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Eagles' D-line built to dominate for years

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Eagles' D-line built to dominate for years

The Eagles might have the best defensive line in the NFL this season, although there are certainly other teams in the conversation.

Beyond 2017? It's not up for debate. No D-line is better positioned for future success than the Eagles'.

That might've been the case already before defensive tackle Tim Jernigan signed a four-year contract extension worth $48 million on Thursday. A new deal for Jernigan just put the unit over the top. There isn't a defensive line in the league that possesses more high-end talents who are either in their prime or still developing, all under contract for the foreseeable future. 

The Eagles boast the No. 1 run defense in the NFL at 66.4 yards per game — 12 full yards better than the second-place team — and entered Week 6 tied for sixth with 25 sacks. And to think, this front four could be together for years to come.

Tim Jernigan
Age: 25
Signed through 2021

Jernigan's numbers in his first season with the Eagles might not blow anybody away — 17 tackles and 1½ sacks through nine games. However, nearly half of those stops — seven, to be exact — have come behind the line of scrimmage, which is tied for highest on the team. Acquired from the Ravens for a swap of third-round draft choices, Jernigan has proven to be the perfect complement to Fletcher Cox on the interior.

Fletcher Cox
Age: 26
Signed through 2022

With 4½ sacks, Cox is only two away from his total from all of last season, and he missed two games this year with a calf injury. The two-time Pro Bowler also leads the Eagles with 11 quarterback hits, and he has a forced fumble and a fumble return for a touchdown. There may still be some debate as to whether Cox was worth the massive contract he signed for $100 million, but practically speaking, he's here through at least 2020 the way the deal is structured.

Brandon Graham
Age: 29
Signed through 2018

It's weird to think of Graham as the elder statesman of this group, but of the unit's core players, the defensive end is the oldest. Yet the former first-round pick is into only his third season as a starter, and he's seemingly getting better every year. His five sacks are two away from a career high, and he's matched Jernigan with seven tackles for loss. The Eagles just added compensation to Graham's deal this summer, but it will be interesting to see if they offer an extension in the offseason. Since his game isn't built on pure speed, and he is a team captain, the club may want to prevent him from even thinking about free agency.

Vinny Curry
Age: 29
Signed through 2020

Curry caught a lot of flak last year for not living up to an expensive, long-term extension, but he's been far stronger in '17. His three sacks are tied for third on the team, and he's knotted with Jernigan and Graham at seven tackles for loss as well. The Eagles could save $6 million under the salary cap if Curry isn't on the roster next season, so it remains to be seen whether the defensive end is still part of the plan.

Derek Barnett
Age: 21
Signed through 2020, with a team option for 2012

If the Eagles decide to part ways with Curry, they're molding his potential replacement anyway. Selected 14th overall in April's draft, Barnett is having something of a quiet rookie season with 14 tackles and 2½ sacks in a situational role. However, his 10 quarterback hits are tied with Curry for second on the team, in far fewer snaps. Barnett is clearly the future at end and there's a good chance he'll be elevated to starter by next season, possibly making Curry expendable. Regardless, this is as strong a core group of linemen as you'll come across in the NFL.

Free-agents-to-be
Beau Allen, Chris Long

With the cap situation the way it is, the Eagles can't afford to keep everyone. It would be a shame to lose role players such as Allen, an ideal rotational player up the middle, or Long, a veteran pass-rush specialist off the edge. At the same time, either player could theoretically re-sign for 2018, keeping the tremendous depth intact behind the Eagles' front four. Even without them, the line is stacked, but just imagine if one or both decide to stick around.

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

Eagles releasing Mychal Kendricks the right thing to do

For the past two years, the Eagles kept Mychal Kendricks in a state of limbo. It was about time the team set him free.

The Eagles didn’t release Kendricks on Tuesday simply because it was “the right thing to do” — if there was such a thing in this instance. They did it because the move will save $6 million against the salary cap in 2018. They did it because Corey Nelson is a cheaper alternative. They did it because Kendricks isn’t an ideal fit for Jim Schwartz’s scheme. They did it because, evidently, they couldn’t find a trade partner.

In short, the Eagles released Kendricks because the 27-year-old linebacker wasn’t worth $16-plus million over the next two seasons. That really should be enough.

It was also about time the Eagles put Kendricks out of his misery. He made no secret about being unhappy with his reduced role since Schwartz became defensive coordinator, asking the team to either cut him or move him last offseason. The subject of trade rumors annually since 2015, Kendricks probably hadn’t felt comfortable about his standing with the organization for quite awhile.

At what point are the Eagles holding him hostage?

Good thing the club didn’t oblige Kendricks’ request last year, as he wound up filling in for the injured Jordan Hicks and playing a pivotal part in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Some see that as evidence the team made a mistake in letting a six-year veteran with 78 career NFL starts to walk away for nothing.

While it’s true Kendricks came up big in 2017, he wasn’t exactly an impact player for the Eagles, finishing the season with four tackles for loss and two sacks in 18 games, including playoffs. He hasn’t forced a fumble since 2015. He hasn’t recorded an interception since 2013. And rushing the passer, arguably his greatest strength, goes almost completely unutilized in Schwartz’s scheme, which sent Kendricks after opposing quarterbacks just eight times all year, according to Pro Football Focus.

Numbers may not do Kendricks’ campaign justice, but typically more would be expected of somebody who was set to carry a $7.6 million cap figure into ’18.

The Eagles also feel they are in better shape now in terms of depth at the position (see story).

Kendricks’ days appeared to be numbered the moment the club signed Nelson and the free-agent addition declared he would compete for the starting weakside linebacker job. It’s unclear whether the Eagles are putting too much faith in the former Denver Broncos reserve and the host of linebacker prospects already on the roster. Regardless, the team likes its options.

So why force Kendricks to stick around? From the team’s standpoint, it was a lot of money for the level of production, for not being a great scheme fit and given his impending return to the bench. The Eagles were wise to keep him around for one more year, but with other arrangements since made, moving on now doesn’t sting as much.

The fact Kendricks was anything less than thrilled to be back only makes it easier. After handling his displeasure like a pro last season, then helping the Eagles win their first Super Bowl championship, granting his release seems like the least the team could do.

Joel Embiid takes shot at Aron Baynes on Twitter

Joel Embiid takes shot at Aron Baynes on Twitter

With the Sixers eliminated, Joel Embiid was asked at his end-of-the-season press conference if he had a prediction for which remaining team would win the NBA championship.

His response was short and simple.

"Nah," he said, "I don't care."

However, Embiid looks like he's still keeping some tabs on the NBA postseason.

And, watching from afar, he's apparently not too impressed with Aron Baynes.

If you recall, during the Eastern Conference semifinals series in which the Sixers fell to the Celtics in five games, Embiid and Baynes had their moments.

Lots of physicality. A few minor scuffles. And this monster dunk by Embiid.

That's probably what the Sixers' big man was referring to when he tweeted Monday night during Game 4 of the Cavaliers-Celtics series.

Could this play have prompted the tweet?

Baynes probably isn't focused on Embiid or Twitter right now in the heat of the Eastern Conference Finals, but maybe he'll be asked about the tweet during media availability sessions before the series goes to Game 5 Wednesday.

The 31-year-old from New Zealand, a role player not known for tons of offense but with a championship ring, can become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. We'll have to see where he plays next season, but let's hope some matchups with Embiid are in the near future.