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July 18, 2017

Eagles training camp preview: Defensive end

Next Monday, there will be football again, as quarterbacks, rookies, and select veterans will report for training camp. Leading up to camp, we'll be taking a look at each positional group. Today we'll turn to the defensive side of the ball, beginning with the defensive ends.


First, here's a look at the depth chart at defensive end:

Eagles DEs
 LDEBrandon Graham Vinny Curry Steven Means  
 RDEChris Long Derek Barnett (R) Alex McCalister Marcus Smith 

Because of the importance of the position, and the Eagles' solid depth here, we'll address each player one-by-one:

Brandon Graham

There's an argument to be made that Graham was the Eagles' best player in 2016, as he generated a lot of pressure, and was excellent against the run. He also happens to be on a very team-friendly contract, so the Eagles are finally getting a lot of bang for their buck on a player who had a slow start to his career.

Graham isn't without his detractors, however. Many observers can't get past the fact that his season high total of sacks over his career is 6.5. That's a narrow-minded way of reviewing his overall play the last two seasons, although it's certainly fair to say that at some point Graham is going to have to convert more of his pressures into sacks.

Chris Long

We have Long listed with the starters, but if all goes well with rookie Derek Barnett, Long likely be a starter for long.

After the Eagles made the obvious decision to release Connor Barwin prior to the draft in a money-saving move, they were left with a gaping hole at defensive end. Long turned 32 years old this offseason and should provide defensive line depth. He is more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end than Barwin was, although, like Barwin, Long's career is in its waning stages.

Long does represent formidable competition for Barnett to have to go out and earn a starting job.

Derek Barnett

After the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there were a lot of Eagles fans that hated the selection of Barnett, which really surprised me. I polled the unhappy fans why they didn't like the pick, and the reasons were all over map. A sampling:

  1. The talent that remained on the board was better than Barnett. 
  2. Defensive end wasn't a need. The Eagles already had Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Chris Long.
  3. You can get pass rushers later in the draft.
  4. Barnett isn't athletic.
  5. He's too similar to Brandon Graham.
  6. He's too similar to Marcus Smith.
  7. He's too small.
  8. He's a one-trick pony.
  9. Because he's so reliant on his outside pass rush, professional offensive tackles will easily shut him down.

You can convince me to some degree on point No. 8. I disagree with all the rest and went into much greater detail on why back in May.

During spring practices, which aren't great for evaluating line play because they're not in pads, Barnett flashed some serious ability, getting the best of Lane Johnson on a number of occasions. Once the pads go on, there may not be a player I'm more interested in watching than Barnett.

Vinny Curry

During the 2016 offseason, Curry signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract. In the first year of his new deal, Curry had a disappointing season, posting just 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks while playing only 42.6 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps. 

Curry's cap numbers over the remainder of his deal, via

 YearVinny Curry cap number 

Next offseason, if the Eagles decided to move on from Curry and get out of that deal, they would save $5 million in cap space, with $6 million in dead money.

Curry just turned 29 in June. There's no more wiggle room for upside or potential. For Curry to have any chance of sticking with the team beyond the 2017 season, his production must increase drastically. With the Eagles having already added Long and Barnett this offseason, it will be difficult for Curry to produce, as his snaps could be limited even further.

Still, Curry can help the team in 2017. He was injured early in the 2016 season, and said he wasn't back to 100 percent until the last quarter of the season. If he can produce anything close to the nine sacks and four forced fumbles he had in 2014, that'll be a big help to the defense from a player whose expectations have dropped.

Steven Means

Means had a great camp a season ago, and he made the team, however, he didn't often suit up, as he appeared in just eight games. Means isn't much of a special teams contributor, so he'll either have to improve there this offseason, or have another really strong camp at DE to stick. It helps that Marcus Smith is almost certainly on his way out.

Alex McCalister

I know McCalister is a fan favorite (or hope, or whatever) for his freakish length and athleticism, but I'm sorry, I just don't see anything there at all. I think he's a long shot to make the roster.

Marcus Smith

Smith voluntarily missed all of OTAs, because, um... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

When he showed up for mandatory minicamp, Jim Schwartz buried him on the fourth team defense, behind Means and McCalister.

Smith's base salary this season is $889,515, with a roster bonus of $594,000 coming on the third day of training camp, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry. If the Eagles were to trade (lol) or release Smith prior to the third day of camp, they would save $1,483,515. 

That is a no-brainer.

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