is Avery Williamson the professional linebacker the Philadelphia Eagles need?
The New York Jets, is a football team by any other name as dysfunctional?
Through the first five games of the 2020 season, the Jets have been outscored by their opponents by a combined score of 161-75, with four of the team’s five opponents scoring 30-plus points against a defense some projected to be fairly good under ex-Browns interim coach Gregg Williams.
So naturally, even if the Jets were in the market to unload talent for future assets, the defensive side of the ball would be the furthest thing from the mind of a would-be tradee, right?
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Eh, maybe not.
With Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell already gone, and both Jamison Crowder and Brian Poole reportedly on the block, the Jets are rapidly approaching an all-out fire sale midway through the month of October, with prices presumably dropping considerably by the deadline. If that’s the case, there’s one player on the roster who could actually look really good on the other Gang Green: Avery Williamson.
Now to be fair, some fans of the Philadelphia Eagles would effectively take any linebacker in the NFL over the motley crew of appropriately paid underachievers Jim Schwartz and company trot out each week, but really, that isn’t the case. Sure, it can’t get all that much worse than what the team has right now, but swapping out Nathan Gerry for an even slower option with less coverage ability wouldn’t help the situation one bit.
No, what the Eagles really need is a proven vet who understands how to call a defense, when to audible out of a bad call, and most importantly of all, where to be in coverage.
Williamson fits that bill.
Measuring in at 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, Williamson is the textbook definition of the modern-day 3-4 middle linebacker. With the size to get down and thump against the run and enough speed (4.66 40) to chase down ball handlers sideline-to-sideline, Williamson is an NFL-caliber linebacker trapped in an inadvantageous situation.
Initially signed to play middle linebacker next to ex-second round pick Darren Lee in Todd Bowles’ defense, Williamson had to watch from the sidelines as marquee free-agent addition C.J. Mosley tore it up in 2019 after suffering a torn ACL in the lead up to camp.
Once healthy, Williamson agreed to restructure his contract to remain a Jet for the 2020 season, but quickly found himself relegated to the team’s second unit linebacking corps behind Mosley and his fellow former fellow Raven Patrick Onwuasor. Though Williamson did eventually return to the starting lineup, as both Onwuasor and Blake Cashman landed on IR and Mosley opted out of the 2020 season, it’s a borderline impossibility to imagine the 28-year-old returning to New York on a new deal next season.
Don’t believe me? Well, to quote Williamson himself, “Nobody’s safe” on the 0-5 Jets after the release of LeVeon Bell.
Assuming the Jets opt to go into full-on ‘Tank for Trevor’ mode, Williamson’s services could probably be had for a Day 3 draft pick, maybe even a conditional Day 3 draft pick based on whether the Eagles make the playoffs or if he re-signs with the team next season.
Is trading for a linebacker the ‘sexy’ move fans in Philly have come to expect over the last few seasons? No, but if this team is going to have any hope to legitimately make the playoffs in quite possibly the worst division in recent memory, they need to upgrade their play in the middle of the defense somehow.
With Will Parks set to make his debut in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens – gee, I wonder who is going to win that one – the Eagles will presumably be able to upgrade their sub-package defenses with the addition of the swiss army knife strong safety moonlighting as a ‘will‘ linebacker. That will certainly help, but Parks’ addition only removes one of the team’s two starting linebackers, Nathan Gerry and Duke Riley, from the nickel and dime defense. While the Eagles could go full-on Chargers and play a super small sub-package with four safeties, three cornerbacks, and four down linemen, Schwartz has kept at least one linebacker on the field for 100 percent of the team’s defensive snaps so far this season, with Gerry only missing four snaps so far this season.
Assuming Williamson is able to come in and pick up Schwartz’s defensive scheme without too much trouble, there’s no reason to believe Williamson couldn’t rotate in as a base ‘mike’ at the very least in place of injured starter T.J. Edwards, with a chance to supplant Riley as the team’s weakside linebacker in their base nickel package.
That’s Williamson’s low end. His high end is Week 10 starting strongside linebacker over Gerry with a chance to hold onto the role for the remainder of the season and hopefully the playoffs.
For as much as the Eagles hate to admit it, having a veteran leader in the middle of the defense helps every single player around him. After allowing Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, and even Kamu Grugier-Hill – who didn’t play middle linebacker but looks pretty good in Miami regardless – to walk in free agency, the Eagles are left with just one linebacker with more than 20 games of experience in their defense. Though Williamson isn’t exactly a ‘Schwartz disciple’, as he’s never even played in a 4-3, let alone a wide-9 front, he’s at least a veteran that other players genuinely seem to appreciate playing next to.
And don’t forget; the last time Avery played a full season, his AV according to Pro-Football-Reference was a 9, which, unsurprisingly enough, is higher than any season by any of the linebackers on the Eagles’ roster right now.
In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be an issue. In a perfect world, the Philadelphia Eagles would have used their third-round pick on a ready-to-roll linebacker like Akeem Davis-Gaither and wouldn’t have to worry about trading a future asset away for their least favorite position on the football field. But unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, and if Jim Schwartz keeps trotting out the same collection of LBs week-in and week-out, this team is going to continue to lose more games than they win. While Avery Williamson isn’t a magic bullet who can fix every problem, he’s at least a professional, and at this point, he might be the only professional linebacker in the City of Brotherly Love.