The Eagles are primed for another thrilling offseason as they prepare for year two of the Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz era. With prominent holes at cornerback and wide receiver, the direction of free agency and the draft is leaning towards bolstering those units with starting talent. But one position that simply cannot be overlooked, is defensive tackle.
The tandem of Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox was primed to be among the most dominant in the NFL this season, but statistically underwhelmed. The contributions of Fletcher Cox were made away from the stat line and cannot be overlooked, but when Cox was injured or simply struggling to beat the many double teams he faced, it was Bennie Logan carrying the load.
Setting new career highs in sacks and forced fumbles, Bennie Logan found his footing early on under Jim Schwartz and continued to shine throughout the season. But the Eagles are now hitting a crossroads. Logan is a pending free agent and the team aren’t blessed with cap space.
Beneath Logan, Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao acted as more than just backups, combining for a total of 66.3% of Defensive snaps. Injuries did play a factor into their involvement, but the depth of Allen and the UDFA was well and truly utilized in 2016.
Vaeao would go on to play in just over a quarter of defensive snaps, but record 2 sacks and 15 tackles, forcing a Bears fumble in week 2. The combination of Beau Allen and Vaeao was enough to see off the setbacks and keep the Eagles aggressive in the pass rush.
The one wildcard yet to be mentioned, is former Seahawks DT, Justin Hamilton. The 6’2, 315 pound lineman went undrafted out of Louisiana Lafayette in 2015. Since then, he’s spent time with the Packers, the Bills and most recently, the Seattle Seahawks. Playing in 51 games for the Ragin’ Cajuns, Hamilton amassed 102 tackles and 14 sacks during his collegiate career. He was also named First Team All-Sun Belt Conference. In 2014, he had 39 quarterback hurries, which was the most for any 3-4 DE.
Interestingly, what wasn’t made public was the length of the reserve contract he signed. Hamilton, as it stands is the highest paid player to sign a futures deal with the Eagles, being rewarded with a $1.17M, 2-year deal. This isn’t overly indicative of anything in particular, although there would be a cap hit of around $0.5M if the Eagles were to part way with Hamilton..perhaps implying that they intend to keep him around as a potential backup, not just to compete in training camp.
If the Eagles were to let Logan walk, they would be placing all of their chips on Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao until they strengthen the position through other avenues.
Free agency isn’t exactly glaring with affordable talent either. Aside from Logan, Nick Fairley, Dontari Poe and Abry Jones are among the top targets who fit the Eagles prototype, all of whom will be looking for a nice payday.
The Eagles could look to the draft, but many of the top pass-rush prospects are coming out of 3-4 defenses, which makes finding those “low-risk, high-reward”picks that little bit harder. Players such as Alabama’s Jonathan Allen are extremely intriguing prospects, but would the Eagles be prepared to prioritize the trenches over a top cornerback or wide receiver?
The good news is that depth at CB/WR runs extremely deep in this year’s draft, so even if they do draft elsewhere in the first, they still an abundance of talent to pick from when they’re next on the board. I also reported a couple of weeks ago that the Eagles intend on building from the ball out, just as they started to in 2016, re-enforcing the Carson Wentz pick.
The biggest decision the Eagles will make this offseason will be whether or not they choose to sign Bennie Logan to a new contract. Howie Roseman has shown an intent to sign cornerstone players and fortifying the trenches with a tandem for years to come seems like the smart move. However, money is the variable here and it’s not something that the Eagles are swimming in.
If the Eagles agree to an extension with Bennie Logan, who is reportedly being eyed up by the Washington Redskins, it not only means the team can pursue the more pressing needs earlier in the draft, but also means that the birds won’t be at a disadvantage, trying to bring in an affordable long-term replacement for Logan that can make an impact right away.
Letting Logan walk opens up a whole new realm of questions. Do the Eagles fortify the trenches in the earlier rounds of the draft? Do they turn to Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao to fly the flag in a committee effort and wait until next year to find the next franchise DT? Would they attack free agency and risk over-paying for talent? Something that is certainly plausible if Logan is among the first players to sign with a new team, setting the standard for the position..just as Cox did a year ago.
The entire offseason direction rests solely on how the Eagles handle the Bennie Logan situation. Each result is going to bring with it a new set of challenges..but the Eagles simply have to be prepared to either pay for production, or risk opening another revolving door.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports