March 07, 2021
Ever since taking Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick back in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Eagles haven't had much luck with their first-round picks.
It's too early to give final assessments of the two most recent first rounders, Jalen Reagor and Andre Dillard, although neither got off to the start the Eagles had hoped. Overall, however, there's no question Howie Roseman and Co. could've done better in recent years.
In 2014, there was Marcus Smith, who was taken the year after Johnson but lasted fewer than five NFL seasons. Nelson Agholor came a year later, and while he had considerably more success than Smith, he never quite lived up to the billing of a first-round pick. Next up was Carson Wentz, who again had varying degrees of success in Philly, but his tenure recently ended in spectacular fashion with the Eagles taking on a record cap hit simply to avoid having him on the roster next season.
The only other first-round pick since 2013 was 2017's selection of Derek Barnett, who has existed in kind of an in-between area, not quite a bust — he has 19.5 sacks in 48 games (30 starts) — but also not quite living up to what you'd expect from a 14th-overall pick who broke Reggie White's sack record at Tennessee. He hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been great, not unlike the start to Brandon Graham's career in Philly. The former 15th-overall pick had just 11.5 sacks through his first four seasons (he missed nearly all of his second season) and was facing questions about being a potential bust. That narrative, however, has changed significantly over the years.
Perhaps the same can happen for Barnett. At least it appears that's what the Eagles are banking on. As Barnett heads into his fifth NFL season, the Eagles have a decision to make, one that is a direct result of a decision they were forced to make a year ago when they opted to exercise Barnett's fifth-year option.
Because of that, Barnett is on the books for $10 million against the cap this season if he's still on the roster when the new league year starts next week. That wouldn't be a crazy number in a normal year, but with the cap actually decreasing year-over-year, combined with some poor decision-making by the Eagles front office, the Birds are looking to save as much money as possible. And that likely means making some cuts — or at least re-arranging the money and pushing some of it off into future years, a move that's become a Roseman signature over the years.
For Barnett, it appears it could be the latter. The Eagles could save all that money against the cap by releasing or trading the 24-year-old edge rusher, but according to Paul Domowitch of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Birds are actually looking to extend Barnett.
If the Eagles were in better cap shape, they might consider letting Barnett play this year for $10 million, then make a decision on his future next year when his contract is up, much like they did two years ago with their 2015 first-round pick, wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
But they aren’t in good cap shape, and really can’t afford to be having Barnett taking up such a large percentage (approximately 6%) of their cap room. He had just 5 ½ sacks last year and was rated 36th out of 121 edge rushers in pass-rush productivity by Pro Football Focus.
According to two league sources familiar with the situation, the Eagles have had discussions with Barnett’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, about an extension, which would seem to indicate that their preference is to keep him. [inquirer.com]
As Domo points out, the Eagles could wait to make a decision on Barnett's future in Philadelphia, but that wouldn't help them get under the cap before the start of the new league year. According to OverTheCap.com, they're currently $34 million over but that's expected to change as the Eagles continue to restructure and extend several highly-paid veterans, including Darius Slay, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, and even Brandon Graham, the guy who may serve as the perfect comp for Barnett, at least so far in his career.
Given his current trajectory, the Eagles can probably only hope that Barnett becomes Graham.
In the seven seasons since posting 11.5 sacks through his first four seasons, Graham has gone on to average nearly seven sacks per year en route to his first Pro Bowl selection last season. He also played a key role in the Eagles' Super Bowl victory and is one of the leaders of the locker room, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And while it might have seemed like an impossibility back when he was still considered by many to be a bust, Graham is likely going to be the longest-tenured Eagles player this season (assuming Jason Peters doesn't come back) and has spoken about his desire to play his entire career in Philly.
Given that Barnett won't be turning 25 years old until June, giving up on him now would only "make sense" as a salary cap move — and even then it would just be another black eye on Roseman's recent run as Eagles GM. Could you imagine if the Eagles were forced to release Barnett because of poor cap management, only to have him go elsewhere and grow into a dominant defensive end?
With the number of draft misses in recent years, Roseman can't really afford to start giving up on the few good ones he's had, especially if the main reason why is a salary cap mess of his own making. Right now, despite four years worth of tape, it's still a little too early to tell if Barnett is indeed one of the good ones. Hopefully this move will give the Eagles a little more time find out.
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