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Eagles Make Deal For LB Witherspoon

After a schedule filled with various conversations with many teams, the Eagles landed a linebacker to help a group in immediate need, and one who has a working knowledge of the complicated scheme that Sean McDermott runs. The team acquired veteran Will Witherspoon from the Rams in exchange for rookie wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a fifth-round draft pick in 2010.

"He can play both (MIKE and WILL linebacker positions) and he has played both. He's played very well at both. I think that's an added bonus," general manager Tom Heckert said. "I think he'll help us in the nickel stuff as well. I think he's played close to 95 percent (of the snaps) every year he's played and he plays on special teams. This guy doesn't leave the field much and it will help us."

With Stewart Bradley out for the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Eagles have had trouble replacing their best defensive player. Bradley's ability to play well on all three downs has been missed terribly, and the combination of Omar Gaither, Joe Mays and Jeremiah Trotter has been sometimes good, sometimes lacking.

In Witherspoon, the Eagles get a player in his eighth NFL season who has played both the weakside and the middle linebacker positions. Witherspoon was originally a third-round draft pick by Carolina in 2002, and then signed a monster free-agent deal with St. Louis in 2006. He led St. Louis in tackles in 2006 and 2007 and finished third on the team in tackles in 2008.

Through six games this season, Witherspoon is third on the team 36 tackles as a starter from his weakside linebacker position.

How he fits in here remains to be seen. Andy Reid indicated that he will play at middle linebacker initially. Reid did say that Witherspoon will play in the nickel and get looks at WILL as well. Witherspoon doesn't have ideal size, at 6 feet 1, 239 pounds, to man the middle against the rugged running games the Eagles will face in the weeks ahead. Certainly, there is concern with Omar Gaither's foot sprain and how long that will keep him out of action. Witherspoon should help immediately in coverage because he can still run and he can go sideline to sideline. The Eagles' linebackers have had trouble all year in coverage, and Witherspoon, signed through the 2011 season, is an instant upgrade.

"We think we gave up a lot in Brandon and a fifth-round pick," Heckert said. "We're excited to have him and we think he's going to come in there and help us."

But how long will Gaither be out? Is his injury significant? Heckert said that Gaither will visit a doctor in Carolina on Wednesday and is "going to be out a little bit of time at least." Can Jeremiah Trotter ramp up his game and help the team against the run and not be a liability in the passing game?

Questions, questions. The Eagles really miss Bradley, as they knew they would. They need a collective effort to improve the defense, particularly as the schedule heats up beginning Monday night against Washington, the first of three straight NFC East games.

Witherspoon has game, whether he comes in as a WILL or as a MIKE linebacker. He is going to help this defense. Witherspoon has missed only two games in his entire career, and he is a smart veteran who should quickly pick up the defensive system.

Trading Gibson is tough, but the Eagles have a slew of receivers here and are going to develop DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin for years and years to come. Gibson played well in the preseason and earned a roster spot, but his chances of advancing in this rotation seemed slim unless another player in front of him was moved.

"It was a very tough decision because we really like the kid," Heckert said. "I talked to Brandon and he understands the situation and it's a good situation for him because I think he's going to go in there and play."

In the end, the rebuilding Rams wanted the younger Gibson over an older veteran. The Eagles are well-stocked in the draft for 2010, and they always find a way to acquire more picks between now and late April.

Looking for help at a position that has had some major talent taken away with injuries, the Eagles helped themselves at the trade deadline on Tuesday - a deal that Heckert didn't know would go through as of 3:30 this afternoon. How quickly Witherspoon can fit in and where he fits in is the key here. He can play. He helps. And the Eagles certainly need it after losing Bradley in the summer and Gaither for however long to a foot injury in Sunday's loss at Oakland.

Will Witherspoon's Career Statistics
Year Team GP/GS Tot Solo Ast Sacks Yds INT Yds Lg TD KD FF FR Yds
2002 Car. 15/8 88 49 39 1.5 17.0 0 0 0 0 5 1 1 0
2003 Car. 16/16 114 76 38 1.0 9.0 1 10 10 0 4 0 0 0
2004 Car. 16/16 110 82 28 3.0 21.0 4 48 25 0 5 2 1 0
2005 Car. 15/15 109 78 31 2.5 13.0 2 35 35 1 13 0 0 0
2006 StL. 16/16 136 104 32 3.0 8.0 0 0 0 0 9 1 1 0
2007 StL. 16/16 132 103 29 7.0 54.0 0 0 0 0 10 2 1 0
2008 StL. 12/12 88 61 27 1.0 10.0 1 2 2 0 2 0 1 0
2009 StL. 6/6 36 24 12 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Totals 116/105 813 577 236 19.0 132.0 8 95 35 1 48 6 5 0

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