The curious case of Vinny Curry and the five-year contract extension

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The Eagles made a flurry of contract extensions last offseason in order to stabilize the franchise and provide a base for Doug Pederson to build around during his first year as Head Coach. Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins and Zach Ertz were three of the players who signed long-term deals in Philadelphia, but one of the more polarizing, was defensive end Vinny Curry.

The 28-year old signed a five-year, $47.25 million contract extension with the Eagles..but the season that followed was underwhelming at best. The general consensus is that the Eagles drastically overpaid for the defensive end, but the waters aren’t as clear as that when you take a closer look at the situation.

We first have to look back at the week prior to Curry’s extension. The NJ native was coming off of a 2015 campaign in which he only combined for 12 tackles and 3.5 sacks after being hugely under-utilized by Chip Kelly. The year before saw Curry amass a total of 9 sacks and 19 tackles.

Curry is the definition of a player who “bleeds green”. Playing for his hometown team, Curry wanted to stay in Philadelphia after finishing an underwhelming contract year that was filled with flashes. Once the team had began extending their cornerstone players and reducing the initial salary cap impact, Curry felt his time coming.

The Eagles began the negotiation process, but it didn’t start smoothly. An anonymous source who was close to the situation, said the following:

“The contract offered to Vinny was not what he expected. “Vinny wants to stay in Philadelphia, he loves playing here” before ending by saying “it’s in the works..but we’re not there yet”.

Then, something surprising happened. The same source told us that another NFL team has began to sniff around the defensive end. That team was the Baltimore Ravens.

“…another NFL team are “heavily” pursuing Curry. Our source went onto say that “Vinny absolutely wants to stay in Philadelphia, if the Eagles can get even remotely close to what the pursuing team offer, he will stay in Philly”.

Just one day later, Vinny Curry signed a five-year extension with the Eagles. Curry was on vacation when the deal was being negotiated and the Eagles may well have felt pressure to retain the services of the versatile weapon. Retrospectively, it could be argued that the team may have decided to overcompensate as opposed to risk losing Curry to another team.

Nearly a year has passed since Curry signed the extension and his first season under Jim Schwartz was shockingly quiet. Despite playing in a career high 43% of snaps, he ended the year with just 2.5 sacks and 26 tackles. Statistically, Curry was near invisible at times and he had just 1.5 sacks in 12 weeks.

The numbers alone are startling and have left many fans, writers and even Howie Roseman himself, considering that the team have overvalued the former second round pick. However, there is another side to the coin.

Curry experienced his fair share of holding in 2016, not much of which was called. This isn’t making excuses at all, Curry was clearly more inconsistent than he’d have liked and struggled to set the edge on a regular basis. But there were games where he flashed..and he showed glimpses of becoming the player the Eagles paid him to be.

There were games like the December meeting with Washington that showed a player running on nerves. The 6’3 DE stormed into the backfield several times, but missed his gap and made some near costly mistakes. These mounted up as the year went on and at times, Curry was playing as low as 26 snaps. His hold on the outside was beginning to diminish.

But when the pressure was on, Curry began to flash. He led the Eagles in pressures against Green Bay and went on to have a field day against the Baltimore Ravens..which is ironic when looking back. Curry burst into the path of Terrance West several times and helped completely stagnate the run game.

Curry showed his real potential in the game against Seattle. The Eagles began experimenting with a “NASCAR” package, that saw Curry line up as a defensive tackle on several plays. It was this versatility that earned him 0.5 sacks on Russell Wilson as he aimed to contain one of the most elusive quarterbacks in Football.

These single moments alone don’t rescue a bad year..but this may just show a sign of hope. Brandon Graham led the league and the Eagles in QB hurries this year, with 40. Vinny Curry had 19. For contrast, Connor Barwin and Marcus Smith combined for 16.

The problem wasn’t that Curry underwhelmed as such. In fact, playing in just 8% more snaps, Curry more than doubled his tackle tally. It was that the Eagles overcompensated and set a false sense of expectation on a rotational defensive end.

The Eagles couldn’t find consistency on the outside beneath Brandon Graham. Barwin, Curry, Smith and Means were all rotated around constantly in order to try and find an explosive combination..but that’s what Curry was under Chip Kelly, a rotational weapon. The Eagles paid him like a franchise player and failed to give him the chance or the snaps to become one, instead riding Connor Barwin for 69% of snaps.

Where Curry showed his true value, was in the huddle. A leader of the Philadelphia Defense, Curry has become a well respected figure in the huddle and often breaks it down before a game. His effort is unquestionable. In losses to the Seahawks and Bengals, Curry was one of the only players absolutely relentless in his craft, even when the game was out of reach. There were times where that drive appeared inconsistent earlier in the season, but say what you want about his numbers, Curry left it all on the field.

The truth is, that the moment Curry stepped into training camp, the outlook changed. A new defensive coordinator took on his own perception of Vinny Curry’s ceiling and determined how he would be used. It just so happened that the valuation didn’t coincide with Howie Roseman’s.

Minnesota paid Everson Griffin a similarly structured $42.5 million, 5-year deal back in 2014. He responded with 30.5 sacks over the last three seasons. It’s that kind of production that was expected of Vinny Curry, given the nature of the deal..but production that evaded the defensive end for a multitude of reasons.

 

It’s easy to look at the numbers and say that Vinny Curry had an underwhelming year. In actual fact, he had a much better year than he had in 2015 and flashed potential of becoming the franchise player that the Eagles falsely expected him to become overnight.

Whether he will develop into the blistering edge rusher that the Eagles need him to become remains to be seen. But it would be unfair to pin the blame on a player who has still shown improvement from the play that earned him such a big deal. Curry only grew more comfortable as the season progressed..and if it wasn’t for the startling cap hits, his play would be a non-story, instead being described as merely “good”. Curry fell victim to salary-based expectation in 2016..and unfortunately, that responsibility is only going to increase as the cap hits do the same.

 

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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