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Thumbs up or down: Eagles beat writers weigh in on Ryan Kerrigan signing

The edge rusher isn’t what he was five years ago. Age has caught up with him. He was basically a sub-package player with Washington the last couple of years, but he still had his moments.

Ryan Kerrigan, then with Washington, ran with the ball after a fumble recovery against the Eagles in September.
Ryan Kerrigan, then with Washington, ran with the ball after a fumble recovery against the Eagles in September.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Paul Domowitch 👍

Why would a retooling team that is trying to get younger sign a declining, soon-to-be-33-year-old edge rusher like Ryan Kerrigan?

Well, for several reasons. For starters, while the plan is to hit the reset button on their Super Bowl hopes in 2022 or 2023, this year’s NFC East title isn’t a bridge too far. And if they can pick up a four-time Pro Bowler who just might have enough gas left in his tank to give their pass rush a boost this season, what’s the harm?

Might it cost some younger players such as rookie Tarron Jackson or Joe Ostman a few snaps? Yeah, maybe. But the little bit of field time Jackson or Ostman might lose will be more than made up by what a 10-year veteran like Kerrigan will be able to teach them.

As I pointed out, this isn’t a throwaway season. While the Eagles want their young players to grow so that they make up the foundation of a future Super Bowl challenger, they know that if they can stay reasonably healthy this season, they have a puncher’s chance of making the playoffs.

With the cornerback position a concern, the Eagles’ best chance of not getting destroyed by Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes and Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott and some of the other quarterbacks on their schedule is to have a fierce pass rush.

Kerrigan isn’t what he was five years ago. Age has caught up with him. He was basically a sub-package player with Washington the last couple of years, but he still had his moments.

He played just 38% of Washington’s defensive snaps last year and 57% in 2019, both down from the 80-plus percent he played in his prime.

His 95½ career sacks are the seventh-most among active NFL players. He’s had 8½ or more sacks seven straight years. He’s had 5½ in each of the last two seasons in a lesser role, and his pressure rate dropped from one QB pressure every 6.8 pass-rush opportunities in 2017 to one every 14.9 last year.

That said, he’s still capable of helping an Eagles pass rush that doesn’t have much beyond 33-year-old Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat.

If you’re looking for a couple of points of reference, go back to 2017 when the Eagles signed 32-year-old Chris Long, or 2018 when they traded for 33-year-old Michael Bennett.

Long had five sacks, and his play and locker room leadership helped the Eagles win a Super Bowl. Bennett was the Eagles’ most productive pass-rusher in ’18.

There’s really no downside to this move. Kerrigan signed a one-year deal. He has no impact on their salary cap beyond 2021. If he still has something left, he can help the Eagles’ pass rush and make this season a little more interesting for both the team and its fans. If he can’t, then he becomes a $3.5 million a year assistant defensive line coach. If he can help make Josh Sweat and/or Barnett better players, he’ll be well worth ever penny they’re paying him, no matter how many sacks he finishes with.

EJ Smith 🤷‍♂️

Kerrigan figures to play about a third of the Eagles’ snaps, and there’s a decent chance he’ll be productive doing so. He had 5½ sacks for the Washington Football Team last season in a reserve role, and the Eagles clearly believe he has enough left in the tank to do something similar this year.

It’s hard to give this an outright thumbs up because I’m not sure how much Kerrigan’s handful of sacks will move the needle for a team transitioning into a rebuild. Many, including myself, have pointed to Chris Long, Michael Bennett, and Vinny Curry as comparisons for the role Kerrigan will play for the Eagles. But Long, Bennett, and Curry were all a brought in with the intention of helping the Eagles contend for championship runs. The presence of a veteran defensive end coming off the bench is less valuable in a rebuilding phase.

Still, there are enough positives to keep this move from being a thumbs down. The Eagles took Coastal Carolina edge rusher Tarron Jackson in the sixth round of the draft, but that was their only real contribution to the defensive end room so far this offseason. Unless Kerrigan plays more snaps than Josh Sweat, the team doesn’t really have a young defensive end that Kerrigan would be obstructing.

Speaking of Sweat and Jackson, Kerrigan should be able to help bring along some of the Eagles’ younger edge rushers, particularly Sweat, Jackson, and Derek Barnett. It’s also not a foregone conclusion the Eagles will stink this year. If Jalen Hurts surprises us, the team’s offensive line stays healthy, and the secondary holds up, Kerrigan’s presence will take on a new importance in high-leverage games.

Should the Eagles have pursued a more developmental player for their fourth defensive end spot? Probably. But Kerrigan’s addition has enough value to keep it from being an outright negative.

Les Bowen 👍

The defensive player who has had the most impact in matchups against the Eagles in the NFC East over the last decade? Ryan Kerrigan.

Is that a great reason to sign him in the final stages of his illustrious career? Well, no. But if you put that together with the fact that he lost his starting job in Washington largely because the WFT drafted Chase Young second overall, and the fact that Kerrigan still was productive in a part-time role, those are darned good reasons.

Then, there is the fact that, before this signing, the Eagles’ fourth edge rusher probably was going to be some practice-squad-level guy given that the draft passed without the addition of a high-round edge. Kerrigan can play a quarter or a third of the snaps, and be an upgrade on whomever the team had planned to use in that role. One-year deal, not a lot of money. If he cuts into the snaps of a developmental player, then that player needs to work harder.

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I have a little bit of concern that some Eagles fans are expecting mid-career Kerrigan. That guy wouldn’t be available at such a price, wouldn’t be sitting on the free-agency shelf in May. As long as expectations remain reasonable, and he doesn’t have to play every down, this should be a very solid addition.

Jeff McLane 🤷‍♂️

The Eagles continued to address their lines with the signing of Kerrigan Monday. The former Washington edge rusher inked a one-year contract worth $3.5 million and will likely be used as a third or fourth defensive end, predominantly on passing downs. He’s a four-time Pro Bowler who’s recorded 95½ sacks over 10 seasons, but clearly the 32-year old is at the tail end of his career.

Kerrigan’s role was reduced last season after Washington expended first round picks on edge rushers, Chase Young and Montez Sweat, the last two years. Both players were productive, so it’s not as if the veteran was being slighted. But Kerrigan was relatively productive as a rusher, recording 5½ sacks and six quarterback hits in 252 pass rush snaps.

The main question as it relates to Kerrigan is: How much does he have left in the tank? If he can repeat last season, those numbers would suffice for a reserve. Moving to a new team and the motivation that may provide should keep him hungry, not that Kerrigan’s heart has ever been in question. Just ask Lane Johnson or Halapoulivaati Vaitai, two Eagles tackles who had their share of struggles blocking the guy. Kerrigan has also missed only four games to injury, a concussion, out of 160 possible games.

But clearly there are NFL teams that think Kerrigan is close to done. In that case, the main question for the Eagles is: Why add a declining vet who could stand in the way of a youngster on a rebuilding team? Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett will start, and Josh Sweat will likely be the first end off the bench. But the Eagles also drafted Tarron Jackson last month and added undrafted rookie JaQuan Bailey. Joe Ostman and Matt Leo are also on the roster.

Will any of them warrant the extended look-see? The Eagles owe it to themselves and their fans to still try and win games. So I can’t fault them for acquiring Kerrigan, especially when the cost wasn’t that significant.

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I’ve seen the Kerrigan addition compared to the signing of Chris Long in 2017. There are some similarities, of course. But I see differences as well. Long was coming to a scheme that was better suited to his skills after playing out of position in the hybrid Patriots defense for a year. Kerrigan has played his entire career as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Yes, edge rushing was what he did most. But his run responsibilities were often based off two-gap principles, and he dropped into coverage way more than he should in Philly, even if it was something he did less later in his career.

Kerrigan excelled in four down linemen packages in Washington, so it’s not a reach to think he’ll do the same with the Eagles. We don’t yet know Jonathan Gannon’s scheme, but we have enough clues to suggest that he’ll mostly utilize a 4-3 front. Will he rush four every pass down? Of course not. But Kerrigan will likely line up on the edge, with his hand on the ground and rush the passer the majority of the time. My guess is that he’ll get to the quarterback from time to time. But will it matter enough in the bigger picture? I’m not so sure.