March 11, 2024   6 MIN READ

Bargain ‘Backers

Projecting Free-Agent Off-Ball LBs For Birds


Linebacker is one of the toughest positions to statistically analyze because their contributions are often scheme- and opportunity-dependent.

Additionally, much of their value can’t be attributed to statistics because of the so-called “dirty work” that isn’t quantifiable.

Therefore, I used five relative metrics to analyze this year’s NFL free-agent linebacker class. Thirty-five free-agent linebackers were assessed in this analysis.

Of those 35, four emerged as the best fit for the Eagles. One of those four, Drue Tranquil, already re-signed with the Chiefs.

Here are the five criteria used in the selection process:

1. Stops per Defensive Snaps –  a PFF-defined stat which counts defensive wins as follows:
1st Down: < 40% of line to gain
2nd down: < 50% line to gain
3rd/4th down: no first down attained by offense

2. Tackling Efficiency: (Tackle Attempts – Missed Tackles) / Tackle Attempts.

3. Tackles per Defensive Snaps

4. Yards Allowed per Coverage Snaps

5. Pressures per Pass Rush Snaps

Interestingly, the high performers of these stats seemed to be less flashy linebackers in terms of both performance and name value, but  these linebackers are likely more complete players in all responsibilities and also should demand less on the open market.

Jerome Baker

GETTY IMAGES: LB Jerome Baker, formerly of the Dolphins, has experience in Eagles DC Vic Fangio’s scheme

The Familiar Face: Shaq Leonard

There were actually several familiar faces available in free agency, including Shaq Leonad, Zach Cunningham, Nicholas Morrow, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Jordan Hicks – all former Eagles.

Here is how all of those options compared in the five relative statistics:

None of those “familiar faces” are likely to be retained or re-signed. But if the Eagles were to entertain this possibility, there are really only two choices, per these statistics: Nicholas Morrow and Shaq Leonard.

Both struggled on the field last season, and with a new defensive staff coming in it’s unlikely either will be retained.

But if the Eagles needed to choose one, Shaq Leonard makes the most sense based on the data. Leonard led this list of former Eagles in lowest yards-per-snap allowed in coverage and pressures per pass rush snaps.

He also was close to Morrow in stops per defensive snap and tackle efficiency to Morrow. According to these statistics, Morrow was a coverage liability – among the bottom half of free agent linebackers – and the Eagles can’t afford to have liabilities again in the middle of the field this season.

In this instance, Leonard should be the priority – if the Eagles chose to pursue a familiar face.

The Price Tag:
Leonard looked stiff last year and is 28. He was cut three years into his five-year contract with the Colts, which was valued at $98.5 million ($19.7 million per year).

It’s very unlikely that Leonard will get anywhere near that figure. Based on his age, performance last season, and the strong free agency class he belongs to, Leonard will likely fetch around $3-$5 million. But it’s unclear whether he’s even worthy of that value.

The Best Choice–On Paper: Bobby Wagner

At 33, Bobby Wagner still enjoyed an incredible season in his return to the Seahawks. Here’s how he ranks among free agent linebackers based on those five categories:

Wagner is a tackling powerhouse with the highest tackling efficiency among free agents, second most tackles per snap, and third-most stops per defensive snaps.

He was middle of the pack on pressures and in coverage, but makes up for it with other statistics.

However, Wagner is a West Coast native – born in California and has only played for West Coast teams, going back to college (Utah State, Seahawks, Rams).

Wagner fits exactly what the Eagles would look for in terms of a linebacker –  a veteran coming off a productive year – and should be relatively cost-effective due to his age and previous contracts.

Wagner is coming off a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Seattle, perhaps a hometown discount for the team that drafted him and the franchise that he helped win a Super Bowl.

But he’s likely not going to fetch a top-market contract. It’s possible he felt money was less important last year, as he was already guaranteed $20 million from his deal with the Rams (five-years, $50-million), which the Rams terminated after one season.

The Price Tag:
Considering his affinity for the West Coast, the Eagles might need to pony up more than $5.5 million, but it shouldn’t require the Eagles to pay top of the market rates.

The Eagles could likely expect to attain Wagner’s services at around $5-$7 million.

Tyrel Dodson

GETTY IMAGES: Former Bills LB Tyrel Dodson isn’t a household name but would be a good fit for the Eagles.

The Optimal Choice: Tyrel Dodson

At 25, Dodson in 2023 earned his first opportunity to start for the Bills’ defense. He checks all the marks in the free agency class, except for his high rate of missed tackles (showcased below in his relatively low tackle efficiency).

Despite, this Dodson was top 10 in free agent linebackers in all other statistics:

Dodson is young and makes plays. He makes tackles and deprives offenses from opportunities to be efficient. He’s also decent in pressure opportunities.

Overall, Dodson’s production and youth make him an optimal linebacker candidate for Philadelphia.

The Price Tag:
Dodson is one of the best free-agent linebackers in a class of several recognizable names. But based on contract precedents, trends of linebacker spending, and the fact Dodson has only started one year, it’s possible the Eagles can get a bargain on the young defender.

It’s likely Dodson will command a salary of between $6-$9 million per season.

The Fangio Connection: Jerome Baker

Eagles defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was Baker’s defensive coordinator last season with the Dolphins. Both Fangio and Baker exited Miami and it’s possible Baker would want to follow Fangio to Philadelphia.

Baker was cut in the final season of his three-year, $37.5-million ($12.5 million per year) deal. He’s set to hit free agency at 27 after putting up the following statistics:

Baker played in the Fangio scheme and isn’t the most impressive linebacker statistically, at least among all free-agent linebackers.

But his scheme knowledge and decent level of play could make him an affordable option for the Eagles, at least for the short term.

The Price Tag:
Baker won’t receive close to his $12.5 million figure from his previous 2021 deal, but he’s still a young player with relative success. He should likely receive around $7 to $10 million per season.
– Sam Finkel is a staff writer for who focuses on analytics.

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