It’s weird isn’t it? I wrote an almost identical article one year ago this week under very different circumstances.
Back then, the Eagles allowed Michael Bennett and Chris Long to walk into free agency, losing a ton of production in the process. The additions brought in to replace the two veterans simply didn’t live up to that very high expectation set by the pass-rushing specialists before them, and what we saw was a difficult year for the position.
The Birds are now coming off of a year where if we to sum up the season of each defensive end with a sentence, it would turn sour quick:
Brandon Graham: At the top of his game. 8.5 sacks saw a resurgence from one of the units lone bright points.
Derek Barnett: An improvement, but injuries and inconsistencies still ruled the day.
Vinny Curry: A huge late-season rally saved an underwhelming return to the Eagles.
Josh Sweat: Strong strides paint a promising picture, but nothing is guaranteed.
Shareef Miller: ……two special teams snaps.
Daeshon Hall: Rarely active after preseason breakout
Joe Ostman: ACL tear ruined his chances of sneaking onto the roster.
It was clear that the Eagles needed some kind of EDGE help this offseason and there was even some rightful speculation that the team would add a name through the Draft. That did happen, but not until the seventh round.
Vinny Curry was allowed to walk into free agency and remains unsigned, leaving the Eagles with a group surrounded by question marks.
Brandon Graham, despite his stunning season, isn’t getting any younger. Derek Barnett had his fifth-year option picked up but will have to step up in a big way next season with the timer still ticking on the young DE’s time in Philly. Josh Sweat will then need to take a jump up to the third DE role and that means that Shareef Miller, who was as raw as possible coming into the league and only saw two special teams snaps, will likely fill Sweat’s old role…wonderful.
For whatever reason, the Eagles just haven’t addressed the position this year, which is absolutely dumbfounding given its importance in this scheme. Sure, Fletcher Cox had a down year, but the top 4 Eagles in sacks last year were all defensive ends. It’s a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of a new defensive line coach and a positional group that has so many question marks.
The Eagles do have some intriguing options however.
The big one
With over $23M in cap space, the Eagles could absolutely go all-in and break the bank by acquiring one of two names – Yannick Ngakoue or Jadeveon Clowney. Both seem to be waiting each other out in the hopes of securing the bigger bag and who could blame them? We know the Eagles like to invest heavily on the defensive line and there’s no heavier investment than one of the two names who are bound to be among the highest-paid at the spot very soon.
From what I’ve heard with regards to Ngakoue, the Eagles had some light interest but the price was just way too steep. That’s also been the case for Clowney, as reported today by Bleacher Report.
It’s understandable. The Eagles’ contract situation will only worsen with time due to the backloaded nature of each deal, and giving up significant assets just to swallow another monumental hit is hard to justify, even here.
The budget options
Vinny Curry is still a free agent and could well be a name in-line to return to the Eagles. On the surface, the 31-year old had a quiet season. But interestingly, he amassed four of his five sacks in the final five games of the season and would end up tying T.J Watt for pressure rate per PFF, getting to the QB on 16.8% of snaps, ranking fifth in that metric out of 99. If any team knows how to get the best out of a player who may well be even cheaper than he was last year, it’s his long-time employers.
A really intriguing name to watch is Everson Griffen. The 32-year old ranks 9th in the NFL since coming into the league in QB hits and 16th in sacks. He ended 2019 with 8 sacks to his name and 40 tackles. It’s puzzling why he hasn’t been signed and if he’s raring to go, the Eagles should absolutely be gunning to sign him.
Other names in that same bubble include former Lions DE (Hey, Jimmer) Ziggy Ansah, former Eagle Michael Bennett, and names like Adam Gostis. Any of these would provide an instant sense of serenity to a position that lacks it.
Whichever way you look at it, the Eagles have essentially stood pat at DE this offseason. With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting workouts and changing the landscape for the upcoming season, it’s highly unreasonable to expect names like rookie Casey Toohill, or second-year player Shareef Miller to become instant contributors, which is exactly what the Eagles need right now.
Don’t be surprised if there’s another move on the horizon.