Linebackers Lofton, Tulloch likely to cost too much for Eagles

Posted: March 18, 2012

Curtis Lofton and Stephen Tulloch, according to many, are the two best free-agent linebackers.

After almost a week of free agency, neither has been signed, and only Lofton reportedly visited a team - the New Orleans Saints - on Sunday.

The Eagles, according to many, have to significantly upgrade at linebacker. They have done nothing so far to address that situation, although they aren't the only linebacker-needy team that has treaded softly into the market.

In other words, there hasn't been a rush as the price tag for linebackers steadily drops. But it probably won't dip low enough for the Eagles to be interested in either Lofton or Tulloch, according to NFL sources.

Both reportedly are seeking big paydays. Lofton apparently wants in the area of $9 million per year. Tulloch, it has been reported, wants nothing less than the five-year, $42.5 million deal Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson received last month.

While both are quality middle linebackers, neither has a Pro Bowl nod on his resumé - not that the Pro Bowl is always a true indicator of ability. Still, it's fair to say both would be an improvement over any of the Eagles' current linebackers.

But are they worth their asking price? Lofton is considered by some teams to be just a two-down linebacker, an evaluation the Eagles share. The Falcons reportedly feel the same way and did not franchise Lofton; instead, they placed the tag on steady-but-unspectacular cornerback Brent Grimes.

Lofton, though, is a sideline-to-sideline run stopper and has led Atlanta in tackles in the last three seasons. He's also only 25. There was a report last week that he had signed with Tampa Bay, but that immediately was debunked. So was the tweet from Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy that Lofton was headed to the Eagles.

Tulloch is the free-agent linebacker best suited for the Eagles. He has played behind a wide-nine defensive-line alignment in both Tennessee and Detroit, and has improved in pass coverage.

David Hawthorne is scheduled to visit Detroit this week, so Tulloch may have to lower his contract demands. But many around the league expect Tulloch, after the requisite courting, to stay with the Lions.

Hawthorne, perhaps a notch below Lofton and Tulloch, already has been to New Orleans. Some deem Hawthorne a three-down linebacker, but indications are that the Eagles don't have a high grade on the 26-year-old.

While a number of teams have been grabbing free-agent wide receivers and cornerbacks as if they're going out of stock, most available inside linebackers remain on the rack. Looking around the league, there aren't many teams that desperately need to fill the position.

Along with the Eagles, the New York Giants, Buccaneers, Vikings, Lions, Saints, and Seahawks need help at linebacker. Each of those teams employs a 4-3 defensive front. Aside from the Brian Urlachers of the NFL, most inside linebackers aren't paid as well as players at other defensive positions.

So it's likely that the demands of Lofton, Tulloch, and Hawthorne won't be met, which could pull the Eagles back into the conversation. But if they can't get those players at their asking price, who will they get?

If the Eagles are looking for a middle linebacker, as many assume, London Fletcher would be the best available free agent after those three. He may be better than they are, but he'll be 37 before the start of next season.

E.J. Henderson is five years younger, but he's been slowed by injuries over the last few years. Fletcher hasn't missed a game in 14 seasons. Gary Brackett, released by the Colts last week, missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. But he has 85 career starts to his credit.

Former Eagle Joe Mays was on the radar, but the two-down exclusive linebacker re-signed with the Broncos on Sunday. Jameel McClain also could be an option.

If the Eagles believe that Jamar Chaney deserves another chance in the middle, they could address outside linebacker. Erin Henderson and Leroy Hill could be weak-side answers. At strong-side, Manny Lawson, Kamerion Wimbley, and Philip Wheeler are available.

Signing a second-tier free agent could suggest that the Eagles will expend an early-round draft pick on a linebacker, although coach Andy Reid has never drafted one in the first round.

Another option would be to trade for a linebacker. The Eagles have a potential trade chip in cornerback Asante Samuel. Trades in the NFL are hard to pull off. The Eagles just have to find a team with a starting-caliber linebacker that would take the 31-year-old Samuel at his hefty salary.


Contact Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745, jmclane@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane

 

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