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December 21, 2016

Eagles stay or go: Defensive ends

Eagles NFL
122116ConnorBarwin Bill Kostroun/AP

Connor Barwin's skill set is better suited for a 3-4 scheme.

The 2016 Philadelphia Eagles season is essentially over, so with two games remaining, we'll continue to look ahead to the offseason. As a starting point, let's take a look at each position and figure out which players will be back in 2017. Today we'll look at the defensive ends.

In case you missed our previous positional previews:

Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers | Tight ends
Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers

Brandon Graham

There's an argument to be made that Graham was the Eagles' best player in 2016, and he has a very team-friendly contract. Graham isn't going anywhere, obviously.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Connor Barwin

Barwin has become a valuable member of the Philadelphia community and he is a favorite of Jeffrey Lurie, I'm told. Unfortunately, from a football standpoint, he simply does not fit Jim Schwartz's 4-3 scheme. 

Throughout the Chip Kelly era, Barwin was one of the most valuable members in Billy Davis' 3-4 defense because of his versatility. Barwin can cover, rush the passer, and play the run, but is not a dominant player when doing any of those things.

In Schwartz's scheme, Barwin is being asked to beat left tackles mano-e-mano, which is not his strength. Schwartz needs his front four to be able to generate pressure on their own, without the benefit of blitzing, and Barwin has simply been invisible far too often during long stretches of games.

In 2017, Barwin will count for $8,350,000 against the cap, $7,750,000 of which the Eagles can save if they cut or trade him. That is a figure that the Eagles simply cannot keep on their books for the production Barwin has provided.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict:

Vinny Curry

Last offseason, Curry signed a five-year, $46.25-million contract. After one season, the Eagles' return on that investment has not been good. While Curry has gotten pressure at times, he has just 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and no forced fumbles this season. Still, Curry's contract dictates that he is probably locked in on the Eagles' roster through the 2018 season.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Marcus Smith

Like it or not, Smith will probably survive the entirety of his rookie contract. In 2017, Smith will count for $2,481,533 against the cap, $1,483,515 of which the Eagles will save if they cut or trade him. If indeed the Eagles cut or trade Connor Barwin, the Eagles will be down a player on their depth chart at defensive end. While he is clearly a first round bust, Smith hasn't been awful this season, and he's a contributor (although not necessarily a big playmaker) on the Eagles' special teams units. 

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Steven Means

There's certainly an argument to be made that Means deserves to stick around in favor of Marcus Smith, seeing as Means will count for $690,000 against the cap in 2017, and the Eagles would save $1,483,515 if they cut Smith, as noted above. There's also the point to be made that Means outplayed Smith in training camp and the preseason last year in the regular defense.

Unfortunately, the NFL isn't always fair. In 2016, Smith dressed for every game, while Means was more of a 50-50 shot each week on whether or not he would appear on the inactive list. That alone shows that Smith is very clearly ahead of Means on the depth chart. Smith is also a core special teamer, but it's not as if he makes much in the way of plays there. 

If it were up to me, I'd keep Means over Smith. But it's not, so my guess is that Means will be a player who comes to camp next summer but will once again have an uphill climb to make the team.

#JimmyVerdict: No need to release before training camp, but ideally the Eagles will have found an upgrade.

Your verdict:

To note, we did not forget Bryan Braman, who is technically listed as a DE, but will only actually play there in preseason games. We don't have enough room for him in the chart below, so we'll include him with the specialists.

#JimmyVerdict Stay or Go Results

Green = Stay

Orange = No need to release before training camp, but ideally the Eagles will have found an upgrade

Red = Go

 QBCarson Wentz Chase Daniel    
 RBRyan Mathews Darren Sproles Wendell Smallwood Kenjon Barner  
 WRJordan Matthews Nelson Agholor Dorial Green-Beckham Bryce Treggs Paul Turner 
 TEZach Ertz Brent Celek Trey Burton   
 LTJason Peters Matt Tobin Dillon Gordon   
 LGAllen Barbre Stefen Wisniewski    
 CJason Kelce Josh Andrews    
 RGBrandon Brooks Isaac Seumalo    
 RTLane Johnson Halapoulivaati Vaitai    
 DEBrandon Graham Connor Barwin  Vinny CurryMarcus Smith Steven Means 
 Head coach     
 Defensive coordinator     

And yes, for the record, I realize there's probably more green than you'd expect from a 5-9 team.

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