Over the next three weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 20 most important Eagles for the 2021 season.
14. Derek Barnett
Derek Barnett is a solid NFL player, but he has not lived up to his draft status as a first-round pick.
Both things can be true.
It’s hard to believe but the No. 14 pick in the 2017 draft is already entering his fifth NFL season. During his first four years in the NFL, Barnett hasn’t become a star. But he’s not a bust either.
In reality, Barnett has simply proven himself to be a solid NFL starter who has shown flashes but who has also struggled to stay healthy and struggled to become the type of Pro Bowl talent the Eagles hoped they were getting when they used a first-round pick on him.
In 48 career games (30 starts), Barnett has 19 1/2 sacks. It’s not terrible but not exactly the type of NFL numbers you’d expect from the guy who broke Reggie White’s college sack record.
The thing is, even though Barnett hasn’t become a star, pass rushers get paid in the NFL. And if the Eagles allowed Barnett to become a free agent this offseason, he still would have received a big contract. This offseason, the Lions signed Romeo Okwara to a three-year, $39 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. Okwara had a 10-sack season in 2020 but has just 20 total in his five-year career. If Barnett was going to get a contract, that’s probably a good start.
So instead, the Eagles are going to let Barnett earn over $10 million in 2021 with a matching cap hit on his fifth-year option. That was a mistake with Nelson Agholor a few years ago; we’ll see how it works out with Barnett. Is this an overpay for Barnett? Yeah, probably. But the Eagles still need him in 2021.
You can certainly make the argument that both starting defensive ends (Barnett and Brandon Graham) on this team are slightly less important because they are in a rotation with Josh Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan. I get that argument. But Barnett is still going to be a starter in 2021 and that means he’ll likely play the second-most snaps at the position behind Graham.
Of the 108 qualified edge players in the NFL in 2020, Barnett ranked as the 45th-best in the league. Again, good not great.
The Eagles will have a new defensive scheme this year under first-time defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. So there will be changes in 2021, but still expect Gannon to let his talented defensive line get after quarterbacks. The Eagles were third in the NFL with 49 sacks last year and nearly 80% of them came from the D-line. So these guys are still going to eat.
This season, the Eagles will have Barnett and Sweat entering contract years and there’s a good chance they’ll be able to retain just one of them for next season. It’s fair to say that Barnett has underperformed relative to expectations while Sweat has exceeded them.
But the thing with Barnett is that we’ve seen flashes. The sack numbers might not be great for Barnett, but he’s gotten consistent pressure when healthy. He has 65 QB hits in just 48 games since he was drafted. Since 2017, he has more QB hits than Graham, Jadeveon Clowney, Markus Golden, Ryan Kerrigan and others.
And at just 25 years old, there’s still a hope that Barnett still has time to turn into a star. That would be a huge boost for the Birds in 2021 and it would mean a big pay day for Barnett.
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