Within the next two months, the Eagles will have a massive decision to make. No, it has nothing to do with free agency or the draft. It’s whether or not to exercise Derek Barnett’s fifth year option for 2021.
Just by reading the title and the last paragraph I’m sure you’re already screaming “NO! BUST!” Sounds familiar. Kind of like some of the same things people were saying about Brandon Graham. Now, where do you think the Eagles would be without Graham?
I know that Barnett has a lot to prove, but let’s see what he has done so far in his first three seasons.
In three years, he’s only played 35 of a possible 48 games. To compare, 77 other defensive ends in their first three seasons in the NFL played more games than him. Of those 77 players, only 32 were first-round picks. So teams have been finding durable players in later rounds. Is Barnett injury prone?
He played all possible 39 games during his three years at Tennessee, en route to becoming the school’s all-time sack leader with 32, surpassing Reggie White.
He only missed one game in his rookie year, the final game of the season when most of the starting roster and main depth players weren’t playing.
However, the dominoes started to fall after the Super Bowl win. He underwent sports hernia surgery right after the game. In 2018, he played four games before missing one with a shoulder injury. After another two games, he was placed on injured reserve after getting surgery on his shoulder.
In 2019, Barnett played the first 12 games and came out healthy until leaving the 13th game with an ankle injury. This forced him to miss the next two games. He returned for the final two weeks of the regular season and played 53 snaps in the playoff game.
An Eagles source told me: “Barnett hasn’t had a full offseason since high school so this year is big for him. Never had one without injury until now. He works extremely hard.‘
If Barnett has never had a healthy offseason, can we really judge his performance? You could make the case against picking up his option just based on health, but when he’s been healthy he’s produced.
While he doesn’t have the sack numbers (only 14 in his three seasons), Barnett makes quarterbacks remember his name.
In a defensive end’s first three seasons in NFL history, Barnett has the 12th most quarterback hits with 49. That’s more than players like Jason Pierre-Paul, Chandler Jones, and Cameron Jordan.
In regards to making a quarterback make bad decisions based on pressure, I give you Chris Long:
So Barnett has been playing to that ideology, he moves the pocket and makes the quarterback uncomfortable. Here’s a decent example:
Let’s compare all this to Brandon Graham’s first three years.
Games and Performance
In his first three seasons, Graham only played 32 games, three less than Barnett. He also only started 12 games, eight less than Barnett’s 20. In those 32 games, he had 8.5 sacks, 55 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 19 quarterback hits. Barnett had 14 sacks, 67 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, and 49 quarterback hits.
Graham tore his ACL after 13 games in his rookie year and was on the PUP list entering his sophomore season, leading to him only playing three games. After that season, he played in all 16 games in all but one of the eight following seasons (15 games in 2017). While Barnett has yet to play a 16 game season, one could assume he would’ve had it his rookie season if the division and first-round bye wasn’t locked up by week 17.
In Graham’s first three seasons, his 16 game average was four sacks, 27 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 10 QB hits. Barnett’s 16 game average was six sacks, 31 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 22 QB hits.
Graham was very critical of himself going into his third year, calling himself a bust.
I understand that we, as fans, line in the “now”, we live in a “what have you done for me lately” society. But we have seen first hand how a player once deemed “bust” has turned into indispensable. It’s time we give Barnett the benefit of the doubt. As a player who has surpassed what Graham did in his first three years, a healthy Barnett could take the next step in 2020 to elite status. Exercise the option before he gets too expensive.
Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports