As far as problems go, this can be considered a first-world one, even in the realm of NFL football.
Boo hoo. The Eagles have too many good defensive ends.
“Coaches always want as many good players as we can get,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said when asked how daunting it will be to figure it out.
Then Schwartz reminded everyone about injuries last year and how depth helped them overcome them.
“So, you're never going to find a coach that's going to complain about trying to find ways to get more talent on the field,” he said.
But it could be a problem nonetheless.
The Eagles cut Vinny Curry and his bloated cap number, but they still have Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham, they still have a promising first-rounder going into his second year in Derek Barnett and they still have Chris Long, who was a former first-rounder and became a strip-sack machine in 2017.
“I was productive too,” Michael Bennett chimed in, hearing the list of accomplishments from players who might take away his playing time.
“I was a Pro Bowler the last three, four years in a row. I was top in the league in quarterback hits, top in TFLs. I’m not coming in to be just a guy; I’m coming in to be the guy. One of the guys. So we’ll see how it goes. I’m a competitor at heart. At the end of the day, I’m going to work as hard as I can every single week.”
Starting to see the problem?
The Eagles have at least five guys who warrant playing time and limited snaps to give them all their fair share.
For now, here’s how that competition is shaking out: Graham is in the PUP (physically unable to perform) list as he recovers from ankle surgery, but is expected to be back for the opener. When he’s back, he has to start. Without Graham, Chris Long and Derek Barnett have been working with the first-team defense, while Bennett and fourth-round draft pick Josh Sweat are working with the twos.
Think about this: One of the starters is out and Bennett, a Pro Bowl player, is still not lining up with the first team. Not yet, at least. And it would make a ton of sense if Graham and Barnett end up as the starters this season.
“I was told I’m competing for a starting job and if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” Bennett said. “But at the same time, going in with the mindset I always have. I’m going to be one of the top defensive end and a top defensive linemen. It’s just my DNA and that’s who I’m going to be.”
It’s true that the term “starter” means less in Schwartz’s defense than it might mean elsewhere for a defensive end. He uses a rotation to keep players fresh, but that doesn’t mean starters don’t play more than reserves; they do, even if it’s not by a lot.
For Schwartz and defensive line coach Chris Wilson, it’s about figuring out how to organize the pieces of the puzzle. They have some added flexibility because of how versatile Bennett and Graham are, both with the ability to play inside at DT as well. That helps, but it doesn’t solve it.
It’s nearly impossible to always keep everyone happy. Guy are competitive; they want to be on the field. Of course, winning helps. When things are going well, it’s less likely for anyone to complain, at least outwardly.
Schwartz can’t concern himself with making everyone happy either.
“No, you do what's best for the team,” he said. “These guys all understand that.”
I’m sure they do. At least for now. But the Eagles are trying to fit 10 pounds of talent into a five-pound bag. It’s a good problem to have. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.