Defensive linemen generally like the idea of playing for the Eagles, in a system that prioritizes getting after the quarterback.
So it is with Javon Hargrave, formerly the nose tackle in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 system, who envisions being set free as a defensive tackle playing alongside Fletcher Cox in an aggressive 4-3 setup.
“The Eagles’ [system] is more of a ‘get upfield.’ That’s kind of how I came into the league, from college,” said Hargrave, who was a third-round Steelers pick in 2016 from South Carolina State. “It’s a lot more exciting. It’s every D-lineman’s dream to play in a system like this."
Hargrave managed four sacks and 49 pressures last season in Pittsburgh, even though 3-4 nose tackles generally plug gaps so linebackers can get after quarterbacks. Pro Football Focus rated him eighth among interior defensive linemen.
“I make plays,” Hargrave told a conference call with reporters. “I get off the ball and I get upfield.”
Last week, Hargrave was the first free agent to agree to terms with the Eagles, who gave him $39 million over three years. This was a reflection of how much they value pressure up the middle, and how much they want to ensure a strong presence next to Fletcher Cox. Last year’s flashy defensive tackle signing was Malik Jackson, at three years and $30 million, for that same purpose. Jackson suffered a Lisfranc tear in the season opener and missed the rest of the year.
When Hargrave, 6-foot-2, 305, hit free agency, the Eagles were “the most interested team,” he said. In 2016, they had been one of four teams to work him out at S.C. State’s pro day, and the Eagles considered taking Hargrave with the third-round pick (79th overall) that they used on left guard Isaac Seumalo. Hargrave went to Pittsburgh 10 slots later. The Steelers always have talented defensive lines, and Hargrave said he sees parallels.
“A lotta ‘dawgs’ on that line,” Hargrave said of the Eagles. “It’s like I’m back at home, with a bunch of dawgs, ready to eat. I just love when you’ve got a lot of great players around, it really ups your game, it helps you get better as a football player.”
Asked about Cox, Hargrave said, “I pretty much know he’s going to get most of the attention” from blockers.
It’s unclear when teams will convene, or if there will be OTAs or minicamp. Asked about integrating himself into defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system, Hargrave said, “I wouldn’t say it’ll be harder, it’s just going to be a little longer” to feel comfortable. “I’m a fast learner,” he said. “I know a lot about Jim Schwartz.”
Hargrave said that during the coronavirus crisis, he has been “working on a lot of stuff in my apartment,” including an exercise bike and weights, since he can’t go to a training facility.
Hargrave said he was All-Rowan County (N.C.) as a basketball player at North Rowan High, “a poor man’s Zion Williamson … I just bullied everybody and got every rebound. I just couldn’t jump like Zion does.”
Hargrave recalled his pro day workout for the Eagles, how he told friends and family he thought he might end up in Philadelphia.
“It didn’t work out then, but God always has a plan. Somehow it ended up working out this time,” he said.