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February 02, 2021

Eagles stay or go: Defensive end

The Philadelphia Eagles have an interesting mix at defensive end, and the contract statuses of Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett are highly likely to change in some form this offseason. Today we'll take a look at who will stay at DE for the Birds, and who will go.

Previous "Stay or Go" analysis: 

Howie Roseman • Doug Pederson 
Quarterback • Running backWide receiver 
Tight end • Offensive tackle • Interior OL

Brandon Graham

Graham was easily the best player on the Eagles' defense through the first half of the season, but his production faded down the stretch:

Brandon Graham Tackles (TFL)Sacks FF QB hits 
 First 8 games21 (9) 11 
 Last 8 games14 (4) 

Off the field, Graham has unlimited energy and positivity, and he is a player that you just want to have around if you're a head coach in the NFL. His veteran presence could be particularly useful to a new and unestablished head coach like Nick Sirianni.

#JimmyVerdict: Graham will turn 33 in April, but the Eagles are going to have to figure out which veteran players' contracts to restructure just to get under the cap before the start of the new league year in mid-March. It'll essentially be an exercise in choosing the least of the evils, and Graham is probably as good a candidate as any. Stay.

Your verdict: 

Derek Barnett

After another season of waiting for Barnett to break out, he finished with just 5.5 sacks in 13 games, bringing his career sack total to 19.5 in four seasons, which falls short of reasonable expectations of a guy picked 14th overall. While still only 24 years old, it's fair to wonder what kind of ceiling Barnett has, given that he was drafted so highly because of his college productivity, as opposed to his athletic measurables. 

Conversely, Josh Sweat, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 draft, lacked college production but had the athletic measurables. Barnett did more than Sweat early in their careers, but Sweat broke out in 2020, and was better than Barnett.

Eagles DEs 2020 snaps Tackles (TFL) Sacks FF QB hits 
 Derek Barnett535 34 (6) 5.5 16 
 Josh Sweat422 38 (9) 12 

There are also concerns about Barnett's durability, as he missed 10 games in 2018, two games in 2019, and three games in 2020.

Last offseason, the Eagles exercised Barnett's fifth year option, and he is scheduled to count for $10,051,000 on the 2021 salary cap. That $10,051,000 isn't guaranteed until the first day of the new league year, so the Eagles will have an interesting decision on Barnett this offseason.

The Eagles have four options:

  1. Pay him the $10,051,000.
  2. Release him, saving that $10,051,000 in full.
  3. Get a new contract done with him.
  4. Trade him.

The Eagles can't afford option No. 1, and option No. 4 feels pretty unlikely, seeing as a team would be taking on his $10+ million salary plus giving up something to get him.

So in our view, it's probably option No. 2 or No. 3. Ideally, the Eagles would like to be able to sign Barnett to a team-friendly contract extension with a low cap number in 2021, and higher numbers in future years. At the same time, they have to be careful not to overpay a player with a limited ceiling who has averaged just five sacks per season.

From Barnett's perspective, if a lucrative extension isn't presented by the Eagles, he could dare them to release him, on the premise that some other team would be willing to pay a 24-year old at a premium position. There's probably a little game of chicken ahead for both sides.

The best comparison for Barnett in terms of market value is probably Shaq Lawson, who was the 19th overall pick in the 2016 draft, the year before Barnett. Lawson had 16.5 sacks for Buffalo his first four season (compared with 19.5 for Barnett), and he had 6.5 his final season with the Bills. In 2020 free agency, Lawson got a three year deal from the Dolphins worth $30 million. Of course, the NFL cap in 2020 was $198.2 million per club. In 2021, it'll likely be $10 million to $20 million less.

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#JimmyVerdict: The guess here is that the Eagles will find a way to keep Barnett with a contract extension, knowing that their cupboard of young talent is nearly bare. We'll project a three-year deal worth around $27 million. Yes, I realize many of you won't want to hear that. Stay.

Your verdict: 

Josh Sweat

As you can see in the Barnett entry above, Sweat had something of a breakout season, collecting six sacks and forcing three fumbles in just 422 snaps in his third NFL season. He'll be entering a contract year in 2021, but for now he's cheap, at just $1,069,398.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay, duh.

Your verdict: 

Vinny Curry

I was told very clearly early in the 2020 offseason that Curry wouldn't be back on the team. Glad I didn't report that, because after a quality fourth DE didn't emerge in training camp, Curry was back in mid-August... again.

Curry will turn 33 in June, and the belief here is that he can help a contender as their fourth DE. But with the Eagles clearly in desperate need to get younger and cheaper, Curry simply can't come back again in 2021.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict: 

Genard Avery

Howie Roseman flushed the Eagles' 2021 fourth round pick down the toilet when he acquired for Avery at the 2019 trade deadline. Jim Schwartz had little use for Avery, but Avery stuck on the roster, likely because Roseman wanted it to work. 

#JimmyVerdict: "Jim wanted nothing to do with Avery, but maybe I can make this new guy play him."

- Howie, probably. 

Stay. 😬

Your verdict: 

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