Why Hargrave Over Cornerback?
Listeners to the Inside the Birds podcast over the past few episodes learned two important facts about what to expect from the Eagles when free agency opened.
One: the Eagles would face stiff competition from spend-happy teams with abundant cap space in the race for Byron Jones. Just being front and center wouldn’t be good enough itself to land the former Cowboys corner.
Two: the Eagles would attempt to be more aggressive in the defensive tackle market than at wide receiver or safety. I mentioned on the most recent pod that the Eagles were interested in former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
It appears that losing out on Jones enabled Howie Roseman to change plans and fork over the money needed for Hargrave, bringing another valued interior pass rusher to the defensive line.
Here are the details on Hargrave’s contract from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
Former Steelers’ NT Javon Hargrave reached agreement with the Eagles on a three-year, $39m deal with $26M fully guaranteed, @RosenhausSports tells ESPN. Hargrave becomes the highest paid nose tackle in the NFL.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 17, 2020
Why sign Hargrave instead of a different corner, safety or wide receiver?
Roseman has repeatedly said since re-becoming the team’s top personnel chief in 2016 that he would treat free agency differently than he did in his first reign atop the personnel totem pole, and his actions have backed his words.
He’s spent much more judiciously, targeting building-block free agents who fit the team’s scheme and identity, not aging mercenaries who fill specific positional needs. Some of his best signings over the past few years fit that mold – Brandon Brooks and Rodney McLeod come to mind.
Also, the formula to Jim Schwartz’s scheme always starts with the front four. The Eagles have routinely stocked Schwartz’s cupboard with superfluous D-line talent and depth as much as possible. It’s a formula that helped them win a Super Bowl in 2017.
Fletcher Cox remains the team’s best overall lineman but turns 30 in December. Malik Jackson, who missed all of last season, is 30 and likely on the final year of his deal. Hassan Ridgeway, who re-signed to a 1-year deal earlier in the day, is a nice rotational tackle but nowhere near Hargrave’s level.
Hargraves showcased an interior burst in college at South Carolina State. As a third-round pick by the Steelers, he was somewhat miscast as a run-stuffing nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, but he played more snaps this past season and showed his ability to generate pass rush.
Hargrave isn’t an elite pass rusher per se but finished 2019 ranked as a top-15 pass rusher at this position by PFF. He registered a career-best 60 tackles, 4 sacks and seven tackles for a loss. He has 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
There’s also this:
Highest pressure rate in the NFL among interior defenders in 2019:
1. Javon Hargrave – 15.1%
2. Chris Jones -15.0%
3. Aaron Donald – 14.0%
Hargrave is going to cash in this offseason, and he deserves it. pic.twitter.com/xz2ohKKvvl
— Ben Linsey (@PFF_Linsey) December 26, 2019
Playing alongside Cox and Jackson should only accentuate his strengths and provide the Eagles with another formidable three-man rotation reminiscent of the Super Bowl squad that featured Cox, Jernigan and Beau Allen.
Theoretically, the trio of Cox, Jackson and Hargrave should be better than Cox-Jernigan-Allen, assuming the current three stay healthy.
As for the cornerback situation, I thought Jones would be a good fit if he signed with the Eagles even with the high price tag.
A league source with knowledge of the negotiation told me the Eagles were “super competitive” with their offer, but multiple aggressive suitors drove the price to an alarmingly high number. Jones will reportedly earn $40 million over the first two years of the deal, with $57 million total guaranteed – in a tax-free state.
Don’t focus on the $17 million APY. Focus on the $40 million over two and $57 overall. That means that Jones won’t be cuttable for the first three years of the deal. He will be 30 in the third year of that deal.
Are you really convinced Jones is good enough to have at least three guaranteed years of top-tier salary?
Before you answer, remember the careers of Nnamdi Asomugha and Byron Maxwell.
The Eagles somehow managed to win a Super Bowl and make three consecutive trips to the postseason without a $17-million-a-year corner. There’s no question they need to upgrade the position, but Jones shouldn’t be viewed as the one and only solution.
Roseman still has options either via trade for Darius Slay or the B-level free-agent market, guys like Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant. There’s also the draft. He has 10 picks.
Remember, when the Eagles were desperate for cornerback help in 2017, Roseman waited until training camp to deal for Ronald Darby.
There’s risk involved in whichever route Roseman chooses to upgrade cornerback — but not $57 million worth of risk.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is a veteran Philadelphia Eagles and NFL reporter, co-host of Inside the Birds and 97.3 ESPN sports-talk host.
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