Could the Philadelphia Eagles Allow Free Agent Linebacker Stewart Bradley to Leave?

By Bryn Swartz

If there’s one thing that I have learned as a Philadelphia Eagles fan over the last two or three years, it’s to expect the unexpected. Quite simply, don’t have any expectations, especially involving free agents.

Who expected the Eagles to sign Michael Vick before the 2009 season? Who would have thought four months ago that David Akers would be as good as gone after the season?

And did anyone expect the Eagles to allow seven-time Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins to walk via free agency after 2008?

After analyzing the draft for the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, I have come to the conclusion that middle linebacker Stewart Bradley will not be returning. He just doesn’t fit into the team’s plans for next season.

The main reason is the simple fact that the Eagles don’t trust Stewart Bradley to remain healthy.

Bradley was a member of Sports Illustrated’s All-Pro team in 2008. At 25, he was regarded as the face of the defense for the Eagles following the departure of Brian Dawkins.

Then Bradley tore his ACL in the Eagles Flight Night in August of 2009. He missed the entire 2009 season and probably cost the Eagles 30 to 40 points on defense.

Bradley returned in 2010 and promptly suffered a concussion in the season’s first game against the Green Bay Packers. The image of him staggering and falling on the field is one that will stick with me for a long time.

Bradley returned after missing just one game. But he dislocated his elbow against the Dallas Cowboys in week 14 and missed the final three games of the season, as well as the wild-card game against the Packers.

When he did play, Bradley was not near as effective, collecting just 48 tackles. He was basically an average starting middle linebacker, but nowhere near the player he was two years ago.

After Bradley’s injury against the Cowboys in week 14, the Eagles started seventh-round draft pick Jamar Chaney at middle linebacker.

In Chaney’s first ever NFL start, he collected 16 tackles, including 12 solo tackles. He also forced a fumble. After the game, NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger praised Chaney for his game and said that Chaney “was already one of the best middle linebackers in the game” and he is “phenomenal in all phases of the game.”

Chaney started the next week against the Minnesota Vikings and picked up seven more tackles, three of them stuffs. He played so well that the Eagles actually included him in their group of starters who rested against the Dallas Cowboys the next week.

In the postseason, Chaney collected ten tackles and forced a fumble against the Packers. In all, he registered 33 tackles (four stuffs) and two forced fumbles in three games as the starting middle linebacker.

Chaney, 24, played well enough that many have suggested that he start at middle linebacker next year, with Bradley switching to outside linebacker. In fact, Chaney has stated that if the Eagles don’t give him the starting job at middle linebacker before training camp, he will take it during training camp.

During the draft, the Eagles picked up three more linebackers. Counting free agent Ernie Sims, who will likely leave during this offseason, the Eagles have ten linebackers on their roster. None of the ten, except for Jamar Chaney and fourth-round draft pick Casey Matthews, is a lock to make the team next season.

After Chaney and Matthews, sixth-round draft pick Brian Rolle will almost certainly make the roster. Moise Fokou started last season and will stay on the team. Keenan Clayton, the team’s fourth-round pick from 2010, showed potential late last season and will be on the roster next year.

Omar Gaither may or may not make the team. The same applies to Akeem Jordan. And Greg Lloyd Jr, the team’s seventh-round pick from this year’s draft, will probably be cut (if he doesn’t get injured during training camp).

You do the math, and the Eagles have too many linebackers. I think Bradley could easily be the odd man out.

The team promoted former linebacker Mike Caldwell from assistant linebackers coach to linebackers coach after choosing to let linebackers coach Bill Shuey walk following the 2010 season. The team has clearly showed its intention to collect young linebackers to build the defense around.

I believe that Bradley still possesses the talent to start but the team may want to build its defense young. Very young, in fact.

Fokou is 25. Chaney is 24. Clayton is 23. Matthews and Rolle are 22. Bradley, at 28, is the oldest of the bunch.

You do the math and it looks like Bradley, who can officially be considered injury-prone and will be 30 in two seasons, may be the odd man out.

I’d say it’s a 50-50 but as of now, I am leaning towards Stewart Bradley not being on the Philadelphia Eagles during the 2011 season.

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