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Defensive line might be a real issue for Eagles

Eliot Shorr-Parks
September 18, 2019 - 8:02 am
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Since Howie Roseman returned to head of football operations in 2016, he has stressed both the importance and his passion for building the Eagles along the lines. 

That has certainly been true along the offensive line, as Roseman has consistently paid his starters almost whatever it has taken to keep them together. Roseman is once again committing top dollars to his offensive line this year, as the Eagles are seventh in the league in cap space allocated to the offensive line. Overall they are sixth in cap dollars spent on the offense, which isn’t surprising considering how talented their offense is. 

What is surprising is how little Roseman has invested in his defense — and more specifically the defensive line. 

The early results of Roseman’s gamble is not extremely promising. So far this season the Eagles’ defensive ends have rushed the snapper a total of 186 times. They have exactly zero sacks in those snaps. They have 21 total pressures, an average of one pressure every 8.8 snaps. Brandon Graham, who the team signed to a three-year extension this offseason, has zero sacks. Derek Barnett, who the Eagles passed on trading for Jadeveon Clowney for, has zero sacks. 

Overall the team has just two sacks, good for 28th in the NFL through two weeks. Over half the league already has at least five. 

The lack of production from the defensive ends has forced defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to blitz more than usual, something that was obvious on Sunday night in the team’s loss to Atlanta. 

Perhaps the lack of production shouldn’t be surprising. Heading into the season the Eagles were 15th in cap dollars allocated to the defensive line. In fact, outside of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, no defensive linemen on the Eagles’ roster has a cap hit over $4 million. 

Part of that for that is the way Roseman works the cap. Defensive end Brandon Graham, for example, got a deal with an average value of $13 million this offseason. His cap hit, however, is just $3.5 million. 

A larger reason, however, is the youth Roseman is counting on at the position. 

Two of the Eagles’ top five defensive ends, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, are on a rookie contract. Daeshon Hall is on a minimum-salary deal. Roseman is counting on both, or all three when Hall if active, to make a big impact this season.

Roseman desperately needs both Barnett and Sweat to turn into impact players due to the lack of draft capital and money he has spent on the position. 

Since taking back over the draft in 2016, Roseman has used the following picks on a defensive linemen: a 7th, a 1st, a 6th and two fourths. Two of those players, Alex McCalister and Elijah Qualls, are no longer on the team. Only one, Barnett, is starting. 

Overall Roseman has taken a total of five defensive linemen in the last four drafts, with only one pick inside the first three rounds used on one since 2016. To put that in perspective, Roseman has drafted just two fewer running backs (3) since 2016, a position that is likely at the bottom of the totem poll for Roseman. 

Still, even with the lack of real draft capital invested in the position, a larger issue might be the lack of money invested in the defense overall. 

The Eagles are currently 22nd in cap space allocated to the defense. There is still a lot of season to be played, but so far, it is hard to see more than one or two players on the entire defense that opposing coordinators have to be worried about as they prepare for the Eagles. That is especially true after losing both Malik Jackson and Timmy Jernigan, players the Eagles were counting on to make life easier for the defensive ends. 

How much longer Roseman is willing to wait on his young defensive ends remains to be seen, but with two games in the next 10 days, we might be getting that answer sooner rather than later.

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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