After the signing of Ryan Kerrigan, the Eagles have an interesting battle shaping up when it comes to who will start opposite Brandon Graham. 12 months ago, many assumed that Derek Barnett would have taken on the full-time starting reins and been in a position to take some weight off the shoulders of Brandon Graham. Instead, there are only more question marks over the Tennessee product and the man breathing down his neck.
Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat have experienced differing career paths up to this point. One is a former first-round pick who has struggled to live up to the expectations that are associated with that label, and the other is a freakishly athletic fourth-round pick who has slowly but surely overcome the concerns once linked with his name and his knees.
Then came this offseason, where the Eagles picked up Derek Barnett’s option for a whopping $10 million which makes him the 4th highest-paid player on the roster. Let that soak in for a moment, Barnett is getting paid more this year than Brandon Graham, Darius Slay, and even Brandon Brooks.
While Barnett is raking in the dough; Josh Sweat will be making only $1 million this season after the tremendous year he had that finished early due to an injury. But who is the better poised to take a leap under Jonathan Gannon?
Looking back at 2020
Sweat had a somewhat breakout season last year as he set a career-high in sacks (6). He showed flashes of brilliance in the pass rush and was able to use his blend of strength and speed as a weapon.
Barnett followed the trend set by Sweat by tallying 5.5 sacks which seems to be close to what he’s averaging for the four seasons of his career so far. He’s averaging 4.8 sacks a season so far but is that too little for a former first-round pick?
Barnett played 49% of the defensive snaps as Sweat played 38% percent but even with that difference, their numbers are almost identical. Barnett had 16 QB hits while Sweat was close behind with 12, proving to bring more to the table on fewer opportunities.
Sweat also kept pace with Barnett when it came to pressures as well. With his quick feet and strength, he finished the season with 14 pressures and 2 hurries. Barnett meanwhile has slowly learned to refine his techniques as opposed to relying on his bend. His ability to finally master a spin-move led to 21 pressures and 5 hurries.
What should the Eagles do moving forward
There several advantages that Sweat has over Barnett going forward. His trajectory seems to be rising while Barnett struggles to maintain traction.
I believe the team should fix Barnett’s contract situation and extend him if he’s truly in their plans for the future but with Sweat being locked in for only the upcoming season, it may come down to a choice between the two at the end of 2021. With all of the talent that they drafted at the position coinciding with the rise of Josh Sweat, Barnett could be forced out especially if he isn’t in top shape heading into training camp. In this battle, it’s clear to me that Sweat has the upper hand with more than just his play speaking for him, but will that be the case after what promises to be a pivotal year for both?
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire