There’s no denying that the Eagles defense has talent. Darius Slay can throw his hat in the ring for best corner in football. Javon Hargrave had an excellent year last year and Avonte Maddox turned the Eagles secondary into a surprising strength. But the future of the Eagles doesn’t hinge on any of those players mentioned. That title belongs to Josh Sweat.
Is Josh Sweat the best current talent on the Eagles defense right now? No.
But in the long run, the future of the defensive front will hinge on the continued development of Josh Sweat, as will the overall draft blueprint.
If the Eagles were to go with a strong defensive presence in this draft, it’s fair to conclude that they’ll take one of the top edge rushers with one of their three first-round picks. The Eagles taking a rookie talent along the edge would not be an indictment on what the team thinks of Sweat as a player.
If anything, drafting an edge rusher would solidify Sweat’s place at the top of the Eagles’ pass rush pecking order. It would mean the Eagles trust his development so much, they want to pair him with another young player so they can grow to be a dominant 1-2 combo.
With Brandon Graham coming off a season-ending injury, and already on the north side of 30, the Eagles need to find his replacement desperately. Sweat could be the guy, but is Tarron Jackson ready to step up into an EDGE2 role? Not yet. Haason Reddick may take some snaps at that spot, but he also spends time at SAM. The Eagles need to find Sweat a running-mate for 2023 and beyond.
It’s common practice for the Eagles to take fliers on depth pieces along the DL. Chris Long, Ryan Kerrigan are some of the latest examples, but it shows that the team doesn’t want to only rely on four guys to rush the passer.
Philly’s best seasons have come when they are able to send wave after wave of pass rushers after the QB. But a free agent acquisition would only complicate the process. Throughout the 2022 season, Sweat battled for playing time with Derek Barnett and Kerrigan. Adding a veteran presence would only lower his snap count. It would be a message to the fanbase that the team doesn’t think that Sweat can be a top pass rusher in this league and will need plays off in order to get his overall value.
Signing a defensive end in free agency would only affect Sweat’s snap count and it will only hurt the overall production on the defensive line.
What the Eagles do with Derek Barnett will be very telling of how they think of Josh Sweat.
I’ve been on the record with the belief that Barnett is one of the biggest draft mistakes the Eagles have made in their history. More penalties committed than sacks, Barnett has negatively affected the franchise for most of his career. If the Eagles let him walk, it’s because they believe Josh Sweat is ready to get a full-time starting role.
If they try to bring Barnett back, it would mean the Eagles don’t believe in Sweat’s development enough and need to make sure there’s someone there keeping his snap count as low as possible.
Fans were upset that Barnett repeatedly got more snaps than Barnett last season. They had a right to question it.
Those concerns will only increase if Barnett is brought back to compete with Sweat.
Josh Sweat is ready to be the lead man along the defensive line. Pairing him with younger talent will only help his overall future role with the team. The Eagles were one of the worst teams in football last year at sacking the QB. A problem that will be solved this offseason.
But how the franchise solves that dilemma will directly indicate how they think about the young stud they currently have on the roster.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire