Philadelphia Eagles: Genard Avery stays in the Keystone State

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

And just like that, the Genard Avery era of Philadelphia Eagles football was over.

That’s right, after spending two and a half seasons with the Birds following Howie Roseman’s decision to ship a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for his services, the pride of Penny Hardaway‘s alma mater has parlayed three weeks on the open market into a new, one-year contract with the Eagles’ cross-state rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

The deal, which probably won’t cost more than a few million dollars, will mark Avery’s return to the AFC North and yet another position change, as the Steelers will likely split the difference between his role under Jim Schwartz and Jonathan Gannon and play him as a rotational 3-4 outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.

Will it work? Only time will tell, but failing to live up to the lofty price tag the Philadelphia Eagles surrendered for his services, it’ll be nice to see how Genard Avery is used by Mike Singleton and Brian Flores and how his replacement, Haason Reddick, is able to take the strongside linebacker role to new heights in 2022.

What can Genard Avery’s 2021 tell us about Hasson Reddick’s role with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022?

In 2021, Genard Avery was on the field for 358 defensive snaps, which is good for 31.79 percent of the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive snaps. According to PFF, he played the run on 192 of those snaps, dropped into coverage on 82, and was deployed as a pass rusher on 83 snaps, and over that albeit small sample size, Avery explicitly blitzed the quarterback on 40 occasions or roughly 3.33 times per game.

Whether deployed on the defensive line over the shoulder of the opposing team’s tight end or moved around the second-level of the defense fully off the ball, Avery’s role was largely relegated to base down packages, where his size helped to fill up holes up front and slow down would-be rushers between the tackles. While he did get a few turns on obvious passing downs as a straight-up pass rusher deployed on the line of scrimmage, the Eagles almost exclusively relied on their defensive line to pressure the quarterback in 2021, with no linebacker – or cornerback, or safety – recording more than one sack on the season.

In 2022, that should change, as Hasson Reddick should be able to fill the role Avery played in Jonathan Gannon’s base defense while also taking snaps opposite Josh Sweat in speed-focused rushes off the edge. I mean, that is how the Carolina Pathers used Reddick in 2021, with 95.9 percent of his snaps coming deployed on the defensive line versus only 33 either in the box or in the slot, according to our pals over at PFF. While the Eagles will likely give Reddick more time at the second level of the defense, as opposed to solely playing the role of a 3-4 outside linebacker, he isn’t getting paid $10 million more per season than the maximum value of Kyzir White‘s contract to be a base package run stuffer. No, Reddick was brought to town to run coast-to-coast in coverage, blitz creatively from all over the field, and, ultimately, to bring down opposing quarterbacks off the edge, and that will take up the majority of his time.

Speaking of White, he too should help to replace Avery’s role as a rushing off-ball linebacker from the second level of the defense, as he blitzed the quarterback 31 times on 981 defensive snaps and was able to pick up three QB hits, two hurries, and a sack for his efforts. While Reddick will surely get all of the accolades for his efforts – and, if he’s able to record a third-straight double-digit sack season, that will be justified – if White can help to provide some pressure from between the tackles, it’ll make the likes of his defensive line compatriots a whole lot easier.

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There’s no doubt about it, the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense will be able to weather the loss of Genard Avery without missing a step. Hasson Reddick is the perfect player to fill the strongside linebacker role in Jonathan Gannon’s defense, and even Kyzir White’s addition should provide the Birds with two three-down linebackers capable of holding it down against the run and against the pass. But that’s not to say Avery’s time in Philly was bad per se. No, while the Memphis product maybe have received a bit more hate than he deserved due to the circumstances that brought him to South Philadelphia, 2021 proved that he is very much an NFL player who should surprise more than a few people in Pittsburgh this fall.