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March 08, 2017

So trading Brandon Graham for Brandin Cooks is 'a thing' now?

Eagles NFL

Over the last week or so, the Philadelphia Eagles fans have become enamored with the idea of trading for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks. And for good reason. 

As we noted last week, Cooks makes sense for the Eagles in pretty much every way possible. He's productive (162 catches for 2311 yards and 17 TDs the last two seasons), he'd give the Eagles the deep threat they lack (4.33 speed and 11 catches of 40+ yards the last two seasons), and while the Eagles would have to pay him a ton eventually, he would come very cheap in 2017, when the Eagles seemingly need cap space the most. Oh, and the Eagles have arguably the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL, so he'd fill an enormous need. So, you know, I get it.

The teams in on the Cooks sweepstakes, as reported by many, are the Eagles, Titans and Patriots. The Saints have all but begged for those teams to up their offers for Cooks, and appear very motivated to move him. In return, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the Saints want picks or a pass rusher.

The only financially tradable pass rusher Eagles have that could possibly interest the Saints, at least in terms of a valuable piece that a deal could be centered around (as opposed to a high draft pick), is Brandon Graham. As such, there are plenty of people who would trade Graham for Cooks. That would be unwise.

"Not only is he a good player, but he plays with incredible effort," said Jim Schwartz of Graham back in November. "He plays with toughness. He's very conscientious. He doesn't make mistakes very often, and when he does make a mistake, he's quick to correct. He's also -- he's quick to take responsibility for plays that he doesn't make or plays that he should make. He's a great teammate. I can't say enough good things about him. He plays the way the game should be played. I'll probably give him -- in my mind, my greatest compliment -- I wasn't a very good player, but if I played in the NFL, I hope I would have played like Brandon Graham."

Beyond Schwartz's extreme fandom for Graham, Schwartz doesn't like to blitz. In fact, the Eagles were among the least-blitzing defenses in the NFL in 2016. Schwartz relies heavily on his front four to create pressure, and if it does not, the rest of the defense on the back end suffers greatly. In other words, having a quality defensive line is paramount in Schwartz's scheme.

With the Eagles all but certain to move on from Connor Barwin this offseason, whether that be via a trade that nets them very little or outright release, the Eagles depth chart would look something like this if they traded Graham:

 LDERDE 
 Vinny CurryMarcus Smith 
 N/ASteven Means 


Is that less than ideal? That seems less than ideal.

The Cardinals' Chandler Jones, the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Chargers' Melvin Ingram were all scheduled to hit free agency this offseason, but they were all franchise tagged because teams don't let good pass rushers get away. The best free agent edge rushers available now? It's not pretty.

But wait, Graham only had 5.5 sacks last season. Is he even good? You bet your ass he is. In addition to playing outstanding run defense, Graham was in the top five in pressures last season, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com.

The 2017 NFL Draft is thought to be strong at edge rusher. While the Eagles could certainly look to add one whether or not Graham is on the team in 2017 (it'd be nuts if he wasn't), know that it's rare for edge rushers to have an immediate impact in the NFL. Below is a list of first round edge rushers selected in the last five drafts and the number of sacks they had their rookie seasons:

 PlayerTeam Drafted overall Sacks 
 Joey BosaChargers 10.5 
 Ezekiel AnsahLions 
 Bruce IrvinSeahawks 15 
 Chandler JonesPatriots 21 
 Whitney MercilusTexans 26 
 Barkevious MingoBrowns 
 Khalil MackRaiders 
Vic Beasley Falcons 
 Anthony BarrVikings 
 Bud DupreeSteelers 22 
 Shane RayBroncos 23 
 Dont'a HightowerPatriots 25 
 Bjoern WernerColts 24 2.5 
 Shea McClellinBears 19 2.5 
 Dion JordanDolphins 
Shaq Lawson  Bills 19 
 Nick PerryPackers 28 
 Dee FordChiefs 23 1.5 
 Jarvis JonesSteelers 17 
 Melvin IngramChargers 18 
 Jadeveon ClowneyTexans 
Dante Fowler Jr.  Jaguars 
 Marcus SmithEagles 26 


That would be 3.57 sacks per player. Oh, and if you trade Graham, you're probably reaching for a DE in the draft. Has that worked out well for the Eagles in the past? (Cough, Marcus Smith, cough).

So yes, Cooks would be a great weapon to add to the Eagles' offense. So would a number of other free agent wide receiver options if a deal can't get done with Cooks. In the free agent scenario, the Eagles would be able to keep their best pass rusher and only legitimate starting DE, which is kind of important.


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