Philadelphia Eagles: The Genard Avery experiment may not be over yet

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

When the Philadelphia Eagles traded a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Genard Avery, it felt like a bit of a head-scratcher.

Sure, Avery looked really good as a rookie in limited action before becoming schematically incompatible with new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and still had two and a half years left on his contract when Howie Roseman executed the trade back in 2019, but for a team looking to win-now, his addition felt rather counterintuitive.

If you felt that way back in October of 2019, you probably feel really proud of your evaluation.

In 2020, Avery only played 211 snaps – 126 on defense and 85 on special teams – and was a nonfactor whenever he took the field. In 11 games of action – with zero starts – Avery recorded 12 total tackles, seven quarterback hits, two tackles for a loss, and 1.5 sacks, all of which ranked near the bottom of the barrel for regular contributors to Jim Schwartz‘s defense.

But in 2021, everything is different. Doug Pederson is gone, as is Schwartz, and in their place is Jonathan Gannon’s hybrid defensive front where hybrid SAM/standup rushers are an asset, not a tweener. With a position change to 4-3 linebacker officially in Genard Avery’s offseason plans, there may still be a chance to get something, anything out of the former fifth-round pick out of Memphis before his contract expires at the end of the season.

Genard Avery finally looks comfortable with the Philadelphia Eagles.

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For two straight preseason games, Genard Avery has been one of the Philadelphia Eagles’ three starting linebackers alongside Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton.

Playing the aforementioned hybrid SAM/standup rusher role, Avery has looked good attacking the running game inside the box, even better as a pure pass rusher, and even held his own fairly well when dropped into zone coverage.

With the requisite speed needed to go coast to coast like a darn Space Ghost and the inherent agro power of a dude who is used to mucking things up with tackles, Avery brings a unique set of skills that the Eagles haven’t had on their roster since… hmm… Mychal Kendricks?

Now granted, Ryan Kerrigan hasn’t played for the Eagles yet this preseason and could ultimately find himself used as a rotational pass rusher with the ability to play linebacker in base package looks. Though he’s been predominantly used as a rusher for the majority of his career in Washington, Kerrigan was actually targeted in coverage 17 times over the past three seasons, allowing 310 yards and zero touchdowns for his efforts.

While Kerrigan has never been as athletically gifted as Avery, and at 33-years-old, definitely isn’t as spry as he used to be, he still has 7,370 regular season snaps under his belt and can probably break down any given offensive play better than many a quarterback in the league right now. Considering teams only play their base defense for roughly a third of any given game, Kerrigan could fill that role for what, 16-18 snaps per game?

Still, just because Kerrigan is a lock to make the roster doesn’t mean Avery is automatically out of consideration in place of youngsters like Patrick Johnson, Shaun Bradley, or Davion Taylor. If anything, earning all of these defensive snaps alongside Singleton and Wilson should provide the team’s coaching staff with quality tape from which to judge his performance versus very legitimate NFL talent.

Through the first two games of the preseason, it’s hard to argue that Avery isn’t one of the team’s four best linebackers at the bare minimum, with a spot in the top-3 very much in play.

Even if Johnson and Bradley have more years left on their contracts and thus higher ceilings, Avery is still only 26-years-old and could conceivably play for the Eagles for the next seven years before he’s as old as Kerrigan is today.

Assuming the Eagles can stash sixth-round pick JaCoby Stevens away on the practice squad for the 2021 season, there really is no downside to retaining Avery for the 2021 season on his lame-duck deal.

Next. Stock Watch versus the New England Patriots. dark

Could all of this be for naught? Could Genard Avery pull a Mullens and throw it all away with a brutal showing in the final preseason game of the season? After watching Game 2 versus the New England Patriots, anything is possible, but frankly, I doubt it. No, after being a non-factor for the Philadelphia Eagles through his first season and a half in South Philly, why not see through the final year of his contract and find out if Howie Roseman can recoup some positive value out of a player he once surrendered a fourth-round pick to acquire?