Eventually, the Eagles will go a week without losing a player. That time is not now. In a rather shocking turn of events, new Eagles linebacker Jatavis Brown has been placed on the Reserve/Retired list, signifying the end of his career:
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 9, 2020
Jatavis Brown Retirement
The 26-year-old signed a one-year, $1.0475 million contract with the Eagles back in March, with $500,000 guaranteed. Brown was expected to compete for a starting spot alongside T.J. Edwards and Nathan Gerry.
Brown was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 draft by the then-San Diego, now-Los Angeles Chargers. From 2016 to 2019, Brown played in 56 games, starting 23. In that time, he compiled 4.5 sacks, 265 tackles (187 solo), and three forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.
2019 was a very different year for Brown, as the Chargers transitioned him into more of a special teams role. He played 56% of snaps for STs, while just 10% of snaps on defense. That’s a sharp contrast from his first three seasons, where he played 1,742 combined defensive snaps.
With Brown passing on donning midnight green, eyes are suddenly on the remaining Philadelphia Eagles linebackers, who now have a heavier load to shoulder.
Lots of Young Blood, Not So Much Experience
That number isn’t necessarily bad- after all, the Eagles have greatly needed a youth-infusion. But, the experience is a concern. Three players (Olson, Taylor, and Bradley) have never played a single snap. Singleton and Riley were relegated to special teams last season and played just 480 snaps combined.
That leaves Gerry and Edwards as the only linebackers who started a game for the Eagles in 2019. Gerry has taken major strides over the last three seasons but has continued to struggle with tackles, putting up a missed tackle rating of 15.2%.
Edwards certainly has upside, though he’ll also be making a huge jump from playing mostly special teams to being a weekly starter and facing the high expectations that come with that responsibility. If you’ve been wanting to see the Eagles have more “trials by fire,” it’s your lucky day.
Is A Replacement On The Way?
It’s very possible (almost likely?) that the Eagles move forward without replacing Brown. The team has never valued the linebacker position highly in the past few years. In April, Taylor and Bradley were the first LBs drafted since Joe Walker in 2016.
They’ve been similarly quiet during free agency, with Nigel Bradham having been the most notable linebacker signing since the Doug Pederson era began.
If the Eagles do decide to bring in some new additions, there are a few options to choose from. Alec Ogletree is currently available via free agency and would give a nice veteran presence to some of the younger players.
The 28-year-old linebacker played in 13 games for the New York Giants last season, making 80 combined tackles with one sack. Ogletree’s faults shouldn’t be ignored, though. He allowed a passer rating of 107.0%, a huge jump from the 74.5% rating he possessed in 2018.
Mark Barron is another alternative. Barron, 30, registered 82 combined tackles and three sacks in 15 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like Ogletree, Barron allowed a high pass rating (96.1%) in 2019. However, he had a missed tackle rate of 5.7%, which was about 10% lower than Ogletree’s.
Wesley Woodyard would also fit the veteran mold, having played in 180 games throughout his 12 years in the league. Beyond that, the Eagles wouldn’t find anything more than minor depth pieces.
Another Year of Rolling The Dice
So, while Jatavis Brown retiring won’t kill the Eagles, it does draw attention to their very weak depth at linebacker. It’s been well established that Philadelphia prefers to build it’s defensive depth through the trenches, bringing in defensive tackles like Jalon Hargrave and Malik Jackson.
While that strategy has proven to be successful for the Birds in the past (see 2017), they’ve also had solid linebackers like Bradham, Jordan Hicks, and Mychal Kendricks in the middle. It’s not an overstatement to say the Eagles are really pushing it this year by trotting out this inexperienced group.
It may not be all doom and gloom. Edwards and Gerry both have the potential to make progress this year, working on their weaknesses while continuing to grow into productive starters. Gerry is set to be a restricted free agent after the season, so he has extra incentive to show up and play hard.
It’s a big gamble, but the Eagles have enough faith in their players to take the risk. If it pays off, the defense will have found cornerstones for years to come.