Eagles Roster Analysis: Defense
As the Eagles begin their search for a new head coach, candidates will care about the franchise’s new power structure, what kind of owner Jeffrey Lurie is, and what the city of Philadelphia is like. But what they’ll really want to know about is the talent on the roster and the salary cap situation.
Adam broke down the offense, and I’m taking a look at the defense. The position guys play could change based off the scheme the new head coach implements, but we’ll categorize players by where they fit in Billy Davis’s 3-4.
(All contract information is via Spotrac, including the 2016 dead cap numbers.)
This position group is the strength of the Eagles, but it may not be for much longer. Ndamukong Suh set the market for an elite defensive lineman at around $20 million a year, so Fletcher Cox could easily be looking at a $100 million deal. Cox was named to his first Pro Bowl this season, but he’ll earn many more honors in the next several years and is a guy the Eagles shouldn’t let get away.
Bennie Logan started out this year by dominating, but he took a step back in the second half of the season as he played through injuries. He’s another good talent the Eagles should retain, and could combine with Cox to make a good duo on the defensive line for years to come.
The perception seems to be that Vinny Curry, one of the Eagles’ best pass-rushers, will walk in free agency in favor of a 4-3 team, but it’s possible Philadelphia’s next head coach will implement that scheme. The Eagles were probably hoping Taylor Hart would step up this season so they would feel comfortable letting Cedric Thornton walk and keep Hart as a cheap alternative, but Hart hasn’t impressed at all.
After Brandon Graham proved to be a good third outside linebacker last year, the Eagles failed to find anyone to replace his spot in the rotation this season. Because Marcus Smith has been disappointing so far, Connor Barwin and Graham rarely get a breather in base defense.
The two guys at the top of the rotation are locked in for the next few years, but if the Eagles stay in a 3-4 scheme, expect them to try to add depth at this position. If Philadelphia shifts to a 4-3, it may not matter.
Graham said this week that he thinks he’s equally effective in both schemes, but the more he talked about it, the more he seemed to warm up to a 4-3. He appeared to enjoy discussing the possibility of playing defensive end without the responsibility of dropping back into coverage, and he added that his weight would allow him to play in both schemes.
Before this season, this position looked to be a strength for the Eagles. But after Jordan Hicks suffered his season-ending injury, it spiraled downward. DeMeco Ryans, while providing good leadership and football intelligence on the field, was bad in pass coverage in many instances. Kiko Alonso struggled after returning from injury, and Mychal Kendricks seemed to make a habit of overrunning plays.
However, the Eagles will get Hicks back next year, and Kendricks did show flashes as he made a few impressive plays. Alonso could simply need more time to recover both physically and mentally from his injury, allowing him to return closer to his rookie year form.
It doesn’t seem like Ryans will be in Philadelphia that much longer, but it’d be surprising if the Eagles made any significant moves at this position. They have a trio of young guys with potential, but it’s unknown how a potential new head coach and defense could affect their growth.
This is a position the Eagles will likely address in the offseason, whether through free agency or the draft. Although Byron Maxwell is locked in for the near future and Eric Rowe made good stides as a rookie, the Eagles will have to re-sign Nolan Carroll or E.J. Biggers or add depth from somewhere else.
JaCorey Shepherd suffered a tough break with his season-ending injury, but he may emerge as the nickel cornerback next season. Even if the new staff thinks enough of Denzel Rice to keep him around, the Eagles will have one more spot to fill unless Jaylen Watkins is also retained.
This is the position group that has probably been the most pleasant surprise for the Eagles. Malcolm Jenkins has played at a Pro Bowl level, and although Walter Thurmond’s production has declined in the last several games, he has still outplayed his contract.
It’s tough to project the future of Thurmond without knowing who the defensive coordinator will be next season, but he works well with Jenkins. They compliment each other because Jenkins is best closer to the line of scrimmage, while Thurmond thrives in robber-type coverages when he can just play off of his instincts and read the quarterback’s eyes.
Both of them are also versatile enough to play corner if necessary, and Chris Maragos is one of the Eagles’ best special teamers.
^Practice squad player
*Injured reserve player