Good morning. Eagles exhibition game No. 2 is in the books. The Birds beat Jacksonville on Thursday night, 24-10, but lost another quarterback.
A week after Nate Sudfeld broke his wrist, Cody Kessler suffered a concussion and will spend the next few days in concussion protocol. What that means is, he won’t practice much, if at all, this coming week, and probably won’t play against the Ravens. That’s going to force the Eagles to bring in another arm. No one significant. Just somebody who can take some practice reps and maybe play a few snaps next week against the Ravens and the week after against the Jets.
— Paul Domowitch (email@example.com)
Trade food for thought: As you might have heard, the Houston Texans are in the market for a left tackle to protect quarterback Deshaun Watson’s blind side. Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times last season and has aged nearly 15 football years in the two seasons he’s played for the Texans.
Houston also is looking for an exit strategy in dealing with disgruntled edge-rusher extraordinaire Jadaveon Clowney, who has refused to sign his one-year, $15.97 million franchise tender and is a training-camp holdout.
The Texans are looking for a left tackle and they’re also looking for a buyer for Clowney. So let’s play a little Fantasy GM here. Let’s pretend they’ve called the Eagles’ Howie Roseman and have offered him Clowney in a straight-up deal for, drum roll please ... Lane Johnson.
Is there any way in hell Howie would do it? Should he?
1) The July 15 deadline for franchise-tag players to sign long-term deals has passed, which means Clowney must play this season for the $15.97 million franchise-tag number. The Eagles are one of the few teams in the league that actually has the salary-cap space to fit Clowney on the season-opening roster. According to overthecap.com, the Eagles have a little north of $20 million in cap space.
2) Coordinator Jim Schwartz has said many times that his defensive line is the engine that drives his defense. Well, by adding Clowney, the Eagles would arguably have the best pass-rush engine in the entire NFL. They’ve already got Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson inside. By teaming Clowney on the outside with Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, the franchise’s 30-year-old sack record (62 in 1989) would be in serious jeopardy of falling this season, and a lot of quarterbacks on the Eagles schedule would start sweating bullets.
3) Johnson is one of the five best offensive tackles in the NFL. He and guard Brandon Brooks are unquestionably the best right-side guard-tackle tandem in the league. But the Eagles’ offensive line is as deep as it’s ever been. They’ve got not one, not two, but three viable replacement options for Johnson if he left: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who started 13 games, including all three playoff wins, for the Eagles during their Super Bowl season; first-round pick Andre Dillard; and rapidly developing former rugby player Jordan Mailata.
Coincidentally, the Eagles put the Texans in this left-tackle pickle in April by jumping ahead of them in the draft and grabbing Dillard. Houston settled for Alabama State offensive tackle Tytus Howard a pick later, and another tackle, Northern Illinois’ Max Scharping, in the second round. Both were taken by former GM Brian Gaine, who was canned after the draft. Head coach Bill O’Brien doesn’t seem to have much use for either of them. The Texans’ likely Week 1 starting left tackle is Matt Kalil, who has missed 30 of 48 games the last three seasons because of injuries.
1) As previously mentioned, Johnson is one of the best tackles in the game on one of the best offensive lines in the game. Do you really want to mess with that unit’s chemistry right now, heading into a season in which you think you can win the Super Bowl again? Lane is only 29. He’s signed through 2021. Yeah, he’s one positive PED test away from a minimum two-year suspension. But that doesn’t seem to be a concern.
2) Even without Clowney, the Eagles’ pass rush should still be very good. They are potent inside with Cox, Jackson and Tim Jernigan. Outside, they’ve got Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Clowney would be the edge-rushing piece de resistance, but they should be fine as long as Barnett stays healthy and somebody else — Vinny Curry? Eli Harold? Josh Sweat? Daeshon Hall? — makes a meaningful contribution. Hall, a former third-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, had two sacks Thursday night against Jacksonville.
3) While the Eagles have the cap space to accommodate Clowney this year, he’ll be a free agent again after the season. Which means the Eagles would have to either sign him to a new deal or franchise him at an expected cost of more than $20 million and deal with both the on- and off-the-field ramifications of that. Roseman has done a masterful job thus far with the Eagles’ cap. Bringing in Clowney would be a deviation from his plan.
Not seeing a lot yet since most of the starters have played as much as you have in the preseason, and they’re not allowed to tee off on the quarterback in practice.
As I pointed out in a story I wrote a few days ago, this is going to be an inside-out pass rush, driven by its defensive-tackle rotation. Trading away Bennett weakens them. But he wanted more money and more snaps, and the Eagles didn’t want to give the 34-year-old either of those things.
I think they probably could coax Chris Long out of retirement if the the bodies start to fall. But assuming Derek Barnett’s surgically repaired shoulder holds up, he and Brandon Graham give the Eagles a solid 1-2 edge-rushing punch.
Depth on the outside remains an issue. They re-signed Vinny Curry. He’s a solid veteran. But he’s had more than four sacks just once in his career. They need one or two of their other edge-rushers — 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat or recent trade acquisition Eli Harold or Daeshon Hall or rookie fourth-rounder Shareef Miller — to emerge and make a contribution this season. Miller still is a year away, I think. Needs an offseason of living in the NovaCare weight room.
Sweat and Hall have looked good in camp and the preseason. Harold’s the guy I find intriguing. A former third-round pick. Big, athletic, and back in his natural position as a 4-3 defensive end after spending his first four seasons in the league as an outside linebacker.