That said, it's been pretty clear during Reid's 12 seasons in Philadelphia that neither he, nor the organization, place a terribly high value on linebackers. So, while Big Red may feel he needs better play from his 'backers this season, it doesn't mean he's going to spend a first-round pick in this week's draft on one, or see if he can swing a trade for Brian Urlacher if/when the NFL lockout ends.
The Eagles have drafted 13 linebackers in the Reid era. But six of them were taken in the sixth and seventh rounds. Reid never has selected a linebacker in the first round, and has taken just one in the second round since '01. That was the immortal Matt McCoy in '05.
"When we go back and study where our starters come from, some positions are harder to find at certain points in the draft," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said. "There are certain guys that history shows you can get at different spots in the draft and you have a chance to get a solid starter."
The Eagles currently have eight linebackers on their roster, including free agents Ernie Sims, Akeem Jordan, Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. Four were taken in the fifth round or lower. Sims, a former first-round pick with the Lions was acquired in a trade last year for a fifth-round pick. Rashad Jeanty was a street free agent who didn't play for anyone last season.
The two linebackers with the highest draft pedigree are Bradley (third round, '07) and second-year player Keenan Clayton (fourth round, '10).
Sims, who started 15 games at weakside linebacker last year, was a major disappointment and isn't expected to be re-signed. Bradley looked like a potential Pro Bowler until he tore his ACL 2 years ago. He clearly wasn't the same player last year, and only time will tell if he'll ever get back to where he was. Moise Fokou, the strongside starter, was a seventh-round pick in '09.
Sims was the only linebacker with more than one sack last year. He had two. Bradley and Fokou each had one. Bradley had the only interception by a linebacker. The Eagles haven't had a linebacker with more than 2 1/2 sacks since '03 (three by Nate Wayne).
"I just think it's their belief that the linebacker position is not as impactful on the game as some of the other positions," said former Eagles linebacker Ike Reese, now a talk-show host for WIP. "Therefore, when they're doing their evaluations and prioritizing their list of positions and deciding how much to budget for each position, they just don't see the productivity from that position that warrants a top salary or a high draft pick.
"I think they tried it early with a couple of secondrounders [Barry Gardner in '99 and Quinton Caver in '01]. It didn't pan out, and they decided they can get the same type of productivity from a linebacker in the fourth, fifth or sixth round."
Juan Castillo, the Eagles' new defensive coordinator, insists that the Eagles put a high value on all positions, but if you follow the money trail and the draft history in the Reid era, it's pretty clear they feel pass-rushers and cornerbacks are the key to a successful defense.
"You'd like playmakers at every spot," Roseman said. "But there are certain positions we're going to make sure we take care of and get them covered up [first]. If anything, we're going to go above and beyond to make sure those positions are set."
Just two Eagles linebackers, Reese and Jeremiah Trotter, have received Pro Bowl invitations in the Reid era, and Reese made it as a special-teams ace. Trotter went four times, in '01 and '02, and '05 and '06.
"When you look at their defense and the way it's run, the linebackers have never been featured in the defense," Reese said. "It doesn't necessarily mean you can't find a playmaker at that position that makes a difference. It's just that they don't use the linebacker as a focal point in the defense. So he's not as impactful as some of the other positions."
The notable exception was Trotter, a freakish athlete who, like Reese, was a holdover from the previous regime and blossomed under the late Jim Johnson.
"Jeremiah was a unique athlete," Reese said. "Nobody around the league was doing the things that were asked of Jeremiah, which also allowed him to make plays because he was constantly playing downhill, almost like a defensive lineman."
During his first few years as Reid's defensive lieutenant, Johnson frequently used Trotter and some of his other linebackers, including Reese, Mike Caldwell and Carlos Emmons, in his blitz packages. Eagles linebackers combined for 28 1/2 sacks from '99 through '02.
But after Trotter left as a free agent in '02, Johnson started relying on his safeties and corners more as blitzers.
"After Trot left, the talent level at the safety position, even with Mike Lewis next to Dawk [Brian Dawkins] was better than the talent level at the linebacker position," Reese said.
"When I look at them, I don't necessarily see a special player," he said. "[I see] smart guys, solid guys. Just not impactful guys. They all have flaws in their game."
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org