Dec 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds (93) reacts after recording a sack against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The general focus of the Philadelphia Eagles and offseason rumors may involve the secondary and quarterback positions, but there are questions that need answers elsewhere as well. With the uncertainty of how long veteran pass rusher Trent Cole will be able to continue as a reliable starter after two seasons as a 3-4 outside linebacker, finding a potential long-term answer is key.
Brandon Graham, the Eagles 2010 first round pick defensive-end-turned-linebacker, is slated to become a free agent if an extension cannot be agreed to prior to March 10th’s free agency. Graham proved to be excellent in limited snaps as a pass rusher, but left much to be desired in the run game after stepping in for Cole in injury relief aganst the Washington Redskins. Factor in the interest Graham could have from a 4-3 team to run him with his pass-rush strengths, and it could be a tough sell to keep him in Philadelphia on a reasonable contract.
The most mentioned name from across the league is Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Jason Worilds, who is widely viewed as a more natural fit for the Eagles defense (and 3-4 OLB in general) than Graham. The Eagles were heavily interested in signing Worilds in 2014, but he received the transition tag and remained across the state on a one year contract. It’s unlikely he receives the tag a second year in a row, and at just 27 years of age could be serviceable for many seasons to come.
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Akeem Ayers just won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots as a middle linebacker, but if he hit the market he’s a younger option than Graham or Worilds. Ayers, who will be just 26 when the 2015 season begins, had four sacks in 2014 and could be an attractive option for an outside pass rusher given his 6’3, 255 pound frame. I can’t see the Patriots putting too much effort into re-signing Ayers, who they acquired midway through the 2014 season, if they believe Dont’a Hightower is a better option moving forward.
Cleveland Browns hybrid Jabaal Sheard, who is only 25 years old as well, started just five games in 2014 and finished the year with two sacks. While his fit may be as questionable as Graham’s in a 3-4 defense, he could likely be had on a much cheaper deal and has less tread on his tires. At 6’3, 264 pounds, Sheard could theoretically shed nine pounds if needed to increase his burst and speed. However, he’s already an ideal size for an outside linebacker and would be a welcome addition in my book.
Other options, of varying name value and contract worth, exist. Players like Brian Orakpo (Washington), Jerry Hughes (Buffalo), Sean Weatherspoon (Falcons), and Sam Acho (Cardinals, brother of Eagles LB Emmanuel Acho) are all intriguing options for the Philadelphia Eagles to consider if the price is right. There’s also some, like myself, holding out hope for the slight chance that the Eagles are still entertaining the idea of adding former Oregon OLB Dion Jordan to the roster from the Miami Dolphins. If one thing is certain, it’s that there are plenty of choices.