One of the hardest goodbyes this offseason has undoubtedly been to defensive end Chris Long. While he’s still technically on the roster, Long told the Eagles to ‘plan as if he won’t be there’. He’s been as open and honest as one can about the negotiations since the start of the offseason, but it’s not looking as though Long will return. Since joining the Eagles in 2017, the ‘Walter Payton Man Of The Year’ winner has done so much for the team on the field, as well as the city off of it.
Whether it was donating his entire 2017 salary to promote educational equality, aiding schools in the three cities he has played in, or being a key figure in charitable events around the Philadelphia area, Chris will be missed by just about everyone. Replacing his humility, selflessness and kindness is almost impossible, but the Eagles have at least somewhat tried to bolster the defensive end group to make up for his likely departure. But will that be enough?
Long played in 58% of defensive snaps last year and 48% in 2017. It’s not just the number of snaps played, either. Last year, Long ranked 27th among all defensive players in the NFL when it comes to QB pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He also hit the quarterback on 3.3% of his snaps, the 9th highest number in the NFL, per IDP. For context, here are some of the NFL’s most premier pass-rushers:
Randy Gegory: 3.3%
DeMarcus Lawrence: 3.1%
Myles Garrett: 2.9%
Trey Flowers: 2.7%
Cameron Jordan: 2.4%
Robert Quinn: 2.4%
To try and negate the loss of Chris Long, the Eagles brought back Vinny Curry, a man who played in 55.92% of defensive snaps with the Eagles in 2017, posting a career-high 42 tackles, and 3 sacks. That’s all well and good, but it’s not just Chris Long they’re losing…
If we compare the projected 2019 depth chart, to that at the very start of the 2018 season, the big name missing is obviously Michael Bennett. The Eagles weren’t in a position to meet his salary demands and had to part ways, but in doing so, they lost out on a pass-rusher who posted 9 sacks last year. Not only that, but in a season where interior depth was so minimal, Bennett often shifted inside, or even just lined up as a 4-technique, hovering over the inside shoulder of the tackle, providing some relief for Fletcher Cox with some additional burst penetrating the backfield.
Bennett has the third-most QB pressures of any edge rusher since 2014. He had 37 last season, to go with 20 hits according to Pro Football Focus. Again, replacing that kind of production isn’t going to happen overnight and while Vinny Curry will theoretically replenish what the Eagles lose in Chris Long, there’s a gaping hole for Bennett’s production and snap count, which stood at 68% last season.
This means that one way or another, the Eagles are going to expect production from Shareef Miller, their rookie out of Penn State who was selected in the fourth round. Miller brings a unique skill set and frame to the table as a longer defensive end, but as shown in our Film Room below, he will need a lot of work in the offseason with DL Coach, Phillip Daniels. If Miller can’t win with speed or with a bull-rush, it’s quite often game over. He doesn’t have a vast array of pass-rushing moves our counters at his disposal and at the NFL level, it would be tough to expect an instant impact without significant offseason progress.
Then, there’s the curious case of Josh Sweat. A defensive end drafted by the Eagles in the fourth-round last year who like several others, were drafted with an injury tag attached and plenty of question marks.
A gruesome left knee injury caused left Sweat not only with a torn ACL but also fear that there was severe damage to his arteries. Luckily, Sweat was able to play three years in college, but not without suffering another knee injury- a meniscus tear- during his sophomore season.
At the 2018 NFL combine, Sweat put to rest any concerns about his knee. The 6’5, 250-pound athletic freak ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, the fastest for a defensive lineman. His 34 ⅝ ” inch arms put him in the 98th percentile compared to his peers. And Sweat’s 39 ½ inch vertical jump proved that he had completely regained all of his previous explosiveness.
But Sweat played in just 68 defensive snaps last year and will now be tasked with a role that could see him play upwards of 200. It’s a big leap, but the Eagles have to remain confident it’s one that a player who lined up all over the Seminoles D-line as somewhat of a schematic misfit who produced everywhere, can do so.
The wildcard to note is Joe Ostman. Drawing praise from both Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson this offseason, Ostman was the man lining up as a J.J Watt, or a Khalil Mack, in practice to help the team prepare last year.
Ostman had a great preseason for the Eagles last year after going udnrafted out of Central Michigan, rallying to amass 9 tackles. At 6’3, 259 lbs, Ostman tallied 45.5 tackles for loss and 26 sacks during his collegiate career and his development on the practice squad has left the coaching staff purring. Again, it’s going to take a big step up if Ostman makes the roster as the third defensive end on either side of the trench.
The Eagles lost a considerable amount of firepower from the defensive end position this offseason, both in terms of presence on the field, and production. They’ve tried to negate it with an old friend and a youth infusion, but the latter is filled with mystery and question marks. Have the Eagles done enough? Only time will tell…