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February 16, 2018

Brandon Graham wants a new contract, and the Eagles should give him one

Over the last three seasons, one of the biggest bargains on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster has been Brandon Graham, who has significantly outplayed a four-year, $26 million deal he signed during the 2015 offseason.

With one year left on his deal, Graham wants a new contract and wasn't shy about saying so on NBC Sports Philadelphia. Transcription via Dave Zangaro of NBC Philly:

"For me, it's all about getting as much as you can while you can play because when it's over, it's over. I know Howie (Roseman) and those guys, if they want me here, they're going to make sure that they get me here. For me, I want to be here. Everybody knows I want to be here. They see the passion I have and I'm happy to be able to bring the trophy back to Philly. Now, it's just all about just making sense, just getting me protected for the future. Because obviously I want to retire here and I know I'm going to retire here because I've been here a long time. I would love to retire here. It's all on what they want to do. I'm just going to embrace it, whatever it is."
While perhaps not the best phrasing to gain public sentiment, Graham most certainly does deserve significantly more than what he is making. 

Looking solely at sack totals, Graham won't exactly wow anybody. He had a personal best 9.5 sacks in 2017 and has just 38.5 for his career. However, any close observer of the team can clearly see that Graham consistently creates pressure in the passing game and is one of the best run defenders in the NFL. He is easily the Eagles' best edge defender, and among the top 10, league-wide. He helped lead the Eagles' No. 1 ranked run defense, and oh, by the way, he also made perhaps the second biggest play in Eagles history a couple weeks ago in the Super Bowl.

Presently, however, Graham is the fourth-highest paid defensive lineman on the team:

 PlayerYears Total Avg per year 
 Fletcher Cox$102.6mm $17.1mm 
 Tim Jernigan$48mm $12mm 
 Vinny Curry$46.25mm $9.25mm 
 Brandon Graham$26mm $6.5mm 

One argument that will almost certainly be made against Graham is his age. In my view, that argument does not hold water. Graham is presently 29 years old and will turn 30 in April. He is in his prime, as 2016 and 2017 were easily the two best seasons of his career. But beyond that, Graham has relatively low mileage. Here's a look at his snap counts going all the way back to his rookie season:

Brandon Graham Snaps Snap % on defense 
 2010Data N/A (played in 13 games, started 6) Data N/A 
 2011Data N/A (played in only 3 games) Data N/A 
 2012421 40.2% 
 2013323 26.8% 
 2014499 43.1% 
 2015856 70.6% 
 2016765 75.0% 
 2017666 64.6% 

As the chart shows, Graham only became a regular starter over the last three seasons. In his first five seasons, he was a rotational player who played far fewer than 50 percent of the snaps on defense. In other words, in comparison to many other defensive ends with eight years under their belts, Graham's body should be fresher. 

So how much will a new deal cost?

The obvious player comparison here is the Vikings' Everson Griffen, who signed a four-year extension worth $58 million last offseason. It is debatable which player is better. Personally, I'll take Graham for his overall game, though certainly there are arguments for both players. 

To note, Griffen had two years left on his deal when he signed, while Graham only has one, which should give the Eagles more urgency to get something done with Graham than the Vikings had with Griffen. At the time of Griffen's signing, he was 29 years old, like Graham is now. Griffen's cap charges were structured like so:

  1. 2017: $8,600,000
  2. 2018: $11,600,000
  3. 2019: $11,900,000
  4. 2020: $13,900,000
  5. 2021: $14,400,000
  6. 2022: $15,500,000

While Griffen will remain under the Vikings' control through 2022, it is really more like a two-year contract, as the Vikings can easily get out of that deal during the 2019 offseason, at which point it would be a measly $1,200,000 in dead money to release him.

In 2018, Graham's cap number is $8 million. The Eagles could realistically actually lower his cap charge in 2018 by working out a contract extension, and if a deal were to be structured anything like Griffen's, the Eagles could protect themselves against any age concerns by making him easily releasable after two seasons.

Realistically, the Eagles should be falling over themselves trying to get Graham to sign a deal similar to Griffen's. From Graham's perspective, it should take more.

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