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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NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

NFL trade rumors: Why Stefon Diggs makes sense for the Eagles

On Tuesday night, receiver Stefon Diggs sent the internet into a tizzy when he apparently erased any mention of the Vikings from his Instagram account. 

We’re taking a bit of a leap here (gotta love 2020) but if this is Diggs’ somehow voicing his frustration with the Vikings it wouldn’t be the first time. And it would also basically be a Bat Signal to the other 31 NFL teams: “Come and get me!” 

The Eagles should. 

It’s funny. Before all those rumors began to swirl on Tuesday night, I was on NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Quick Slants and was asked for one potential trade target for the Birds. The name I gave was Diggs. He made sense even before this. While there’s no guarantee the Vikings trade him, it’s worth finding out. 

If you haven’t noticed, the Eagles are in desperate need of help at receiver. It’s why about 85 percent of mock drafts have them taking one in the first round of the draft in a couple months. But any player they pick in the draft is an unknown. Diggs is not. 

There are three big reasons why Diggs should be attractive to the Eagles: 

1. He just turned 26 back in November

The Eagles are committed to getting younger this offseason and getting Diggs now would kind of be like signing a free agent after his rookie deal. The Eagles have been getting older but Diggs would help them get younger. No, he’s not a 21-year-old anymore but he is arguably entering his prime. 

2. Diggs is already one of the best receivers in the NFL

Despite his targets dropping from 149 in 2018 to 94 in 2019 (ostensibly one of the reasons for his displeasure), Diggs still managed to have more receiving yards this past season. Since the 2016 season, Diggs has 313 catches, 3,903 yards and 26 touchdowns. There are just six players in the league with better stats in those four seasons: DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce and Michael Thomas. 

What has been impressive about Diggs is that he’s been successful in different ways. After averaging 10.0 yards per catch in 2018, he averaged 17.9 (a career high) in 2019 and was a tremendous deep threat. Just three players in the NFL had a higher yards-per-catch average in 2019. 

The Eagles certainly saw what he can do. In Week 6 against the Birds, he had his best game of the 2019 season. He caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns. That was the only time this season he was targeted over 10 times in a game. 

3. Diggs is relatively cost-controlled for another four seasons

While trading for Diggs will cost draft equity (we’ll get to that soon), his salary will be cheaper than that of a free agent of the same caliber because he’s already locked up. While multiple teams will out-bid each other for free agents and end up over-paying, Diggs has a contract that runs through the 2023 season and it’s a very reasonable contract. By the end of it, there’s a very good chance he’ll be extremely underpaid. Even though he just signed the five-year extension in the summer of 2018, he’s already just the 13th highest-paid NFL receiver in terms of APY, according to OverTheCap. 

Check out his base salaries for the remainder of the contract: 

2020: $10.9M
2021: $11.4M
2022: $11.4M
2023: $11.4M

No, that’s not exactly cheap like a rookie contract would be but it’s very manageable. And once the new CBA is eventually worked out, those prices will probably look even better. And there are some performance escalators written in, but if Diggs hits them, both sides would be happy. 

So what will it take? 

This is the big question. I think we all agree that Diggs is a good player and the Eagles would love to have him. But what would they have to give up in a trade? 

Well, the Vikings are going to start any negotiation with a first-round pick at minimum. They should. All those reasons I listed above are reasons why they should have teams lining up for Diggs. It’ll be interesting to see just how bad things really are between Diggs and the Vikings, though. There was definitely frustration during the 2019 season but he finished out the year. Is it bad enough that it’s an untenable situation? If so, then the Vikings would lose some leverage. 

If it’s a second-round pick, this is an easier conversation. The real question is whether or not the Eagles would be willing to give up a first-round pick. I kind of doubt they’d be willing to but you can make a real case for it. It’s easy to say the Eagles should just focus on the draft and take one of the many talented options with the 21st pick but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit. In fact, their history picking receivers, especially in the last decade, shouldn’t instill much confidence. They have drafted four Day 1 or Day 2 receivers since 2010: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. 

None of them ever became what Diggs is right now. And there’s a good chance any player taken at 21 won’t become what he is either. 

Maybe GM Howie Roseman and the Eagles will be worried about Diggs’ fit in the building; after all, he has created enough drama in Minnesota to bring all of this up in the first place. Would that eventually happen here? Hard to say. This isn’t a no-brainer but it’s worth a call or two. 

Pick up the phone, Howie. 

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Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

Brandon Graham, DeSean Jackson, more Eagles players react to Nigel Bradham move

The Eagles decided Tuesday to decline the team option on Nigel Bradham's contract (see story), cutting the 30-year-old linebacker loose after four years in Philly. From the highs of winning a Super Bowl to the lows of his multiple run-ins with law enforcement, Bradham's time with the Eagles was nothing if not entertaining.

Bradham's teammates received the news Tuesday, just like fans did, and a number of his now-former teammates shared their reactions to the team's move on their Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Brandon Graham lamented the end of his time playing alongside Bradham:

DeSean Jackson and Kamu Grugier-Hill wished Bradham luck in his next NFL stop:

Nate Gerry thanked Bradham for teaching him the ins and outs of the linebacker position, and of life as pro football player:

Rodney McLeod and Nelson Agholor, two players who might not return to Philly in 2020, also shouted Bradham out on Instagram:

One particularly interesting reaction, to my eye, was that of cornerback Rasul Douglas, who opted to use the head-slap emoji in a quote tweet of a report about the move:

Whether that signifies surprise or displeasure, it seems like Douglas would've preferred Bradham return to Philly in 2020.

Instead, free agency is off and running, and the Eagles' sleepy offseason is finally about to heat up.

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