Will the Eagles’ third defensive end next season be former 4th-round pick Josh Sweat, who had four sacks last year?
Will it be Genard Avery, who barely played last year after the Eagles acquired him from the Browns for a 4th-round pick?
Or will it be Philly native Shareef Miller, the Eagles’ 4th-round pick last year?
How about none of the above?
It’s quite possible.
Because the Eagles already have a guy on the roster with 32 ½ career sacks, with plenty of NFL experience at defensive end and with a 3-year, $30 million contract that means he needs to be on the field.
Malik Jackson, defensive end.
How’s that sound?
One of the surprises of the Eagles’ offseason was their decision to not sign or draft a defensive end.
Brandon Graham is playing as well as ever, but he’s 32. Derek Barnett was the 14th pick in the 2017 draft, but he's been just OK.
Behind them are three question marks in the form of Sweat, Avery and Miller.
But maybe the reason the Eagles weren’t in any hurry to add another pass rusher is because the guy they want is already here.
Here's why it makes sense.
The Eagles may be thin at defensive end, but they have a glut at defensive tackle, with Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway.
From the outside, it looks like too many bodies inside and not enough bodies outside.
All of which points to Jackson getting significant snaps outside.
At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, Jackson has the stature and power to line up outside and battle offensive tackles.
In fact, although he’s spent the last few years as primarily an interior lineman, he came out of Tennessee as a defensive end and started his career outside in a 4-3 with the Broncos in 2012 under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. He also played outside in 2015 in Denver in a 3-4 under Wade Phillips.
And he’s always been a steady sack producer.
His 32 ½ sacks during the six-year period from 2013 through 2018 are only 1 ½ fewer than Graham had during the same span as a full-time defensive end and more than any other Eagle has since
In fact, the only Eagles defensive ends with more sacks than Jackson over the last 25 years are Graham, Hugh Douglas and Trent Cole.
So Jackson can get to the quarterback.
Jackson, who missed all but 32 snaps last year, had a career-high 8.0 sacks during his 2017 Pro Bowl season as an interior lineman, but anyone who watched the 2015 AFC Championship Games knows what sort of impact Jackson can make as an end. Lining up as an edge rusher, he had five QB hits on Tom Brady in the Broncos’ 20-18 win that propelled them to the Super Bowl, where they beat the Panthers.
Most likely, Jim Schwartz will continue to use a rotation based on match-ups and situation, and that means Jackson will get snaps both inside and out.
But don’t be surprised if you see him outside more often than not.
Sacks and pass pressure have been a problem for the Eagles for a while now, and that goes hand-in-hand with the Eagles issues in the secondary.
The Eagles upgraded the cornerback spot and they upgraded the defensive tackle spot.
They did draft Casey Toohill out of Stanford in the 7th round, but they didn’t make any major moves to upgrade defensive end. Unless they did it the easiest way of all.
By moving Malik Jackson over a few feet.
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