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April 29, 2020

Ten defensive ends the Eagles could still add via free agency or trade

Eagles NFL
ziggy-ansah_042920_usat James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

Could defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, seen here rushing Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, be an option for Philly?

The Philadelphia Eagles put a ton of resources into their defense so far this offseason, especially in free agency when they addressed that side of the ball almost exclusively and added the likes of Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave. They also used four of their 10 draft picks on defense, added a safety and a trio of linebackers, although none were taken in the first 100 picks of the draft. 

In other words, Jim Schwartz has to be pretty happy with the upgrades he's seen this spring, even after the team let its defensive leader, Malcolm Jenkins, go sign with the Saints in free agency. 

But there is one area they've yet to really address this offseason, one where they seem to have top-end talent but struggle with depth — and one where, given Schwartz' penchant for rotating his defensive lineman, they could really use that depth. That's defensive end.

Sure, the Eagles have Brandon Graham and an improving Derek Barnett, but beyond that there are a slew of questions about what their backups, like how much Josh Sweat and Genard Avery can contribute. 

One of the things Howie Roseman bragged about when discussing the Eagles decision to draft Jalen Hurts in the second round is the amount of money it would save in cap space, which would theoretically allow them to spend elsewhere. The problem with that, however, is the same logic could be applied to the Eagles drafting a defensive starter (or at least regular contributor) in the second round, which would've allowed the team to have a potential future starter under a team-friendly deal for the next four years, rather than using it on a guy who (hopefully) won't see the field. 

That argument also got blown to bits on Wednesday when Jameis Winston signed a backup deal with the Saints for $1.1 million, almost exactly what the Eagles will be paying Jalen Hurts this season. In essence, the Eagles could've drafted someone to fill an area of need — like a linebacker, which they eventually got in the third round, or a defensive end — in Round 2 and added a veteran backup QB in free agency for almost the same price they'll wind up paying Hurts.

Still, if we take Howie at his word and believe that the Eagles are going to use that money they saved by drafting Hurts on another position, the question becomes, where? On Tuesday, we took a look at the Eagles options at running back, another hole they failed to fill during the draft — J.K. Dobbins was available to the Eagles when they took Hurts at 53. Today, let's take a closer look at the defensive ends who remain available via free agency (or trade, in the case of one top option). 

SOME BIG NAMES

Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, Ezekiel Ansah, Everson Griffen

Obviously, the first name here is the outlier. Yannick Ngakoue was hit with the franchise tag by the Jaguars earlier this season, and while he checks all the boxes for the Eagles — age, talent, fit, etc. — his cost might be the thing that ultimately keeps the Eagles from any serious consideration in trading for him, despite Ngakoue's Twitter hints that he'd really like to play here. (Although, if we're being honest, it seems like he just wants to play anywhere other than Jacksonville.) 

Not only would Ngakoue, 25, cost a lot in terms of trade compensation, but his salary would likely put the Eagles beyond where they're comfortable being this time of year, especially if they believe they already have a pair of solid starters in Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, who recently had his fifth-year option picked up. Still, a guy with those skills and at that age is mighty tempting.

Then there's Philly villain Jadeveon Clowney, who knocked Carson Wentz out of the Birds' playoff loss to Seattle with a dirty hit that the NFL decided not fine. One of the things Clowney has working against him, other than his history against the Eagles — this wasn't the first time or even the second time he went after an Eagles QB — is his likely price tag. Clowney entered free agency seeking somewhere in the $20 million per year range, and clearly hasn't gotten that yet. Additionally, the Seahawks reportedly failed to extend an UFA tender, which would've been for $16.5 million. Obviously, the market has dipped for the 27-year-old defensive end, but it's likely not going to drop enough to interest the Eagles in any real way. 

Former fifth-overall pick Ziggy Ansah is also an option for the Eagles as he remains unsigned following the NFL Draft. Interestingly enough, Jim Schwartz was the head coach of the Lions when they drafted Ansah back in 2013, so there's some connection there. Last year, after spending the first five years of his career in Detroit, Ansah signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Seahawks. But with Seattle rotating their ends, much like Schwartz does here in Philly, Ansah was on the field for just over 30% of the defensive snaps. He's also struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons, appearing in just 18 games total. And after being on the field for at least 50% of his teams snaps in each of his first three seasons, he's failed to hit that mark in each of the last three. If the Eagles are looking for a rotational guy, Ansah, 30, might fit. But not if he's going to want starter-level money. 

And finally, there's Everson Griffen, the guy who might make the most sense of any of the players listed in this section. Last season, he was considerably cheaper and much more effective than both Clowney and Ansah, finishing with eight sacks in 15 games while playing nearly 80 percent of his teams snaps. He's now 33 years old, and might be OK with taking a slightly reduced role in order to improve his career longevity and be part of a winning team. As our own Jimmy Kempski pointed out, the Eagles have sung Griffen's praises in the past leading up to games against the Vikings, so maybe there's some interest there. Jimmy also noted that some teams could be concerned about Griffen's mental state, given that he recently revealed that he spent time in a sober living house during the 2018 season. Here's more from that story on Griffen from earlier this month, via NFL.com's Tom Pelissero: 

What they know is largely based on what they read in a widely publicized police report from the 2018 incident: verbal outbursts in practice, prompting the Vikings to order Griffen to undergo a mental health evaluation; one encounter with police at a downtown hotel, another at Griffen's house after he'd entered teammate Trae Waynes' residence, shirtless and uninvited; an escape from an ambulance, before eventually going to a hospital for evaluation. Griffen was not arrested and faced no criminal charges.  [nfl.com]

After a solid 2019 season, perhaps Griffen has found a better way of coping with his issues and could be a good fit in Philly. 

SOME FAMILIAR NAMES

Vinny Curry, Michael Bennett, Treyvon Hester

While the guys in the previous section should be well known to any football fan, these three are players well known to Eagles fans as they've all spent time in midnight green in the past.

Of the three, Vinny Curry has the most experience in Philly, as he was drafted here, played six seasons as an Eagle before signing a one-year deal with the Bucs in free agency in 2018. Last offseason, however, Curry returned to the Eagles and found some success in a limited role behind Graham and Barnett. And as Kempski pointed out in a recent post, bringing him back actually makes a lot of sense for the Eagles. 

Curry ended up being a bargain in 2019, when he made $2.25 million as a rotational DE, who exceeded expectations (or at least my expectations). He had 27 tackles (5 for loss), 5 sacks, and 12 hits on the quarterback. More importantly, Curry played well down the stretch, as he had 4 sacks in the Eagles' final 5 games. He'd be cheap, and the Eagles would of course know what they're getting. 

Beyond knowing what they're getting, Curry would also know what he's getting into — and with the offseason likely to be shortened, getting a guy who already knows the system and what his role will be right off the bat seems like a smart move. 

Both Michael Bennett and Treyvon Hester were members of the Eagles in 2018 — the one year Vinny Curry was in Tampa — and both made a name for themselves playing in Jim Schwartz' system. 

Bennett finished the season with nine sacks while playing just under 70% of the defensive snaps. Last season with the Cowboys and Patriots, Bennett finished with 6.5 sacks but played 150 fewer snaps. He had originally signed a two-year deal worth almost $17 million with the Pats and was traded to the Cowboys during the season. But Dallas opted to let him go rather than absorb an $8.25 million cap hit this season. The question for the 34-year-old vet now becomes whether or not he even wants to come back for another season. If he does, and the price is right, the Eagles might want to take a look. 

Hester, while not as well known around the NFL as some other names here, will always hold a special place in the heart of every Eagles fan for getting a finger on Cody Parkey's infamous Double-Doink that sent the Birds past the Bears in that 2018 wild card game. Hester spent last season in Washington, where he played just 11.7% of their defensive snaps. The former seventh-round pick may not be able to give you what some of these other guys can, but he'd be cheap.

JUST SOME NAMES

Jabaal SheardAdam Gotsis, Clinton McDonald

Each of these three guys are defensive ends in the NFL. That much I can guarantee you. Whether or not the Eagles have any interest, I haven't the slightest clue. But they're all available, so let's take a look...

At 31, Jabaal Sheard may still have some juice left in the tank — and he's definitely the most established player of this group. Fresh off a three-year, $25.5 million deal with the Colts, Sheard is looking for a new team and a new contract. And after spending his entire career so far in the AFC, perhaps a jump over to the NFC is in line for the nine-year vet. Last year, he had a cap hit of nearly $8 million, so he's likely going to cost the Eagles. 

Still, he's had at least 4.5 sacks each of the last five seasons, and has played at least 13 games every year of his career, and has played in at least 15 games in all but three seasons. There's something to be said for that kind of consistency. And as he gets up there in age, he might be willing to take on a lesser role with a new team. 

Adam Gotsis, 27, might be a bit of a stretch, as there's a chance he's not even ready for the start of the 2020 season given that his 2019 season ended early as he underwent knee surgery to address a lingering problem. A former second-round pick, Gotsis, who had just five sacks in 28 starts, struggled to catch on in Denver, and just as things started to look up, a coaching change may have set him back. 

The Australian-born Gotsis took a lot of time to develop, as is common for D-linemen entering the league. Toward the end of the 2018 season, it felt like perhaps Gotsis was turning a corner, as he played very well down the stretch. 

But he didn't appear to be a great fit for Vic Fangio's defense, which came along with the new head-coaching hire in 2019. Although Gotsis started off the season as a starter, he eventually lost his spot and went a stretch as a healthy scratch before the knee injury that had been lingering since he was drafted flared up to a point that required surgical attention.  [si.com]

With physicals current tough to work out given the stay-at-home orders, it might be tough for the Eagles to have a look at Gotsis, but if the Eagles continue to have a need for depth at defensive end as the season nears and the country begins to open back up, he could be an option. 

Clinton McDonald, 33, is the elder statesman of the group and has been a bit of a journeyman throughout his NFL career, playing on five teams in 10 seasons. While a neck injury limited him to just nine games and under 130 snaps last season in Arizona, McDonald has been a rotational defensive end for the majority of his career, playing anywhere between 43-57% of his teams snaps in each of the previous six seasons. He's never had more than 5.5 sacks in a season, but as a rotational DE, that's not too shabby. Like Gotsis, however, McDonald's season was cut short due to injury and he finished the season on IR, the Birds will have to do their homework to decide if taking a flyer on this veteran will be worth it. The price should certainly be right...


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