With free agency set to begin at 3 p.m. next Tuesday, most expect the Eagles to upgrade their linebacker position with an experienced veteran.
The market should feature some high-profile names, such as Atlanta’s Curtis Lofton and Washington’s London Fletcher, but the Courier-Post has learned that Carolina Panthers free-agent linebacker Dan Connor is on the Eagles’ radar.
Several league sources confirmed the team’s interest in the former Penn State All-American who just finished his fourth season in Carolina, although the degree of interest remains unclear.
At least two sources close to the situation believe Connor, a native of the Delaware County suburb of Wallingford, Pa., is high on the Eagles’ wish list. But one source with direct knowledge of the Eagles’ offseason plans indicated Connor isn’t their top choice and suggested that it’s less likely to happen, although he did acknowledge that Connor, 26, is someone the team has sought in the past.
All sources interviewed confirmed that the Eagles were interested enough in Connor last August to approach the Panthers about a trade, but Carolina’s uncertainty regarding the health of Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason made the Panthers reluctant to pull the trigger.
At the time, Beason was nursing foot and leg injuries that caused him to miss preseason time. He ended up tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the season opener, propelling Connor into the starting role.
If an agreement is reached with the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Connor, the Eagles would start him in the middle, allowing Jamar Chaney to move back to the strong side, where he opened last season and where the team believes he’s best suited.
Linebacker has become a constant carousel for the Eagles over the past three years. They used several different starting combinations last year. By the end of the season, they were at times playing five different linebackers in the base and nickel roles.
The Eagles have three of the top 51 picks in April’s draft, but they haven’t used a first-round pick on a linebacker since 1979. The highest they’ve ever taken a linebacker since Andy Reid became coach was 35th overall in 1999, Reid’s first season, when they took Northwestern linebacker Barry Gardner.
The Eagles started to solidify the position Monday, signing 6-foot-3, 226-pound linebacker Monte Simmons, who spent the 2011 season on the 49ers’ practice squad. Simmons was an undrafted rookie out of Kent State.
Five of the seven linebackers on the roster are selections from each of the past two drafts, none taken higher than the fourth round, so it stands to reason that the Eagles would plug their gaping hole through free agency.