Eagles Wake-Up Call: More Pass-Rush Help?


Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Today’s question comes from reader Andy, via e-mail:

How do you feel about the current state and future of the LB corps? They have two free agents in Brandon Graham and friend of the commenters Casey Matthews. Can they keep Trent Cole at his present price? Will Marcus Smith II ever see the field? Is ‘Meco done-o? The only non-question it seems is Mychal Kyndricks. Is that too many questions for one Wake-Up Call?

If I’m being perfectly honest here, Andy, yes, that’s way too many questions. We’ve got a whole offseason to get through here and need to spread the wealth!

So let’s split it up the topics you mentioned. We wrote about DeMeco Ryans yesterday. And we’re currently rolling out offseason outlook pieces for each position. So today, let’s talk about the outside linebackers and the pass-rush.

As we’ve seen over the past two seasons, outside linebacker is a premiere position in this defense. And right now, the Eagles only have one sure thing: Connor Barwin. As you alluded to, Cole has a cap hit of over $11.6 million. Graham is a free agent. And Smith is a complete unknown. So even though this isn’t often discussed as a need position, key decisions will have to be made this offseason.

Barwin is fantastic. He may never reach the sack numbers he put up last year, but he’s great against the run, plays with discipline and is good in coverage. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want in the front seven of what you hope to be an ascending defense.

Graham is the key here. He showed great improvement last year and developed into a very good outside linebacker. Graham had a shot to play more snaps down the stretch with Cole injured and didn’t distinguish himself, but I am still a believer. I think he is a gifted pass-rusher and can be a good starter. Having said that, I’m not sure the Eagles will be able to bring him back. Pass-rushers generally get paid, and 4-3 teams will likely have a lot of interest in Graham’s services.

If he bolts, the Eagles either have to bring Cole back or have to sign a free agent. Cole hinted that he’d be willing to restructure his deal, so bringing him back for another season at a lower price seems like a viable option. The Eagles cannot go into next season expecting to get anything from Smith. They can hope that he develops, but hoping and expecting are two different things.

Travis Long is a name to stash away. He was in position to land a rotational role before he went down with a knee injury in the preseason.

If I’m projecting right now, I think Graham signs elsewhere and Cole returns at a cheaper price. I think the Eagles also will take a close look at the free agents available at this spot.

Even though most of the focus will be on the secondary, the decisions at OLB in the coming months will be critical.

Your question can be the topic of the morning post. Simply leave one in the comments section, on Twitter (@Tim_McManus and @SheilKapadia), via e-mail ([email protected] and [email protected]) or on Facebook. We’ll choose one each day and answer it.

We’ll go through the questions once a month and randomly select a reader for a free Birds 24/7 t-shirt.

WHAT YOU MISSED

How much did DeMeco Ryans’ absence hurt the defense?

A roundup of the latest mock drafts and prospect rankings.

A look at what’s in store this offseason with the Eagles wide receivers.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Comcast SportsNet caught up with Seattle reporter Paul Silvi about Byron Maxwell’s future in Seattle:

“We talked to Byron after the Super Bowl and we kind of felt like that’s the last time we’re gonna be talking to him.

“The thought process here is there’s no way [the Seahawks] are gonna be able to keep this guy. General manager John Schneider said earlier in January that Maxie is a top priority for us, but if you’re gonna sign Russell Wilson to that deal, if you’re gonna sign Bobby Wagner — who’s gonna get a fat contract for sure — I don’t know how they’re gonna have any money left to sign one of the top up-and-coming cornerbacks in Byron Maxwell.”

But Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com believes that injuries may force Seattle to pay Maxwell:

By my count, four of the Seahawks’ top five players in their secondary head into the offseason injured, some more seriously than others. The only healthy starter in the Seahawks secondary is free agent-to-be Byron Maxwell, who is widely thought to be a perfect fit at corner for the Eagles, should they opt to pursue him in free agency.

The Seahawks have a lot of work to do this offseason with player contracts. Russell Wilson may become the highest paid player in the NFL, and Seattle is going to have to figure out what to do with Marshawn Lynch. Still, with so many defensive backs in the M*A*S*H unit, the Seahawks may need to put a high priority on retaining Maxwell.

COMING UP

We’ll take a look at the Eagles’ RB situation.