Has an offseason of losing players to free agency come back to haunt the Eagles defense?

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The Philadelphia Eagles are Super Bowl Champions, not that any of you need reminding. For Jim Schwartz and the rest of the team’s coaching staff, the spectacular season is one that will never be forgotten. But as of right now, it’s a page that has been turned. A lot has changed in the last few months. Some have been signed while others have departed for a new chapter. At the end of the day, that’s Football, but the Eagles didn’t just lose some depth talent this offseason, they lost key cogs in their incredible run.

“We’re going to have a handful of guys that contributed to our Super Bowl win last year and a great season that aren’t going to be with us this year.” Jim Schwartz told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the release of Mychal Kendricks. “It’s not just Mychal. It’s Patrick Robinson, it’s Beau Allen, Vinny Curry. I think for coaches, that’s just part of our life, dealing with turnover, and dealing with change and things like that.

I dare say all those guys, if we didn’t have them, if they didn’t contribute, we probably weren’t the NFL champions last year, and we value all those contributions. But as coaches, we just — we just deal with the guys that we have.”

Roster turnover is something that happens year after year and you can never expect a franchise to retain all of its pieces as the landscape continuously evolves. But the didn’t just lose big names, they lost them at positions where they could now really benefit from starting talent.

Patrick Robinson’s phenomenal campaign that saw him amass 47 tackles and 4 picks has now taken him back to New Orleans. The Eagles tried to retain the services of the veteran corner, but were unable to sway him to a shorter term deal. This leaves a wide open opportunity in the slot and one that has several players chomping at the bit. Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox and DeVante Bausby are just three of the names vying to sit on the throne that Robinson left behind.

Losing Kendricks, a player who has been the hero long enough to see himself become the villain, will relieve the Eagles some much needed cap space, but it does leave the unit short on depth. Former Bronco Corey Nelson will look to step up to the plate, while Nate Gerry and last year’s team leader in special teams tackles, Kamu Grugier-Hill, will be nipping at his heels. Going from a player who has spent six years with the team and has racked up over 459 tackles, to Nelson, who has largely been a rotational piece during his time in Denver, amassing 62 in four seasons, is a big difference. That’s not to say Nelson isn’t up to the test as he most certainly has the skillset to rise to the occasion and the locker room has already left a glowing impression on the outside linebacker, but it could take time.

“It sort of goes to our linebacker position there also.” Schwartz said about the battles. “You’re going to see a lot of different guys in there. You’ll see [CB] Jalen Mills in there at times. You’ll see some other players like [CB] D.J. Killings who was here last year. [CB De’Vante] Bausby’s been in there. Sidney was in there. You guys only saw one day. The next day, I don’t know that Sidney was even in there the next day. But, again, it’s sort of cross training a lot of different guys.” Schwartz went on to dissect the nickel battle.

“First of all, corners have to be able to play the nickel. A lot of their nickel technique is when the wide receivers are over in the slot formations anyway. So that’s part of their learning process is learning those techniques. But, again, be able to be multi-dimensional, have a lot of different looks in there. Some guys we’ll keep strictly outside, but we have a significant portion that will cross train. We even have some guys that will cross train safety position and corner. Again, going back, that was a big part of our success down the road was having [S] Malcolm [Jenkins] be able to play a lot of those and fill in a lot of different positions. We value versatility, and that’s a big part of the training this time of year.”

Then, as the defensive coordinator mentioned, there’s the loss of two big defensive line pieces. Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. A defensive end who showed signs of improvement during 2017, racking up 3 sacks and helping to seal the edge, Curry took major strides, but not enough to vindicate bringing him back. The Eagles instead opted to bring in a versatile Pro Bowl talent in Michael Bennett, who has since been involved in some controversial legal circumstances and is yet to show up to OTA’s as a likely result. They also drafted Josh Sweat, a fourth round sleeper who has plenty of potential. As far as the offseason goes, there appears to be a distinct amount of breathing room with Bennett currently out of the equation. The rotation is a little lighter than last year and while Derek Barnett should take a big jump in year two, the long-term future of the position remains uncertain.

At defensive tackle, the Eagles lost the golden, flowing locks of Beau Allen. A rotational defensive tackle who under Jim Schwartz played in 41% of snaps last season, acting as a crucial backbone of the position. With the news of Timmy Jernigan’s injury that is set to leave him sidelined for months, that loss stings a little more.

It doesn’t end there either. The losses of Jaylen Watkins and Corey Graham at Safety could have huge ramifications if the likes of Sullivan and Reaves aren’t quite ready to fill those voids. Of course, there are other options, but the 3rd/4th safety roles are absolutely imperative to the freedom bestowed unto Malcolm Jenkins.

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While the Eagles remain as dangerous as ever and look like a legitimate ‘repeat’ contender, there have been significant changes on the defensive side of the ball. Those losses at the time may not have seemed damaging, if anything, opening the doors for fresh and exciting talent. But as the weeks have passed and the offseason has rolled on, the lingering effects of a defensive hangover are beginning to emerge.

The question now becomes, can Jim Schwartz rally the troops and keep that ferocious reputation that this defense has mustered in his two years with the team, despite an offseason that has changed the heart of this defense in ways we may not have previously realized?

 

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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