Executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman says the Eagles are a better football team after free agency and the draft. We're putting his claim to the test, breaking down the depth chart position by position to examine whether the roster really improved or actually took a step back this offseason.
Next up: defensive end, where the Eagles are continuing to lean on the tandem of Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett.
For those who are disappointed by the progress of Derek Barnett and, to a lesser extent, Josh Sweat, here's something you really need to consider. Barnett only turns 24 in June, and Sweat is 23.
These guys are really young! And both players showed improvement last season.
Barnett is already criminally underrated. Yes, he lacks the eye-popping sack totals — 6.5 in 2019 is his high mark in three seasons — plus has been plagued by injuries and dumb penalties. Sacks don't tell the full story of Barnett's impact though, as he was tied for 16th in the NFL with 22 quarterback hits despite missing two games. He was off to a fast start in 2018 as well with 2.5 sacks in four games before getting hurt. When healthy, he's very good.
Sweat played very sparingly as a rookie and was invisible when he did, but was effective last season, finishing third on the team with seven tackles for loss and tied for fourth with 10 quarterback hits. Not bad production for play 34% of the snaps. It's hard to call Sweat more than a rotational player right now, though he's perfectly fine in that role. And again, both he and Barnett are young and have years of development ahead.
The Eagles really ought to take a long, hard look at bringing Vinny Curry back or adding another veteran into the mix, because the collection of players behind the top three is lacking experience.
Curry was an excellent situational pass rusher down the stretch, racking up 5.0 sacks over the Eagles' last six games. The free agent finished third on the team with 12 quarterback hits. Who's supposed to replace that production? There's talk of Curry returning, which would probably be for the best. Too much proven talent was let go the past two offseasons in Chris Long and Michael Bennett.
Brandon Graham enjoyed a bounce-back year after a disappointing 2018 campaign that led many to believe it would be his last in midnight green. The 8.5 sacks were one off his career high, while he continues to be one of the league's top run defenders on the edge, his 15 TFLs tied for ninth in the NFL.
He is 32, which is obviously a concern, but defensive ends tend to age well, especially those who aren't purely speed rushers. Graham is a smart, powerful player who gives tireless effort, so even if he's in decline, he'll likely continue to produce at a reasonably high level.
Whether Curry returns or not, the Eagles really need one or two of their developmental ends to step up. It's possible the club has high hopes for Genard Avery, who arrived by way of trade last season. Last year's fourth-round pick Shareef Miller was a non-entity as a rookie, but partially by design.
Joe Ostman was the source of a lot of offseason hype and having a fine training camp until suffering a torn ACL. And after a breakout performance in preseason, Daeshon Hall was an afterthought, then also wound up with an ACL injury — is he even ready by September? Admittedly, there's a ton of potential in this group. They also share 6.5 career sacks between the four of them.
Better or worse?
Interestingly, the Eagles haven't added a single body during the course of the offseason, not even an undrafted free agent. That's a sign of confidence, not only in Barnett and Sweat continuing to get better, but in one or multiple of Avery, Miller, Ostman or Hall to make a difference.
It's also nothing more than a projection, unfortunately. Although there are rumors of Curry ultimately sticking around or even Jadeveon Clowney entering the fold, at this point in time, the Eagles lost one of their top-three edge rushers and have only replaced him with a collection of prospects that did squat in 2019. And while having somebody like Fletcher Cox play more end could mitigate the lack of improvement at the position, the reality is the actual defensive ends are still down a quality player.
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