Here are the players in the mix: Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt and Darryl Tapp.
Of that group, Babin, Cole, Graham and Curry are locks to make the roster. If the Birds keep six defensive ends (a high number, especially considering Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox can play outside), Hunt and Tapp could both make the team.
But more likely, one of them will be cut, or possibly traded. There’s a place in the league for both of them.
Hunt is younger by about 16 months. He’s currently 26, and Tapp is 27. Tapp carries a base salary and cap number of about $2.575M. Hunt, on the other hand, has a cap number of about $487,000, according to EaglesCap.com. Tapp is scheduled to become a free agent after the season; Hunt is signed through 2013 ($555,000) and would be a restricted free agent in 2014.
In terms of salary and future control, Hunt is the more attractive option.
But what about production?
Tapp had 2.5 sacks and 22 hurries in 2011; Hunt had two sacks and 13 hurries. Of course, it’s important here to look at pass-rushing opportunities. Tapp had 172, according to Pro Football Focus; Hunt had 105.
Below is a table looking at sack percentage and hurry percentage.
As you can see, the numbers are relatively similar on both fronts, although in terms of upside, I’d say Hunt has the edge.
And while the coaching staff might disagree, there is more to defensive line play than just rushing the passer. Tapp is clearly the better player against the run. As I’ve written in the past, he may be the second-best run defender among defensive ends, behind only Cole. Tapp was tied last year for second on the team with seven tackles for loss.
Hunt and Babin are pass-rush specialists. That means in many ways, Tapp’s value is tied to guys like Graham, Curry, Jenkins and Cox. If the Eagles are confident one or two of those players can provide depth behind Cole and hold up against the run, Tapp becomes more expendable.
At this point, Hunt seems safe. He’s young and has a relatively small salary for the next two seasons. Considering his upside and the fact that Cole turns 30 in October, and Babin is 32, Hunt is an asset the Eagles will likely want to hold on to.
Tapp’s future is more in question. He’s a productive player, who provides depth behind Cole and is well-liked and respected by his teammates. There are still three preseason games to get through, and injuries can play a factor here, but if things stay the same, the Eagles will have to decide between trading Tapp and keeping six defensive ends.
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