It’s time for the Eagles to take on a new perspective when building their defense

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Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles safety Kevin Byard (31) intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson (84) as Eagles linebacker Zach Cunningham (52) watches during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

The Philadelphia Eagles have been struggling to stop tight ends and running backs in the middle of the field for a few seasons, and a big reason is their newly adopted philosophy of not adequately addressing a couple of the positions on defense.

A lot of fans believe ignoring the Safety and Linebacker position via draft capital and salary cap allocation is a pattern that Howie has always had, but that is not true.

The Change

Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 14: Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman is pictured prior to the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles on October 14, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

The Cap

For one, they quit spending money. 

In 2023, per Over The Cap, the Eagles have spent $6.3M of the NFL allotted salary cap of $224.8M on the LB position which ranks 31st in the league. That is less than 3% of their payroll. They also dished out a paltry $4.8M of their salary cap on the Safety position, which is dead last at 32nd in the league, and only 2% of their cap.

For comparison, during their 2017 Super Bowl-winning season, the salary cap was $167 million and Philadelphia spent $14.7M on the LB position and $14.8M at safety, both each totaling 8.8% of their budget and a combined 17.5% of their salary cap. 

This year those 2 positions total a combined 5% of their cap. A reduction of over 10%, which equates to $22M less being spent on the positions.

Salary cap allocations since 2018 per million dollars and league rank

LB 2018 7.4 (26th) 2019 7.7 (24th) 2020 5.3 (28th) 2021 5.4 (30th) 2022 6.1 (28th)

S 2018 6.9 (4th) 2019 20.5 (4th) 2020 9 (18th) 2021 5.5 (30th) 2022 5.3 (29th)

And it does not stop there. They compounded the issue by using very limited draft capital to address these positions as well.

The Draft

Eagles Nakobe dean
PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 02: Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nakobe Dean (17) enters the field during training camp on August 2, 2022 at the Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

Since 2017 the Eagles have selected 3 linebackers and 4 safeties.

Over those 7 years, the Eagles have made 49 draft selections and have only addressed either position one time by using a premium top 2-round pick. You couple that with the aforementioned steep decline in salary cap usage and it translates to what we are seeing on the field. These changes seem to be all analytical, and all Howie and it was working out well, until it wasn’t. 

Cheat Code

Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles safety Kevin Byard (31) intercepts a pass intended for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Justin Watson (84) as Eagles linebacker Zach Cunningham (52) watches during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

A lot of fans, and even some around the league, thought that Howie Roseman had found the cheat code for building a defense. 

Invest heavily in the defensive trenches, use draft capital to trade for corners (to avoid using high picks on a position with such a low hit rate), and fill in the linebacker and safety position with UDFAs, bargain-basement finds via free agency, and trading late-round draft picks. 

Excluding OLBs, which are edge rushers, they do not have a single linebacker on their active roster that wasn’t a free agent signing or a UDFA. 

Christian Elliss and Ben Van Sumeren are both un-drafted free agents. Zac Cunningham and Nicholas Morrow are both free-agent signings they made over the summer. The lone LB on the roster who was drafted is Nakobe Dean, who is on I.R.

The safety position is more of the same. Starter Reed Blankenship is a UDFA. Justin Evans (I.R.) was a low-level signing, as was Terrell Edmunds who was shipped off to Tennessee, with a couple of late-round picks, in the deal to acquire S Kevin Byard

In short, neglecting the positions has become an issue. 

Reap what you sow

Teams have caught up to what the Eagles are doing and they’re attacking the deficiencies. 

This is not to say it’s the sole reason they aren’t achieving defensively. There are a lot of factors that have contributed to their struggles. Missing open-field tackles, coverage issues, and having the 28th-ranked Red Zone defense in the league creates a lot of blame to go around. But not using any resources to address these two spots is probably the biggest one.

This is also not an example of being critical due to the luxury of hindsight. Howie Roseman and the Eagles’ chose this philosophy. They made these decisions and went into the season with eyes wide open. 

In general, it is a good strategy to prioritize the premium positions, but it has gone a bit overboard in not spending any money or any of their top early rounds picks to address the issue. The Eagles were able to get away with it last season mainly due to a shrewd late summer signing. 

In conclusion, the strategy is not working and it is probably time for a slight philosophical shift.

AP Photo/Ed Zurga