Hard To Say Goodbye?
Stay Or Go: Major Decisions For Birds On Graham, Cox, Hargrave
Free agency kicks off March 15, and the Eagles will be faced with some difficult decisions over the next few weeks with a number of pending free agents.
Often difficult to forecast, rosters are largely fluid year-to-year and susceptible to change. Veteran mainstays are jettisoned, new players enter the fold, and the draft essentially acts as a table setter.
In an attempt to outline the roster in its current state, we examined the defensive line in the third installment of Inside The Birds’ stay-or-go exercise.
Barnett, who signed a three-year free agent deal last spring that was structured more like a two-year deal, will presumably return from his season-ending ACL injury without a hitch. The 26-year-old former first-round pick projects as valuable depth at a position that could potentially lose two veterans in free agency. You could do far worse than having Barnett – who has logged 45 starts through six seasons — as your third or fourth rotational edge rusher. Ruling: Stay
Despite accounting for just shy of 43 percent of the defensive snaps last season – and returning from an Achilles injury – Graham turned in the first double-digit sack season of his 13-year career, proving he has plenty of gas remaining in the tank. When putting into perspective what BG means to the franchise, the locker room culture, and the city of Philadelphia, it’s hard to envision him playing elsewhere. He embodies what it means to be an Eagle. Ruling: Stay
A sixth-round pick in 2021, Jackson played sparingly as a rookie and lasted just four games last season before ultimately being waived and finishing his sophomore campaign on the practice squad. The positional depth will be far richer in ’23 with Barnett – and Graham, potentially – returning, in addition to likely adding a prospect via the draft, so it’s hard to configure where exactly Jackson fits into the equation. Ruling: Go
Believe it or not, Leo has innocuously loomed on the Eagles’ practice squad since 2020 as a member of the NFL’s International Pathway Program. A practice squad roster exemption, there’s really no harm or foul in keeping Leo around for a fourth season, though at 30 years old, perhaps the Leo era has run its course. Leo has looked overmatched in preseason games, so I’m not sure how much he has developed or what benefit he offers the scout team by keeping him around. Ruling: Go
As a longtime Robert Quinn advocate, it was tough watching a perennial game-wrecker – ranked No. 7 among active sack leaders (102.0) – look like a shell of himself in year 12. Acquired for a fourth-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft ahead of the NFL trade deadline, Quinn offered little burst and pass-rush prowess, almost laboring in his movements, suggesting he was hampered by injury throughout his brief Eagles tenure. In six games, the 32-year-old contributed just two tackles and a pair of quarterback hits in 88 snaps. With an expiring contract, and an uncertain future, it’s fair to wonder whether Quinn has played his last snap. By all accounts a class act in every sense, Quinn has led a distinguished career, and based on the reverence of former teammates – notably Roquan Smith and Chris Long – it’s evident that he is an even better human being. If this fork in the road ultimately spells the end of an illustrious career, Quinn will leave the sport having accomplished a number of team-oriented benchmarks in his final stop that nearly eluded him. Ruling: Go
In his first season in Philadelphia, Reddick finished second in the NFL in sacks (16.0), while adding 11 tackles for loss, three passes defended, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. A second-team All Pro and Pro Bowler, it’s unfathomable that Reddick wasn’t among the finalists for Defensive Player of the Year. For my money, given his impact on games, Reddick should have been named DPOY. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old will look to build on his career season as he fronts a lethal Eagles pass rush in ’23. Ruling: Stay
Signed off the Vikings’ practice squad in mid-September, Robinson’s spot on a loaded Eagles roster always seemed to be in limbo, though it was telling how the team kept finding ways to ensure he remained in-house to avoid losing a potential future developmental component. A fourth-round pick in 2021 out of Florida State, Robinson offers intriguing size (6-5, 260) and athleticism to a position group largely absent of young talent. Though staring down the barrel of an expected numbers crunch in training camp, Robinson is fully healthy and will undoubtedly benefit from a full offseason with the team. Perhaps the 24-year-old can snag one of the final spots in the rotation. Ruling: Go
While on the subject of career seasons, Sweat – the team’s purest pass rusher – turned in one of his own, registering 11 sacks and a career-high 23 quarterback hits in his fifth season. The lengthy pass-rusher – who boasts an astounding 84-inch wingspan – even managed to come up with an interception, taking it 42 yards for a score against Dallas on Christmas Eve. Sweat’s effectiveness was enhanced by the team’s deep rotation, which allowed Sweat to accomplish career feats while playing just 53 percent of the snaps. Ruling: Stay
One of the franchise’s all-time greats and locker room pillar, Cox statistically turned in his best performance in four seasons, notching 43 tackles (7 for loss), 7.5 sacks, and 14 quarterback hits in 17 games. The 32-year-old also accounted for the eighth-most snaps on defense (713), exhibiting no signs of slowing down. Given the wealth of inexperience and uncertainty behind Cox and Hargrave, it behooves the Eagles to ensure one remains in-house. In this scenario, though, the Eagles go with youth and pass-rush upside. Ruling: Go
Deployed sparingly as a rookie, Davis steps into the limelight in Year 2. While it’s unclear how Davis, selected to play in Jonathan Gannon’s scheme, will fit into the next coordinator’s plans, one thing for certain is the former first-round pick will be called upon to play a more prominent role. Whether Davis’ role entails starting or serving as a crucial rotational component, we’re going to learn a lot. Ruling: Stay
He won’t come cheap, but the Eagles will likely prioritize retaining Hargrave, who racked up a career-high 11.0 sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season. Pass rush prowess aside, Hargrave would provide a veteran presence to a young and inexperienced room. When assessing the team’s extensive list of free agents, it’s glaringly apparent that Hargrave needs to be among the top priorities. Ruling: Stay
Called upon late in the season in hopes of revitalizing a foundering run defense, the 34-year-old Joseph stepped in and immediately made an impact while also serving as a veteran mentor. Joseph started all eight games in which he appeared, racking up 20 tackles, a half-sack, and quarterback hit. The burly defensive tackle accounted for 38 percent of the defensive snaps. It’s unlikely the Eagles rush to get a deal done with Joseph, but assuming he remains in playing shape, it could be another special case of “call me in November.” But I don’t envision Joseph around for training camp. Ruling: Go
Like Joseph, Suh was brought in for the stretch run to fortify the run defense. Suh, 35, contributed 10 tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits in eight games. The well-traveled veteran accounted for 35 percent of the team’s snaps. Another potential “call me in November” scenario if the situation calls for it. Ruling: Go
Before a debilitating mid-season injury derailed an otherwise promising sophomore campaign, Tuipulotu appeared to be finding his footing in the rotation, amassing 16 tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hits while accounting for 38 percent of the defensive snaps. Depth competition will be inevitable in training camp, where cream rises to the top, but Tuipulotu was trending enough in the right direction for me to believe he’ll latch on as the No. 4 or 5 in the rotation. Ruling: Stay
Despite being widely overlooked among a star-studded roster, Williams accumulated a bevy of hustle plays and managed to double his rookie sack total in fewer snaps. His burst, athleticism, and power at the line of scrimmage was apparent. In 2023 – with Cox and Hargrave potentially playing elsewhere – the Louisiana Tech product is poised for an elevated role. In a more prominent capacity, Williams has the ability to accrue 6-7 sacks and bear down on opposing quarterbacks, serving as a consistently disruptive force along the interior. Ruling: Stay
Wilson proved ineffective against the run in his lone regular-season appearance last season – a game in which Texans running back Dameon Pierce rolled up 139 rushing yards on 27 carries – and faded into obscurity. The 24-year-old offers some upside as a developmental prospect, and the numbers suggest there will be no shortage of reps in this summer, but assuming the team adds to the interior stable via the draft, Wilson will have an uphill battle to crack the 53. Ruling: Go
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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