You have a list. You have checked it twice. You want to make sure you have it right for the category of Biggest Need For The Philadelphia Eagles In 2020. And at the top of the list is …?
Here’s a suggestion: Defensive end. Someone who is going to wreck offensive lines. A difference-making player. This isn’t a sexy position; instead, think of someone who is so disruptive he froths at the mouth at the very suggestion of a quarterback dropping back to pass.
This, as the Eagles reconstruct the roster for 2020, needs to be a priority. The priority? No, not on a team that has so many needs in what should be an especially busy offseason for the Birds. But the Eagles have a glaring hole at one of the game’s most important positions and they are going to have ample opportunities to fill it.
If you want to point to one difference between the Super Bowl-winning defense from 2017 and the group from 2019, you would say defensive line. Specifically, defensive end. The Eagles tried to revamp the position after the ’18 season as they traded away Michael Bennett and had Chris Long retire. The team signed Vinny Curry as an unrestricted free agent and loaded up on young ends, but exactly none of them stepped out as a game-changing player.
Oh, the Eagles are OK with starters Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett, two of the hardest workers and toughest guys around. Graham (8½ quarterback sacks in 2019) is a borderline Pro Bowl player who attacks the game with energy and gusto. Barnett (6½ sacks) is too undersized to be a dominating player, but he plays hard and he’s smart and he brings his game on every play.
The problem isn’t necessarily with those two players, it’s what the Eagles didn’t get in terms of production behind the starters. Curry actually played well in a reserve role with five quarterback sacks and toughness against the run, and young end Josh Sweat chipped in with four sacks. The three other ends on the active roster – amazing that the Eagles carried seven ends on a 53-man roster all season – Daeshon Hall, rookie Shareef Miller and Genard Avery collectively had 1½ sacks.
That’s not good enough.
It’s easy to say and much harder to do, but the Eagles need to upgrade defensive end and find themselves someone who changes the way offensive lines scheme to block the defense. They need a player who is going to collapse the edge, who is going to beat double teams.
They need a star pass rusher at the defensive end position.
Go ahead and get one – either in free agency or the NFL Draft, in which the Eagles select 21st overall in April – and see how much better this defense becomes. It will be like night and day. It might be the push the Eagles need to get back to another Super Bowl.
A roster that has a lot of needs has one that needs to be clearly at the top: A pass rusher who changes the game. ••