The Eagles agreed to a three-year deal late Monday with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave.
Here is how The Inquirer’s Eagles beat writers see that move:
While many were fixated with how the Eagles would address either the cornerback or wide receiver position in free agency, Howie Roseman threw a curveball and signed, first out of the gate, a defensive tackle. It shouldn’t have come as a complete surprise, however. During his season-ending news conference, the general manager agreed with the general premise that the Eagles needed to upgrade at the speed positions. But he also noted the impact that Malik Jackson’s season-opening injury had on his team.
The Eagles struggled to account for the loss and the plans to take pressure off Fletcher Cox and keep Brandon Graham on the outside at end on pass downs was blown to smithereens by Week 1. There were offseason decisions made that resulted in the regression of the rush, but Roseman clearly felt that it wasn’t just the secondary that was to blame for the pass defense woes.
Enter: Javon Hargrave. He started at nose tackle in the Steelers’ 3-4 base defense, but he wasn’t a one-trick, two-gap run stopper. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Hargrave, despite appearances, was a productive rusher in four seasons in Pittsburgh, and used his quick get-off to penetrate gaps and get after quarterbacks. The signing isn’t much of a projection -- at least on pass downs -- because Hargrave was a one-gap rusher with the Steelers. Jim Schwartz’s scheme isn’t much different for interior guys.
Hargrave missed only one game in four seasons to injury, an important component considering the Eagles’ recent dubious history with bringing in chronically injured players. There should be plenty of snaps to go around, especially with Cox and Jackson versatile enough to bump outside on pass downs.
The Eagles are making quite a financial commitment to their defensive tackles. Cox ($17.1 million), Hargrave ($13 million), and Jackson ($10 million) currently have three of the top 20 per-year salaries for interior linemen. But it’s hard to argue with beefing up the line on either side of the ball. It’s a cliche, but games are typically won or lost in the trenches. Hargrave not only can penetrate, but he can push the pocket and keep quarterbacks from stepping up.
The addition of Hargrave also sets the Eagles up for next season should they deem Cox or Jackson as not worth the salary cap hit. But that’s a question for the future. It’s tough to give a final grade so early into free agency. If Roseman fails to do anything significant at cornerback, then the Hargrave signing may seem out of touch. But free agency is a marathon and the Eagles have effectively gotten out of the blocks.
I like a lot of things about Javon Hargrave. He’s a complete player who is good against both the run and the pass, which means you don’t have to take him off the field.
He’s that rare 300-pounder who can rush the passer; a one-gap penetrator who is going to disrupt things inside and be able to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he’s going to get playing next to Fletcher Cox, which is something Tim Jernigan wasn’t able to do often enough.
Another thing about Hargrave is he’s durable. He has missed just one game in four years, and that was in his rookie season. He played 680 snaps last season. That doesn’t mean he won’t get hurt, but at least he’s coming in with a good injury track record.
The Eagles need to improve their pass rush. Their 442 quarterback pressures last year were their fewest since 2016. They had one or no sacks in seven of their 16 games. They’ll be getting Malik Jackson back, but he’s coming off a Lisfranc injury.
While the Eagles obviously need to upgrade the cornerback position, the pass rush is the key to the success of Jim Schwartz’s defense. With the addition of Hargrave, it is much better today than it was yesterday.
If there is no such thing as too many interior pass rushers, the Eagles seem determined to find out.
Playing next to Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, Hargrave figures to make the Eagles’ defensive front a headache for opposing teams.
It’s easy to see why the Eagles valued him so much. He was a two-gap nose tackle on early downs for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but shifted to a one-gap pass-rushing role on later downs. In that pass-rushing role — the one the Eagles will put him in often — he was extremely efficient. According to Pro Football Focus, Hargrave got pressure on 14.2% of his rushes last season, which ranked third in the NFL behind just Aaron Donald and Chris Jones.
His ability to bolster the Eagles’ pass rush will certainly alleviate the pressure the team’s secondary felt so often last year. Even if they’re unable to find elite talent at the corner position, the Eagles have found ways to win without it in the past, as long as their defensive front is disruptive. Hargrave will help that cause.
This doesn’t make it any less daunting to look at the money the Eagles have invested in interior defensive linemen over the next few seasons. They will have three of the six highest-paid 4-3 defensive tackles in the NFL next season. The Rams are the only team with anywhere near that much invested in the position. In 2021, Cox, Hargrave, and Jackson are projected to count for $49 million against the salary cap. If the cap jumps, or Roseman can work on a restructuring deal with Cox and/or Jackson, maybe this is less worrisome, but it’s still a massive investment into three players who are expected to rotate.
In the short term, this leaves the Eagles with somewhere around $21 million in cap space to fill glaring holes at cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker and safety. They have 10 draft picks, but just how many rookies are they planning on counting on? Filling out the secondary and linebacking corps with bargain free agents could work, and adding a dynamic wide receiver on Day 1 of the draft might make this team a contender. But it’s still a bold move doubling down on the front office’s “trenches first, perimeter second” philosophy.
Roseman and his cap expertise deserve the benefit of the doubt on figuring out the money side, but it will be interesting to see if the changing NFL still values rushers over everything else.
In and of itself, the signing of Javon Hargrave is probably a good move. He will shore up an important area that was injury-ravaged a year ago. You certainly can’t call it a bad signing.
But maybe I’m missing something. The Eagles weren’t 9-7 because they were missing Malik Jackson, despite what Howie Roseman said at the end of the season. They were 9-7 mostly because their wide receiving corps was a disgrace, their linebackers weren’t real good, they waited too long to fully utilize Miles Sanders, and for the umpteenth season in a row, they had below-average cornerbacks.
Oh, and at safety, once a gaping hole that has been capably filled by Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod in recent years, they seem to be on the verge of parting with both of those guys, despite having no backups who look like top-quality starters.
So they’re devoting $13 million a year to another defensive tackle.