One of the strongest position groups on the Eagles is the defensive line. Headlining the group is the Eagles’ $102 million man, Fletcher Cox.
Cox signed a six-year contract extension in June, locking him up through 2022. Cox followed his second-team All-Pro and payday season with a season many deemed underwhelming. The 26-year-old finished the year with 6.5 sacks and was third on the team with nine tackles for a loss. Cox did all of this while being double and triple-teamed after offenses gameplanned around the defensive tackle. This opened up opportunities for other players to make plays.
One of the players who greatly benefitted from Cox drawing the offensive line’s attention was Brandon Graham. Graham, labeled a bust early in his career, had a career season in 2016. He was second on the team, only behind Cox, with 5.5 sacks. Where the 28-year-old really excelled was in the run game. Graham was always a presence in the backfield and was tied for fourth in the league with 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The seventh-year defensive end also forced two fumbles and started 16 games for the first time in his career.
Connor Barwin benefitted on the opposite side with five sacks, a farcry from his 14.5 sacks two seasons ago as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Barwin is best suited as an outside linebacker and did not transition all that well to defensive end. Many believe Barwin could be a cap casualty this offseason. His release would save the Eagles $8 million in 2017. While the 30-year-old has made a huge impact in Philadelphia neighborhoods, the potential release was made a little easier when Barwin was pictured at the Super Bowl wearing an Atlanta Falcons t-shirt.
Cox’s partner in crime, Bennie Logan, is set to be a free agent in early March. Logan, who dominated alongside Cox, is due for a big payday and the Eagles would be wise to let him walk. Logan is expected to fetch $8 million or more per season, which would have the Eagles invested $25 million-plus into the defensive tackle position. Too much! While Logan was outstanding in the Eagles defense, he could simply be a victim of a numbers’ game.
The Eagles have a great option in-house to replace Logan in 25-year-old Beau Allen. Allen was exceptional in a rotational role in 2016 and will count just $700,000 against the cap in 2017. The Eagles would be wise to resign the tackle before he hits the open market. Allen had 29 tackles and half of a sack while playing 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.
One of the disappointments of 2016 was defensive end Vinny Curry. Curry did not live up to the five-year, $47.25 million contract he signed in February of 2016. The Neptune, NJ, native finished the season tied for just fourth on the Eagles with Logan and Marcus Smith with 2.5 sacks. Curry found himself a great niche in 2014 as an exclusive pass rusher tallying nine sacks. After making the most of his limited snaps, Curry earned more. However, the more snaps he played the less productive he became. Curry has played more snaps each year since 2014 and has had fewer sacks each season. With more depth on the defensive line than in previous seasons, Curry could be relegated to a purely pass-rushing position, which is where he fits best.
Some of the players that make up that depth are another bust-labeled first rounder, Marcus Smith; who was worlds better in 2016 than in his rookie season, Destiny Vaeao; who played just 26 percent of the defense’s snaps but recorded two sacks and a crushing forced fumble as a rookie, Steven Means and Taylor Hart.
The Eagles are pretty well set along the defensive line. However, if Barwin is released and Logan moves on, the Eagles will likely add some low-end depth in free agency or late in the draft. The defensive line is nothing near an immediate need, though.
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