Eagles Offseason Targets: Willie Young


The Philadelphia Eagles organization has been uptunded in the wake of Chip Kelly’s firing, however, hopes of newfound stability have flickered in recent days, as it has been announced that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator –and former Eagles quarterback and quarterback’s coach– Doug Pederson will soon be hired as the franchise’s 23rd head coach. Pederson’s introduction poses an impetus for what is sure to be a massive turnover in scheme and philosophy on both sides of the ball. Moreover, Pederson’s relative inexperience as an NFL coach in general dictates that he, or more likely the front office, should assemble a seasoned cast of veteran coaches to ease his transition into his first head coaching gig, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. It appears that Jeffrey Lurie and co. likely agree with this notion, as three big-name candidates have already been linked to the Eagles soon-to-be-vacant defensive coordinator’s post in Jim Schwartz, Mike Pettine, and Steve Spagnoulo.

In the past 24 hours, however, 2 of these names have already been eliminated from contention for the Eagles defensive coordinator vacancy, as The Morning Call’s Nick Fierro reported that Mike Pettine’s name has been withdrawn from consideration, and radio personality Anthony Gargano similarly stated that Giants DC Steve Spagnoulo is now unavailable, as the Eagles have been denied permission to speak with him. That leaves former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz the last man standing among the aforementioned 3 candidates, and while it’s entirely possible that he decides to simply stay in Tennessee with his family, he remains the only plausible option of the 3, and the lone candidate that we’re aware of at this time.

The Eagles apparent interest in Spagnoulo and Schwartz, coupled with the report that Pettine — a former defensive head coach with 3-4 roots– is no longer being considered, suggests that the Eagles are intent on moving back to a 4-3 alignment. The idea of returning to the 4-3 has gained momentum in the media and social airwaves in recent weeks, as the Eagles defensive personnel appear to be more well suited to thrive in a 4-3 than a 3-4. With a switch in defensive philosophy that results in the need for an abundance of down lineman, it’s likely that the Eagles staff will have to look outside of the organization for additional ammunition, particularly in the form of EDGE players.

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Bearing this and the Eagles alleged pursuit of Jim Schwartz in mind, it’s likely that they’ll look to add bodies along the line, especially those with outside pass-rush ability. One such player who is available to the Eagles is Chicago Bears outside linebacker Willie Young. Young is (ironically) a bit long in the tooth, however, he could prove a valuable rotational player and situational pass rusher in a 4-3 defense, particularly if incumbent free agent Vinny Curry isn’t re-signed.

Even if Curry is retained, the Eagles are still in need of pass rush help, as made evident by their lack of production in 2015, which can be in part attributed to their lack of a viable EDGE options outside of OLBs Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin, but I digress. Refocusing on Young, the current Bears outside linebacker just completed the second year of a 3 year contract he signed in the spring of 2014. In year 1 of his contract –his first as a starter– Young racked up an impressive 10 sacks, by far the highest total of his career, and good for the club lead. Unfortunately for Young, he subsequently tore his Achilles’ tendon and finished the season on the I.R., returning slowly in 2015 and failing to make an impact until late in the season.

As previously mentioned, Young is on the older side, having turned 30 in September, however, it should be noted that he has relatively low wear having been a rotational player for the majority of his career, coupled with the fact that he’s only been in the league since 2010. As you might have guessed by the way I prefaced this article, while Young now plays for the Chicago Bears, he was drafted by and played for Jim Schwartz in Detroit. Should Shwartz ultimately get the job, connecting the dots here is easy, and it’s likely that Schwartz will have at least some level of interest in a player he pegged as a “break out candidate” just a few summers ago.

Now, as you may have noticed, Young is in fact still under contract in Chicago, however, that isn’t to say he’s unavailable. Initially reported by Pro Football Talk, among other outlets, Young recently requested a trade following the Bears moving DE/OLB Jared Allen to the Carolina Panthers. Young felt underutilized and miscast in the Bears new 3-4 defense, having played in a 4-3 for his entirety of his career prior to 2015 when the team transitioned to a 3-4.

The Eagles front office has been aggressive in the past, and has made savvy moves for veteran players on several occasions under Howie Roseman (Darren Sproles and DeMeco Ryan’s come to mind). After the Bears reportedly aquiesced to Young’s request and put him on the market, they didn’t seem to get much interest, so it stands to reason that Young can be had at a bargain; a 7th rounder, or a conditional 6th.

Now, while the there should be obvious interest if Schwartz is hired, that isn’t to say there won’t be interest if he isn’t. As previously stated, the Eagles are in need of pass rushers, and no outlet should be left unexplored. Young will be cheap, making just 2.45 million in base salary. He brings upside, fills a need, and could be extended beyond 2015 if he shows promise. Young has experience in a 4-3 and could prove a valuable rotational piece for a team in transition.

As an aside, Ed Donatell, who has been linked to the Eagles in the past, is a name that’s been floated around in social media, and could be a viable defensive coordinator candidate; 2 of the Eagles hires on the defensive side — Flajole and Hauck– have connections to Donatell, as does Pederson (h/t to @igglesnest for the find). Donatell was formerly the defensive coordinator for the Packers and Falcons, and is currently the defensive backs coach for the Chicago Bears, so it’s likely that he’s familiar with Young as well.