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Eagles' D-line built to dominate for years

The Eagles might have the best defensive line in the NFL this season, although there are certainly other teams in the conversation.

Beyond 2017? It's not up for debate. No D-line is better positioned for future success than the Eagles'.

That might've been the case already before defensive tackle Tim Jernigan signed a four-year contract extension worth $48 million on Thursday. A new deal for Jernigan just put the unit over the top. There isn't a defensive line in the league that possesses more high-end talents who are either in their prime or still developing, all under contract for the foreseeable future. 

The Eagles boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL at 66.4 yards per game — 12 full yards better than the second-place team — and entered Week 6 tied for sixth with 25 sacks. And to think, this front four could be together for years to come.

Tim Jernigan
Age: 25
Signed through 2021

Jernigan's numbers in his first season with the Eagles might not blow anybody away — 17 tackles and 1½ sacks through nine games. However, nearly half of those stops — seven, to be exact — have come behind the line of scrimmage, which is tied for highest on the team. Acquired from the Ravens for a swap of third-round draft choices, Jernigan has proven to be the perfect complement to Fletcher Cox on the interior.

Fletcher Cox
Age: 26
Signed through 2022

With 4½ sacks, Cox is only two away from his total from all of last season, and he missed two games this year with a calf injury. The two-time Pro Bowler also leads the Eagles with 11 quarterback hits, and he has a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown. There may still be some debate as to whether Cox was worth the massive contract he signed for $100 million, but practically speaking, he's here through at least 2020 the way the deal is structured.

Brandon Graham
Age: 29
Signed through 2018

It's weird to think of Graham as the elder statesman of this group, but of the unit's core players, the defensive end is the oldest. Yet the former first-round pick is into only his third season as a starter, and he's seemingly getting better every year. His five sacks are two away from a career high, and he's matched Jernigan with seven tackles for loss. The Eagles just added compensation to Graham's deal this summer, but it will be interesting to see if they offer an extension in the offseason. Since his game isn't built on pure speed, and he is a team captain, the club may want to prevent him from even thinking about free agency.

Vinny Curry
Age: 29
Signed through 2020

Curry caught a lot of flak last year for not living up to an expensive, long-term extension, but he's been far stronger in '17. His three sacks are tied for third on the team, and he's knotted with Jernigan and Graham at seven tackles for loss as well. The Eagles could save $6 million under the salary cap if Curry isn't on the roster next season, so it remains to be seen whether the defensive end is still part of the plan.

Derek Barnett
Age: 21
Signed through 2020, with a team option for 2012

If the Eagles decide to part ways with Curry, they're molding his potential replacement anyway. Selected 14th overall in April's draft, Barnett is having something of a quiet rookie season with 14 tackles and 2½ sacks in a situational role. However, his 10 quarterback hits are tied with Curry for second on the team, in far fewer snaps. Barnett is clearly the future at end and there's a good chance he'll be elevated to starter by next season, possibly making Curry expendable. Regardless, this is as strong a core group of linemen as you'll come across in the NFL.

Free-agents-to-be
Beau Allen, Chris Long

With the cap situation the way it is, the Eagles can't afford to keep everyone. It would be a shame to lose role players such as Allen, an ideal rotational player up the middle, or Long, a veteran pass-rush specialist off the edge. At the same time, either player could theoretically re-sign for 2018, keeping the tremendous depth intact behind the Eagles' front four. Even without them, the line is stacked, but just imagine if one or both decide to stick around.