Eight years ago, the Eagles drafted a defensive end out of Michigan by the name of Brandon Graham. It wasn’t until three years ago that he became a starter due to a schematic change and it was that stunning 2014 campaign that earned him a four-year contract extension worth $26M. Those four years are almost up and ever since that day, Graham has continued to improve and dominate while being snubbed in Pro Bowl voting and by the team. Then came Super Bowl 52 and the most important play in the Eagles first championship victory. His value has never been higher, but his chances of a long-term future with the team have never been lower.
The value of Brandon Graham around the NFL is higher than ever. Pass-rushers are being paid a new premium and coming off of a 9.5 sack season, the veteran defensive end is in the prime of his career. The problem is, the Eagles may have missed the mark on securing his long-term future. After his final season under Chip Kelly where he amassed a then-career-high 51 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, the Eagles extended their younger defensive end, Vinny Curry. After a 2016 campaign where he tallied a new career-high in tackles again, the team drafted Derek Barnett and signed Chris Long. Now, the team’s most productive edge rusher sits on the edge of his contract year, deserving a payday the team simply cannot afford.
Graham has all the leverage in the world. At 29-years old, he has significantly less wear on his tires than most due to how long it took him to earn a starting role and he’s only missed one game in six years. That game was a meaningless week 17 clash against the Cowboys while the Eagles rested their best players ahead of what would be one of the most incredible Super Bowl runs in history. If Calais Campbell received a four-year deal worth $60M at the age of 31, then what does the future hold for Brandon Graham? I decided to look at similarly productive veteran defensive ends and the money they have recently received.
Graham could easily earn up to $16M per annum and it’s not like he’s undeserving of that. The problem is, the Eagles don’t have the firepower in the bank to meet that figure.
The Eagles have a sharp decision to make. Do they reap the rewards of one more year with Brandon Graham terrorizing quarterbacks, knowing he could wade the free agency waters in 12 months time, or do they instead capitalize on his value while they can still generate a return and recuperate some of the mid-round picks that they currently sit without?
“Brandon Graham is an unbelievable player and an unbelievable person,” Howie Roseman told reporters at the NFL Combine on Wednesday. “Everyone wants more money, that’s the nature of the business. He certainly deserves the opportunity to get more. We love having him here. We hope he finishes his career as an Eagle. We have a great relationship with him.”
The Eagles aren’t inundated with cap space and nor can they backload any more contracts due to this reality being something the front office will have to battle for the next few years. If they want to keep Graham around, they’ll need to free up some cap room, which is a little harder than ‘release that guy, trade this guy’.
There was a murmur that Vinny Curry could be set for a release if the team can’t negotiate a restructure, but unless the Eagles can create significant cap space up-front, it’s unlikely that an extension will be completed. Nigel Bradham and Patrick Robinson are among the free agents currently in-line for a new contract that could arguably be prioritized before Graham.
It would be a little heartbreaking for fans to see Graham suit up for another team, but he does have a Super Bowl ring. The Eagles unfortunately just made the wrong calls at the wrong time which leaves them with very little in the way of leverage. For a team wanting to sustain championship winning success, an offseason of smart business decisions have to come first…and Graham may be the single most valuable trade asset they have.
Graham is a player who has been snubbed by everyone. The Pro Bowl has evaded him and it doesn’t matter who much of a one-man-wrecking-crew he becomes, the team always found another option. Whether it was drastically overpaying for Vinny Curry or drafting the veteran’s eventual replacement, the team were seemingly prolonging the extension for as long as possible. A decision that has now come back to haunt them.
So the Eagles are left at a crossroads. Do they clear the table, restructure contracts and do all they can to free up cap space in order to retain the services of a defensive end who has been a mainstay throughout the most undulating era in Eagles history, or do they instead cash in on the value of a superstar defensive end who made the most iconic play in franchise history and has yet again gone unrewarded for his tremendous production?
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports