Despite questions, Doug Pederson ‘excited’ for current LB group
The Eagles managed to get thinner at the most underwhelming position group on the roster.
In a stunning move, the team placed fifth-year linebacker Jatavis Brown on the reserved/retired list on Sunday. Brown, 26, was signed in the second wave of free agency to bolster a largely inexperienced second level. For the veteran linebacker, who has been hampered by injuries in recent years, it appeared that it was merely time to move on.
"In Jatavis' case, listen, everybody goes through different things in life," Doug Pederson said Wednesday on a Zoom call with reporters. "There are times when you just come to a point where maybe you just don't have the passion, the drive. It's unfortunate because he's a great kid. He and I had a great conversation last week. I understood where he was coming from.
Brown's contract -- a one-year, $1.05 million deal ($950,000 in base) -- will not count against the salary cap.
With Brown eliminated from the mix, the new-look linebacker contingent is primarily comprised of untested youth and niche players. However, despite the growing concern over the maligned unit, Pederson remains optimistic of their potential.
"I think highly of our linebackers," said Pederson. "I'm really excited for this group. It's a young group and it's a very energetic group, something that we focused on – 'we' being [Eagles Executive Vice President/General Manager] Howie [Roseman], our scouts and our personnel department – we focused on through the offseason, through the draft and whatnot."
Brown, who started 23 games, had the inside track to seizing the third linebacker spot. While Brown would have served as a complementary piece behind Nathan Gerry and T.J. Edwards, as the team typically utilizes two linebackers, the Akron product has performed at a high level at times throughout his career.
The remaining seven linebackers on the roster have combined for just 35 career starts -- which could be especially problematic with the season set commence next month.
The new favorite to fill the role is the enticingly athletic Duke Riley. Riley, who was acquired in a late-September trade with the Atlanta Falcons, has 16 starts on his resume -- all coming in his first two seasons with the Falcons. The 26-year-old quickly became a vital cog on special teams in Philadelphia, so much so that he earned a captain designation late in the season.
Although incredibly undersized for the position, Riley is the Eagles' most efficient cover linebacker and offers plenty of range. With a full offseason to dissect the playbook, Riley will have a golden opportunity to shed the special teams label and become a more significant part of the defensive plans in 2020.
The youth and energy that Pederson alluded to can most likely be attributed to Edwards and rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley. While Edwards projects as a starter opposite Gerry, the two draft picks don't exactly figure into the 2020 plans.
Taylor, who possesses intriguing physical traits, is considered an incredibly green prospect and is at least two seasons away from becoming a prominent player on defense. Bradley is known for his leadership, innate football intelligence, and tenacity, but doesn't come with the upside of Taylor. Of the pair, Bradley is most likely to dress on game day, as his special teams prowess should make him an asset for coordinator Dave Fipp.
Regardless of how the position unfolds in the coming weeks, look for the team to add another veteran.