The Philadelphia Eagles started out the 2021 NFL season with seven linebackers on their 53 man roster.
On paper, that seems like a lot for a 4-3 team, right? I mean, with only three starting linebacker spots and the team running nickel defense roughly two-thirds of the time, did the team really need more than one backup at each position, especially when neither Davion Taylor or Eric Wilson are really fixtures of Michael Clay’s special teams unit?
*sigh* Oh well, at least fans can take solace in that the team kept seven linebackers because all of them are good enough to risk subjecting them to waivers… wait, that’s not true. The Eagles’ linebacking corps has actually been one of the team’s weaknesses through the first six weeks of the season, with no player really rising above average.
So naturally, one would assume that if the Eagles were to execute a trade involving a linebacker, it would involve bringing one in, right? Even if the team’s playoff chances aren’t particularly high, they could still benefit from landing a young, ascending linebacker with multiple years left on his contract who maybe wasn’t the best fit on his former team following a scheme change, right?
Whoa, whoa, whoa; not so fast, my friend. While conventional wisdom would suggest such a move, the fine reporters over at ESPN’s NFL Nation went around the league and suggested players who could potentially be on the move if the right situation presents itself, and in his infinite wisdom, Tim McManus has a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ linebacking corps actually leaving town to a team that values physical linebacking play and special teams contributions.
Is there actually a market for Philadelphia Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards?
Once upon a time, T.J. Edwards looked like the Philadelphia Eagles’ most promising young linebacker.
A UDFA out of Wisconsin, what Edwards lacked in testable athletic measurables he more than made up for in on-field ability, especially when tasked with dropping the wood on would-be rushers in the middle of the field.
Was Edwards ever going to be the sort of sideline-to-sideline linebacker teams league-wide are currently paying a premium for? Not with this testing spider chart, but in a defined role, especially as a middle linebacker, many viewed Edwards as one of the bigger steals of 2019’s undrafted free agent class, especially if he could build on a promising second season under Jim Schwartz.
Unfortunately, that just wasn’t meant to be heading in the final year of Edwards’ three-year rookie contract.
While Edwards has remained a starter in Jonathan Gannon’s defense, earning starts in four of the team’s six games so far this season, he’s only played an average of 23 defensive snaps per contest, which is good for 32 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps. That mark rates 16th on the team behind all of the regular starters plus rotational players like Milton Williams, Ryan Kerrigan, and fellow base-package linebacker Genard Avery.
Let’s just say when Rodney McLeod has played more defensive snaps than a starting linebacker despite only being active for two games, something isn’t quite right.
So naturally, when evaluating the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster in search of a potential trade target, flipping Edwards to a team with a more Schwartzian defensive scheme could make some sense.
…except who is going to trade for Edwards, and what sort of return could it even garner?
Not being rude at all, Edwards has already made the special teams play of the year for the Birds with his Week 5 blocked punt, but is there really an expansive market for a slow linebacker who has been relegated to an early-down thumper role for a reason?
Is, say, a conditional seventh-round pick enough action to pique Howie Roseman’s interest?
No, the only real way I could see the Eagles moving Edwards before the NFL’s November 2nd trade deadline is if it’s in a player-for-player swap, something like they did with Ryan Bates in 2020. Such a swap, maybe with a team like Baltimore for a safety like Geno Stone, could help the Eagles add a player at a position of need while simultaneously shipping Edwards to a team that could take advantage of his talents and gives him a path to a new contract next spring.
Considering the Eagles have six other linebackers under contract, would it be the worst case to divvy up Edwards’ two dozen snaps per game to players like Shaun Bradley, Patrick Johnson, and Davion Taylor? Certainly couldn’t hurt the player evaluation process.
In the grand scheme of things, trading a player like T.J. Edwards isn’t going to make or break the Philadelphia Eagles’ future all that much either way. At best, he’s an average base-down starter, and at worst, he’s playing for another team as early as 2022, but to suggest that Edwards is a more likely trade chip than, say, Derek Barnett is certainly a choice by Tim McManus that I 100 percent appreciate.