Eagles

A closer look at Eagles' 2019 defensive line without Chris Long

A closer look at Eagles' 2019 defensive line without Chris Long

After a few months of pondering his future, Chris Long officially announced his retirement on Saturday night.

The Eagles will miss him. No doubt. 

They would have a better team if he was still on it. 

But the main reason Long walked away is the same reason the Eagles think they are probably going to be fine without him. There wasn’t going to be much opportunity for Long in the 2019 season. So, barring injury, he wasn’t going to play that much anyway. 

During his two seasons in Philly, Long was a third-down specialist. He played some other downs too, but he predominantly came into games on passing downs and got after the quarterback. For an aging pass rusher with plenty left in the tank, that’s a pretty desirable role. No, it’s not starter snaps, but being an integral part of the Eagles’ top pass rush line has to be pretty fun. This season, Long would have been bumped from that position. 

The reason Long was on that pass-rushing line in 2017 and 2018 was because one of the other defensive ends (Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham or Michael Bennett) would slide inside to play next to Fletcher Cox at DT. Then Long would come on the field at defensive end to replace them. But this offseason, the Eagles added Malik Jackson, an interior rusher who will stay on the field for those third-down passing situations. 

This is the Eagles’ new top pass-rush line: Graham, Jackson, Cox, Barnett 

It’s not that Long wouldn’t have had any opportunity; it’s just that the role he had for two years was gone. He wasn’t interested in playing in a decreased role after feeling like he had two pretty productive years (he’s right about that; Long was productive in that role for two seasons). Long told Peter King that he’s a rhythm player and the Eagles were seemingly carving out a “player-coach” role for him. That didn’t interest him. 

Long said the Eagles were honest with him about the reduced role he’d see if he returned and Long was honest with them, telling the Eagles to plan as if he wouldn’t return. That’s what they’ve been doing. 

Here’s a look at the Eagles’ defensive line going into last season and their current defensive line: 

2018 

DE: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Josh Sweat

DT: Fletcher Cox, Destiny Vaeao, Haloti Ngata, Bruce Hector 

2019

DE: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller, Daeshon Hall

DT: Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Treyvon Hester, Hassan Ridgeway

Going from Bennett and Long being their top backup defensive ends to Vinny Curry and Sweat/Miller is a considerable drop-off. The Eagles basically traded away Bennett for nothing and never really adequately replaced him. Curry is a solid player but hasn’t gotten over 4.0 sacks in a season since 2014. The issue isn’t that Long retired; it’s that the Eagles lost both Long and Bennett. 

That could be a big problem if there’s an injury to Graham or Barnett. But if those guys stay healthy, the Eagles should be fine. Sweat or Miller or even Hall could fill that role as the fourth defensive end. In fact, if the Eagles want to develop one of them, this is a perfect opportunity to focus on limited snaps.

And it’s also worth mentioning that while the group of defensive ends is weaker this year, the group of defensive tackles is much stronger and deeper. Even though it likely ended Long’s career in Philly, the addition of Jackson was a good one. And if Jernigan can stay healthy, having him as a rotational player at his new salary is quite a coup. 

If the Eagles did want to replace Long with an outsider, they might have missed their window. There aren’t many free agents available and even if they want to add someone or make a trade, it would probably make more sense to see how Sweat, Miller, Hall and Joe Ostman perform this spring and summer first. As much as the Eagles will miss Long, there’s a chance they can get by with the group they have. 

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Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

The last time I predicted the Eagles’ 53-man roster was before OTAs and minicamp, so we have more to go on now. 

The Eagles had a total of 13 practices and reporters were allowed to watch seven of them. Based on what I’ve seen over the last several weeks, I’ve updated my prediction: 

Here is is: 

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson 

This didn’t change. Thorson didn’t have a very good spring, but I still think they’re going to use a roster spot on him. Over the last couple weeks, he’s looked overwhelmed and has made some poor decisions and equally poor throws, but he’s a fifth-round rookie. Unless he’s awful in training camp, I think this is his spot. 

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers 

No changes here either. These guys are pretty much cemented. Goedert had a tremendous spring. 

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Marken Michel  

I think these top four guys are still making it. I know Hollins still isn’t a full-go, but his ability on special teams keeps him around. Last time, I had them keeping five receivers, but I think there’s a chance they keep six. And I think there’s a better chance of them keeping an extra offensive player than a defensive player. Then, I gave this last spot to Michel, but there are plenty of candidates: Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward, Charles Johnson. I think that’s a pretty talented group, talented enough that one of them will do enough to force the Eagles to keep six wideouts. 

OL (10): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor 

The only change from the last time is Wiz is back on here after being re-signed. That kicked Ryan Bates off the list, but he has a chance to stick as a practice squad player. I do wonder about Pryor’s job security. He was a sixth-rounder last year and they kept him on the roster all year, but with Big V’s emergence as a guard, there might be less of a use for Pryor, who they might be able to keep around on the practice squad. 

RB (4): Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Boston Scott 

The big change here is Scott over Wendell Smallwood. No, I don’t think it’s really fair to compare Scott to Darren Sproles and I’m not on the hype train yet, but Scott had a good spring and might be a more complementary player than Smallwood or Josh Adams. And his ability as a punt returner is what might most help him make the team. 

DE (5): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller

No changes here, although I do think Daeshon Hall might push for a job. I’ll need to see more from him when the pads go on. 

DT (5): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway, Treyvon Hester 

Last time, I had just four DTs, but keeping five makes sense and I was able to steal a spot from the cornerback group (more on that soon). Hester and Ridgeway might be competing for the same spot, but there’s a decent chance both are on the roster. 

LB (5): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown, Nate Gerry

I kept six last time because I wasn’t sure which player to remove. Sorry, Paul Worrilow. It’s not that he had a bad spring, but that knee injury did flare up and it’s starting to feel like all five of these guys are definitely going to be on the roster. 

CB (5): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc 

You’ll notice the omission of Jalen Mills, who is still coming back from a lengthy foot injury. While other recovering players have been working out on side fields, Mills has been noticeably absent and I’m beginning to wonder just how close he is. I heard a few weeks ago that he was expecting to be ready for training camp, but we’ll see. Until I see him doing something, I’m not ready to keep a roster spot for him. I don’t think the PUP is out of the question. 

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Tre Sullivan

Folks want to cut Sendejo to save a compensatory pick, but I don’t see it happening. Sendejo has been working as as starter as McLeod recovers, so I think he’s their third safety for now. Sendejo had a good offseason, so he would need to play poorly this summer to get cut. 

ST (3): Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato 

Unless Kamu really applies himself to becoming a kicker, these three are set.

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3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Eagles this season and there should be. The Birds are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons and have a really talented roster. 

They also have three players on the ProFootballFocus’ list of top 50 players heading into the 2019 season.

(For reference, the Eagles had four players in their top 101 players from the 2018 season.)

In the top 50 list, the Cowboys also have three players (29. Travis Frederick, 32. DeMarcus Lawrence, 40. Zack Martin), the Giants have one (43. Saquon Barkley) and the Redskins don’t have any. Sorry, Washington. 

Let’s take a look at the Eagles on the list: 

41. Brandon Graham 

Here’s what they said: Sacks don’t tell the whole story for any player in the NFL, and no player epitomizes that more than Graham. He’s recorded double-digit sacks in PFF’s system only once (2017) but has been as consistent as they come from an overall pressure and pass-rush grade standpoint. He has recorded 45 or more pressures in six of his last seven seasons in the NFL and has earned 81.0-plus pass-rush grades in five of them.

My take: It’s true that sacks don’t tell the entire story, but Graham had just four last season. That’s too low. He was hampered by an ankle injury at the start of last season and it showed; he got off to a slow start. But Graham has been consistently disruptive over the past few years. He’s a very good player, but falls short of being great. I don’t know if he's a top-50 player, but it is nice to see his all-around game get recognized because his sack total has never officially gotten to double digits and he’s never made a Pro Bowl team. 

24. Jason Kelce

Here’s what they said: Kelce’s four-year overall grade (91.1) ranks fourth among the 94 interior offensive linemen with at least 2,000 offensive snaps played since 2015, and his 93.4 run-block grade ranks first among the same group of qualifiers. Most recently, Kelce earned a career-high 88.0 pass-blocking grade in addition to his 80.7 run-blocking grade in 2018. He also earned a 94.6 run-blocking grade throughout the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017, a single-season mark that ranks first in the PFF era (2006-18) among qualifying centers and one that landed him PFF’s top run-blocker award in 2017.

My take: Kelce was the highest-ranked center on the list and the second-highest offensive lineman behind OT David Bakhtiari at No. 13. It’s high praise for Kelce, but he deserves it. He had a really good season in 2018 and has consistently been one of the top centers in the league for a while now. You can argue about whether or not he’s the best center in the league, but there’s no questioning whether or not he’s one of the best. With his football knowledge, Kelce keeps getting better despite being over 30 and despite all his injuries. He’s been an All-Pro the last two years, but hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in those seasons, which is an absolute joke. 

4. Fletcher Cox 

Here’s what they said: It’s a shame that Cox plays in the same league as Donald; he’d be the unanimous decision for top defensive interior if it weren’t for the Rams' superstar. Cox’s pass-rush win rate in 2018 (20.9 percent) is the fourth-best single-season mark of any defensive interior in the PFF era. And his 91.2 pass-rush grade this past season, another career high for the big man, also ranks inside the top 10 among qualifiers since 2006.

My take: The only players ranked higher than Cox were 1. Aaron Donald, 2. Tom Brady, 3. Bobby Wagner. That’s some impressive company, but it’s about time Cox gets his due. He’s a dominant player. Is he the fourth-best player in the league? I don’t know. What PFF does, ranking players regardless of position, is really tough. Is Cox better than Patrick Mahomes, who comes in at No. 6 or Drew Brees, who comes in at No. 5? I have a hard time saying he is. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Cox is an absolute wrecking ball. He’s gone to four consecutive Pro Bowls, but finally made his first All-Pro team in 2018. PFF is right, it’s a shame he’s playing in the same era as Donald, who is a future Hall of Famer. But it’s not just Donald; there have been plenty of other great interior lineman over the last few years — Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Damon Harrison, Geno Atkins, Kyle Williams, Jurrell Casey. It has taken a long time for Cox to get his credit, but he really is one of the best players in the league. 

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