The Inquirer is previewing the Eagles' offseason. Free agency will begin on March 9, and the draft will be April 27-29.
Monday, Feb. 13: Quarterbacks
Tuesday, Feb. 14: Running backs
Wednesday, Feb. 15: Wide receivers
Thursday, Feb. 16: Offensive line
Friday, Feb. 17: Tight ends
Today: Defensive ends
Tuesday, Feb. 21: Defensive tackles
Wednesday, Feb. 22: Linebackers
Thursday, Feb. 23: Cornerbacks
Friday, Feb. 24: Safeties
Connor Barwin, Bryan Braman, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Alex McCalister, Steven Means, Marcus Smith.
All seven of the Eagles' defensive ends remain under contract for 2017, but that doesn't mean each will return. With apologies to Bryan Braman, who is unlikely to be back, Connor Barwin would be most significant departure of the ends who could leave. The Eagles, of course, have yet to make a move, but it's difficult to see him coming back for a few reasons. For one, Barwin's cap number is $8.35 million, and based on his production last season, his age (30) and his incompatibility with Jim Schwartz's scheme, that's too much cash. The Eagles could release him and trim $7.75 million off the salary cap. Barwin said last month that he would be open to restructuring his deal (read: take a pay cut), but I'm not sure the Eagles could match what he would likely get on the open market. He might not have been an ideal match for the wide-nine, especially since Schwartz had him rush opposite left tackles all season, but Barwin has a versatile skill set that should make him attractive to some teams with 3-4 defenses.
Could Barwin return to Philly? I'd say the chances are slim. They would have to switch him to the other side, and rush Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry predominantly from the right, to increase his productivity. Barwin had only five sacks, four tackles for loss, and two batted passes in 2016. From 2013-15, he averaged nine sacks, 11 1/2 tackles for loss, and eight passes defended. But he did so much in Bill Davis' 3-4 scheme that didn't show up in the stat sheet. He did a lot of the dirty work to open up rush lanes for the other defensive linemen, but Schwartz's system isn't that nuanced. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just a different philosophy.
The other intangible in whether to bring Barwin back is Curry. He'll cost the Eagles $9 million in cap numbers, and all of that is guaranteed. So he's not going anywhere, unless some team is willing to take on that contract for a defensive end who registered just 2 1/2 sacks in 300 pass-rush attempts last season. The Eagles need to show something for what now looks like a bad deal, and Curry at least needs a fair number of snaps before he can be deemed a bust.
Schwartz took some criticism for dropping Curry down the depth chart, but despite a minor late push, the 28-year-old never appeared to warrant a starting spot. There was a lot of talk of Curry getting the opportunity to play in the scheme he was originally drafted to play in, but he could barely get on the field as a rookie. He was an explosive role player as a 3-4 end, but most of his sacks over that three-year span came from inside rather than outside. Curry has a good get-off, but it's more effective from the three technique vs. guards than from the nine technique vs. tackles.
If Curry could deliver upon expectations, at least modified, then the Eagles could have a serviceable 1-2 punch with him and Graham, who had his best season in 2016. Graham didn't put up an eye-popping sack number (5 1/2), but he might have led the NFL in near quarterback takedowns. He paced the Eagles in tackles for loss (14) and hurries (30). Graham isn't an elite edge rusher, but he's a very good No. 2. Ideally, the Eagles don't have to move him over vs. left tackles, but if they have to, his numbers could dip.
If all had gone according to plan, Marcus Smith would be developing into the Eagles' No. 1 pass rusher about this time. But the timetable for the team's 2014 first-round pick is likely nearing its end. Smith roughly doubled his career bests in tackles (16), tackles for loss (3) and sacks (2 1/2) last season, but he also played double the number of snaps. Maybe he still has first-round talent, but I've yet to see it. His cap number is $2,481,533, and the Eagles would save $1,483,515 if they were to release him. But they need bodies at defensive end, and they might be willing to keep him around even if he's a constant reminder of that subpar draft.
Steven Means was inactive for half of the season. In eight games, he played just 36 snaps on defense and recorded one sack. He might have jumped Smith had he been better on special teams. He'll likely get another chance to make the roster. Rookie Alex McCalister was awarded sort of a redshirt year when he "suffered" a shoulder injury during the preseason that landed him on injured reserve. The Eagles took advantage of the time and had the Florida product add about 20 pounds. McCalister weighed around 235 when he was drafted in the seventh round last year. His pass-rush moves were pretty limited before his injury. McCalister tried to use his speed to get around the corner or to angle inside. We'll see this spring if the additional weight has helped with power moves.
Some intriguing free agents could hit the market on March 9, but it could cost the Eagles top dollar if they want edge rushers such as Melvin Ingram of the Chargers and Chandler Jones of the Cardinals. Their respective teams could franchise both, but if available, they would probably be two of the first to go. Ingram has developed into the playmaker San Diego thought it was getting when it expended a first-round draft pick on the South Carolina product in 2012. It took about four years, though. Maybe there's still hope for Marcus Smith (don't bet on it). Jones was dealt to Arizona by the Patriots last offseason and, despite some off-field issues, had another productive season (11 sacks, 4 forced fumbles). The New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul signed a one-year deal last March. He might be looking to break the bank. His numbers from 2016 might not show it (7 sacks in 12 games), but he was still a disruptive force despite the missing finger(s).
Nick Perry of the Packers was a solid complementary outside linebacker to Clay Matthews in his first four seasons, but he improved last season (11 sacks). Should teams be wary of his contract-year uptick? Can he be just as productive in a 4-3? The Bills' Lorenzo Alexander had a breakout year (12 1/2 sacks), but he'll be 34 in May.
If the Eagles are looking in the mid-tier range, they could have interest in the Patriots' Jabaal Sheard (5 sacks in 2016, age 27), the Texans' John Simon (3 1/2 sacks, 26), the Panthers' Mario Addison (9 1/2 sacks, 29), and the Dolphins' Andre Branch (5 1/2 sacks, 27).
There are more than a handful of free agents who fall under the "Aging Edge Rushers Who Could Make Sense for one Year" category. They are the Steelers' James Harrison (5 sacks, 38), the Broncos' DeMarcus Ware (4 sacks, 34), the Colts' Robert Mathis (5 sacks, 35), the Packers' Julius Peppers (7 1/2 sacks, 37), the Patriots' Chris Long (4 sacks, 31), the Colts' Trent Cole (2 sacks, 34), the Falcons' Dwight Freeney (3 sacks, 37), the Panthers' Charles Johnson (4 sacks, 30), and the Bengals' Michael Johnson (3 1/2 sacks, 30).
Datone Jones (1 sack, 26) of the Packers and Devin Taylor of the Lions (4 1/2 sacks, 27) are rotational guys who could be bargains. The Eagles also could take gambles on former first-rounders such as Jarvis Jones and Barkevious Mingo, who might benefit from a change of scenery/scheme.
It would come as no surprise if the Eagles drafted a defensive end in the first round. It's a premium position they need to upgrade, and there are at least five prospects who could go that early, according to many early prognostications. Myles Garrett (6-foot-4, 268 pounds) of Texas A&M is expected to be chosen first overall and Solomon Thomas (6-2, 275) of Stanford might not make it out of the top 10, but Derek Barnett (6-3, 265) of Tennessee, Takkarist McKinley (6-2, 258) of UCLA and Taco Charlton (6-5, 272) of Michigan could be in the Eagles' wheelhouse at No. 14 or 15. Barnett has been a stud for three college seasons (9, 10, and 13 sacks with 20 1/2, 12 1/2, and 19 tackles for loss). McKinley did it all last season (10 sacks, 18 TFLs, 6 batted passes/pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles). And Charlton played all four years in Ann Arbor and had 10 sacks and 13 1/2 TFLs last season.
Charles Harris (6-3, 255) of Missouri could sneak into the back end of the first round, as could Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (6-4, 243), J.J.'s younger brother. Watt exploded in his one season as a starter (11 1/2 sacks, 15 1/2 tackes for loss, an interception, 2 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed). Haason Reddick (6-1, 237) was a monster edge rusher at Temple (9 1/2 sacks, 22 1/2 TFLs, an interception, 3 forced fumbles, 5 passes defensed), but he's projected to play 3-4 inside linebacker or 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL.
The Eagles might be more inclined to find an edge rusher on Day 2 of the draft. Tim Williams (6-3, 252) of Alabama, Carl Lawson (6-2, 253) of Auburn, and DeMarcus Walker (6-2, 273) of Florida State aren't as highly regarded, but they have big conference pedigree. Lawson was healthy in 2016, but he missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury and part of 2015 with a hip injury. Tarell Basham (6-4, 259) of Ohio and Tanoh Kpassagnon (6-7, 280) of Villanova had the opportunity to match up against bigger schools at the Senior Bowl last month. Kpassagnon has 3-4 defensive-end measurements. Jordan Willis (6-4, 255) of Kansas State put up some eye-popping numbers in his last two seasons (21 sacks, 32 1/2 tackles for loss, and 7 forced fumbles).