Eagles Offseason Outlook: Defensive Line
Throughout the next two weeks, we’ll take a position-by-position look at where the Eagles stand going into the offseason. We have covered the quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive line so far. Now it’s on to the defensive line.
STATE OF THE ROSTER
Five of the six players who were in the Eagles’ rotation last year – Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Bair, Beau Allen and Vinny Curry – are all under contract for 2015.
The name missing from that list is Cedric Thornton. The starting left defensive end is a restricted free agent, meaning the Eagles can match offers for him.
Another player who figures to be in the mix is Taylor Hart. The Eagles spent a fifth-round pick on Hart last spring, but he was inactive for all 16 games. The expectation for 2015 should be for Hart to earn a backup spot, presumably from Bair, who is 30 years old.
Overall, this was probably the best-performing unit on the team last year. Cox made the leap. Logan emerged as one of the better nose tackles in the league. Thornton continued to be a consistent producer. And Curry found a role as a sub-package pass-rusher.
WHAT I THINK WILL HAPPEN
This seems like a pretty good offseason to solidify the strength of the defense. While Cox is under contract for 2015, he’s also eligible to have his deal extended/renegotiated. Cox was the best player on the team last year and performed at a Pro Bowl level. He’s exactly the kind of homegrown talent the Eagles should lock up and build around. It’s hard to believe that he’s only 24 years old. Getting something done with Cox long-term should be a priority for the franchise in the coming weeks. And I think it will be.
The other player to keep an eye on is Thornton. I think the Eagles will lock him up long-term as well. He’s 26, has the size/length the coaches like from their two-gappers up front and has been excellent against the run since the Eagles switched over to a 3-4. Thornton fits the #culture and has proven he’s a quality starter.
The only thing working against him is he has not been a prolific pass-rusher. Thornton often came off the field with Logan in passing situations. But still, I think the Eagles showed last year that it’s OK to have defensive linemen with different skill sets (Thornton vs. Curry, for example). The formula can still work.
THE FREE AGENT LIST
Here are the top-10 defensive linemen, per Rotoworld. Note that this does not include defensive ends, who are essentially OLBs in the Eagles’ scheme.
1. Ndamukong Suh
2. Nick Fairley
3. Terrance Knighton
4. Dan Williams
5. Jared Odrick
6. Stephen Paea
7. C.J. Mosley
8. Henry Melton
9. Cory Redding
10. Letroy Guion
I would be surprised if the Eagles made a significant move on the defensive line in free agency. They have three young starters whom they like.
The draft, however, is a different story. Curry’s contract is up after 2015. And the other backups – Allen and Bair – did not distinguish themselves in rotational roles. It would not be surprising to see the Eagles address the defensive line at some point in the draft.
Could they use an early pick on a player up front? I think they would have to determine that the specific player has Fletcher Cox-like upside and is a three-down player who can get after the QB. So I’d lean towards no, but won’t rule it out completely.