Akeem Jordan took care of business on Monday, signed his one-year contract and can now focus on the important stuff: Winning a starting job at the WILL linebacker spot. Jordan is huge piece here, a key figure in a linebacking corps that is as unsettled as any group on this Eagles team. Stability is the goal for the linebackers, and Jordan's performance will go a long way toward establishing some of that.
While Stewart Bradley aims for a smooth return to the middle after tearing his ACL last summer, and with Chris Gocong and Moise Fokou looking to battle things out at the SAM position, the Eagles are hoping Jordan is the player he was at times last season. Not all the time, mind you, because Jordan had as up-and-down a season as you will find.
He started early, but then was replaced in the nickel by Tracy White and then suffered a hyperextended knee that sent Jordan to the sidelines for four weeks. When Jordan came back, he started in two of the five games and you kind of wondered what the Eagles felt about Jordan and his future here.
That they tendered him at the level of a second-round draft pick as compensation as a restricted free agent spoke volumes. What did the Eagles see in Jordan, an undrafted player from James Madison, that they would tender him at such a high level? Perhaps they felt a team would swoop in and sign Jordan and try to develop him -- a young player who excels on special teams. Perhaps the Eagles just wanted more time to work with a fantastic athlete who is a playmaker when he puts it all together.
Whatever, they certainly wanted to make sure Jordan stayed around. And when the team released Will Witherspoon early in the off-season, Jordan's role potentially became even more prominent. Without Witherspoon, the job at WILL seems to be Jordan's to have, with Omar Gaither pushing after his injury-plagued season of 2009.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course. The Eagles have a lot of moves to go in this off-season. They certainly have committed to Jordan, but in the NFL, where scenarios change in an instant, the Eagles could challenge Jordan through free agency, a trade and in the draft.
What is the picture at linebacker? Well, the Eagles are banking on Bradley to come back all the way, they also know they need to make sure they have a Plan B. Joe Mays has been a regular in the off-season program, and maybe his breakthrough on special teams -- he became a core of the teams in 2009 -- will translate into a higher level of comfort at middle linebacker. Fokou made all kinds of plays in the preseason and then moved past Gocong in the regular season, only to have Gocong return in a strong game at Dallas in the post-season.
Linebacker, then, is unsettled. Which way do the Eagles go at all three positions? There is only so much the team is able to do to bring in help from the outside, so improvement from within is really important. And Jordan, who seemed to play his best football when he felt threatened by White -- now an unrestricted free agent -- has to step up and establish himself as a steady, reliable starter.
Jordan has surely come a long way since his days at James Madison. He has great athletic skills and has worked overtime to build his strength and to learn the defense. How much more can he grow? How much can the Eagles count on him to play well for 16 weeks, plus the playoffs?
The business side of the game is over for Jordan, who deserves a heckuva a lot of credit for coming this far in a relatively short time. Now it's time for Jordan to become better every day as a player. The Eagles are counting on him to deliver this season as part of a group that, right now, has a lot of opportunity waiting to be realized.