Which Eagles EDGE rushers will be losing snaps to Ryan Kerrigan?

NFL: JAN 09 NFC Wild Card – Buccaneers at Washington Football Team
LANDOVER, MD – JANUARY 09: Washington Football Team defensive end Ryan Kerrigan (91) warms up prior to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wild Card game versus the Washington Football Team on January 9, 2021 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Eagles turned a lot of heads earlier this week when they announced the signing of Washington’s all-time sack leader Ryan Kerrigan. The 32-year-old enters an EDGE group with a lot of question marks and a real lack of long-term security. While he doesn’t really solve either of those issues, he will provide an instant impact to the pass-rush. The real question is, who will he really be taking snaps away from?

Over the past few days, a lot of people have hypothesized about where Kerrigan will fit into the rotation, with many pointing at the veteran taking snaps away from Josh Sweat or Derek Barnett. It’s just as likely that neither player is in jeopardy of losing snaps.

Contextualizing Kerrigan’s drop-off

Since 2018, Ryan Kerrigan’s snaps have dropped year-on-year. After that dominant 13-sack season, Kerrigan ended up missing four games due to injury one year later. As a result, his snaps dipped from 75% to 59%. In 2020, he played in just 38% of snaps while his sack total dropped to just 5.5. Coincidentally, that’s the same number of sacks as tallied by Derek Barnett…who played in 49% of snaps.

There were a couple of other things contributing to Kerrigan’s drop in snap-share. Washington had recently invested in a pair of absolute studs at the position in the way of Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Their continued growth only pushed them higher in the team’s long-term plans while Kerrigan was getting older and slowing down a little.

Eagles depth chart

Derek BarnettBrandon Graham
Josh SweatRyan Kerrigan
Patrick JohnsonTarron Jackson
Matt LeoJoe Ostman

Kerrigan traditionally lines up on the right-hand side. It’s kind of hard to forget that given the amount of trouble he’s given Eagles RT Lane Johnson over the past few years. This means that he shouldn’t really be cutting into the snaps of both Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. On top of that, if he isn’t able to maintain a starter-level of snaps anymore, then it’s not like he’d be competing with those players for larger roles.

The other thing to bare in mind is what the Eagles really value in that EDGE4 role. If we look back over the past few years, it’s been held down by some pretty savvy veterans. Chris Long, and Vinny Curry have both acted as the second in command on that right hand side during the Jim Schwartz era, playing between 40-60% of snaps depending on injury scenarios etc. The difference this year is that the Eagles have added two draft picks into the equation. Neither will likely be ready to take on that kind of responsibility just yet, meaning that the EDGE4 role will be just as important as it was during the times when Josh Sweat was finding his groove.

Obviously, this is a different scheme coached a different defensive coordinator. This time around, the Eagles appear to be all-in on competition and versatility. There is a chance that Gannon, whose Colts defense blitzed less than the Eagles last year while the Vikings did so nearly 10% more often, doesn’t dramatically change his philosophy. All three teams ranked in the bottom half of the league in this metric, so we may not see a sharp turnaround in how the edge rushers are being deployed.

So, who loses out?

What this all boils down to is the fact that the Eagles have had a change of heart. There is no doubting that Ryan Kerrigan will be breathing down Derek Barnett’s neck. The Tennessee product is in his contract year and carrying a $10M cap-hit. If he fails to produce as much as an apparently declining Ryan Kerrigan, then he could absolutely lose his spot at the top of the pecking order.

However, the coaches are all about development and that means Josh Sweat should also be pressing for a larger role. There’s no reason to suspect the Eagles would cap his growth by playing Kerrigan over him. The only players this will really impact are likely the rookies and those at the very bottom of the depth chart and even that’s in a beneficial way. Having a veteran around to help you is one thing, but when that player is a four-time pro bowler and arguably one of the best EDGE rushers of this generation, it’s going to add a lot of incremental value.

Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire