Eagles

Brandon Graham making Eagles fans forget about Earl Thomas

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Brandon Graham making Eagles fans forget about Earl Thomas

Brandon Graham has been through so much in his eight years with the Eagles.

He's gone through three head coaches, five defensive coordinators and six position coaches. He missed most of a season with an injury. He missed most of a season riding the bench. He was blasted for years by fans who wanted Earl Thomas instead.

And Graham is still here, still always smiling and playing better than ever.

“We’ve been here a long time," Graham said. "I’m just happy to be a part of this. I’m just happy that they stuck with me and now we’re out here and we put a team together and now we’re trying to take advantage."

Sunday was a significant game for Graham. After recording either 5½ or 6½ sacks four times in his career, he set a career high with his seventh sack of the season.

Graham was asked after the game if he knew he had set a career high and he just started laughing.

“Yeah, you know I did," he said. "I was happy, you know? We were talking about it on the sidelines. Like, man, the most I ever had was 6½. Now I have seven. Now I just have to keep it going and we have to keep winning. That’s it."

These are happy times for Graham.

He's got a 1-year-old baby, he's got a huge contract, he's got a career high in sacks, he's playing better than ever, the Eagles are 10-1 with a nine-game winning streak, and he's headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

“Man, it feels good," Graham said. "Man, it feels like things are looking up. Now it’s just all about winning. Just keep winning and everything else will take care of itself. And just keep on playing hard."

The Eagles' defense, now up to sixth in the NFL in yards allowed and third in points allowed, has held four straight opponents under 240 yards for the first time since 1954.

Sack No. 7 was typical for Graham, the product of sheer hustle and determination.

Graham strip-sacked Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky early in the third quarter Sunday, and even though the ball was recovered by Bears offensive tackle Bobby Massie, it gave Graham 36.0 career sacks and snapped his career high of 6½, set in 2015.

"It's not just what he does on the field," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He's an engine for us. He practices with a lot of energy. He's fun to be around in the meeting room. 

"He's always talking football. If he's in line there at lunch, he's not talking about what's on Instagram, he's talking about the matchup that week and things like that. He's a respected player on our team."

Graham now ranks eighth in Eagles history with his 36 sacks and within range this year of Andy Harmon (39½) and Seth Joyner (37).

The only players on the roster who've been here longer than Graham are Brent Celek, in his 11th year, and injured Jason Peters, who's in his ninth season with the Eagles.

"Man, it's special to me to be able to not only be the captain of this team but still be playing good, and for them to still depend on me to still be here, because a lot of guys I came in with aren't here, and I'm the only one left," he said.

"So it's special to me, and I don't take it for granted. I just try to go out there and do my job and bring people along to my party and have fun."

Graham had 15 sacks in three years under the Chip Kelly/Bill Davis regime, but he said because the practices these days aren't as long and intense, the players are able to get more out of them and be more productive.

“I feel like the practices ain’t as taxing and then we’re able to just take care of our body and just (give) relentless effort each and every practice," he said.

"And it’s not hard to get motivated because our team, man, I’m telling you, we’ve got a good team and we have a team that understands that we have to get practice in and we have to practice hard in order for it to show up on the field."

Graham turns 30 this spring. He's earning $6.5 million on the third year of a four-year extension he signed in 2015 that runs through next year, and that seventh sack earned him a $250,000 bonus, and two more will earn him another $250,000. A trip to the Pro Bowl or first- or second-team All-Pro honors will earn him another $250,000.

"I take care of my body a lot more," he said. "For me, getting hurt (earlier in his career), I learned I wasn't taking care of my body like I needed to. 

"A rookie coming in, (you're) thinking, 'Hey, I could just show up at any time because I'm young,' but people kept telling me to get into a regimen and stick to it, and now that's what I do. I stick to what I do each and every week, and it's been paying off for me."

Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

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Eagles Stay or Go — A few easy choices for once

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Mack Hollins
Roob: Hollins wasn't really a factor later in the season, once Torrey Smith got going, but he did show early in the year what kind of player he can be, notably with that 64-yard TD catch in the second Redskins game. Depending on what the Eagles do about Smith, Hollins should be either the Eagles' third or fourth receiver this fall. Either way, he'll be here, and I expect him to make a big jump in Year 2.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Hollins caught just 16 passes as a rookie and it seemed like he just never started producing the way he seems capable of. Even when Smith struggled, Hollins got more playing time and didn't produce. The good news is he's still young and plays a role on special teams. The Eagles will probably bolster their receiving corps in some way, but if they don't, Hollins will have a shot at starting if Smith is gone next season. 

Verdict: STAYS

Alshon Jeffery
Roob: Jeffery really played better than his stats this year. He made every big catch, caught every big third-down pass, made huge plays in the end zone. Jeffery was a star receiver without a star receiver's stats. His unselfish attitude carried over to the rest of the receivers and throughout the roster. And he did it all with a rotator cuff injury that required post-season surgery. Can't wait to see what Alshon can do healthy.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Jeffery didn't put up eye-popping numbers during the regular season, but if you needed any proof he's a No. 1 receiver, go back and watch Super Bowl LII, when he made that ridiculous catch in the end zone for a huge touchdown. The good thing about Jeffery is he really doesn't care at all about his numbers. There are a lot of diva receivers in the NFL, but Jeffery clearly isn't one of them. All he cared about last year was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and he certainly helped get the Eagles there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Roob: Jenkins has so many roles on and off the field — community activist, NFLPA organizer, locker room leader — it's easy to forget just how good a player he is. Jenkins has been here four years and has had four very solid, very consistent, very productive seasons. He made his second Pro Bowl this year and joined Bill Bradley (3) and Dawk (7) as only the third Eagles safety since 1960 to make multiple Pro Bowls. Jenkins is signed to a cap-friendly deal through 2020 and should be an Eagle for many years to come.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: As important as Jenkins is to the Eagles as a safety and defensive back, you could make a legitimate argument that he's even more important to the team as a leader and man. There's a reason he became the guy to follow up Doug Pederson's postgame speeches. He isn't just the leader of the defense; he's the leader of the entire team. And on the field, he's still playing at a really high, Pro Bowl caliber level. He's 30 now but is still signed through 2020 and maybe outside of Fletcher Cox is the Eagles' most important defensive player. 

Verdict: STAYS

Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

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Eagles Stay or Go — 2 young linebackers

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Darrell Greene
Roob: The Hall of Fame cornerback is now 58 years old and 21 years removed from his last Pro Bowl season with the Redskins. Oh wait … wrong Darrell Green. This is Darrell GREENE, and he's a 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard out of San Diego State who's been on the Eagles' practice squad most of the last two years. The Eagles liked Greene enough to keep him around the last couple years, and unless they see something in Chance Warmack that I missed, Greene has a chance to stick around as a young O-line prospect.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Greene has been around now for the last two seasons. He was without a team for most of 2017; the Eagles didn't bring him back to the practice squad until December. The offensive guard had some real potential coming out of San Diego State, and the Eagles paid him a lot of guaranteed money to sign as an undrafted free agent before 2016. But he's never really impressed them enough to stick around for good. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Roob: With Hicks, it's always about durability, not ability. Hicks has played more than half a season only once in his three NFL seasons, and since he's under contract for 2018 with a modest $2.068 million cap figure, he's obviously not going anywhere. The question is what the Eagles do with him after 2018 when he's due to become a free agent. Hicks can play. We all know that. He needs to prove this year that he can stay healthy in order to get a big-money deal a year from now.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Losing Hicks was a problem in 2017 and his absence started showing up late in the season. He's a big-time playmaker. It's a shame he got hurt last year because if he didn't, he'd be in line for a payday. For now, he'll be back in the final year of his four-year rookie contract until he can prove he's the same player he was pre-injury. 

Verdict: STAYS

Kamu Grugier-Hill
Roob: Grugier-Hill must be Howie Roseman's dream. He's signed at the minimum through 2019 but is an awfully valuable member of the roster — a reserve linebacker and emergency kicker and maybe the team's best special teamer. Kamu's not going anywhere.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He really doesn't play at all as a linebacker, but Grugier-Hill has become one of the best special teams players in the NFL and had a real chance to be named a Pro Bowler in 2017. He led the team in special teams tackles with 19 last season. He's still young, cheap and is a big part of Dave Fipp's group. 

Verdict: STAYS