The 2016 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and new head coach Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2015 roster. The team went 7-9 last season and improvement is clearly needed. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 9, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2016 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the outside linebacker position.
Numbers: 1071 snaps, 45 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 hits, 34 hurries, 1 forced fumble, 7 passes deflected
Review: Barwin's sack numbers were down from his impressive 14.5 total in 2014. Instead he was merely moderately productive as a pass rusher relative to his high snap count. Barwin was tied for first in the NFL with passes batted down. He's always really good at that.
Barwin will be moving from 3-4 outside linebacker to 4-3 defensive end in Philadelphia's new scheme. Barwin has experience in the 4-3 but one can wonder if his skill set will be maximized in the new scheme.
Numbers: 880 snaps, 39 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 7 hits, 45 hurries, 3 forced fumbles, 1 pass deflected
Review: Graham's had a really strange career path. He went from being an injury-prone "bust" to a potential scheme change victim/trade bait candidate to a valuable pass rusher off the bench. Many thought he would leave to go to a 4-3 team in the 2015 offseason but that wasn't the case. Philadelphia opted to reward him with a long-term extension and he took it.
For the first time in his career, Graham had the chance to be a full time starter in 2015. He wasn't as dominant as he was as a role player off the bench, but he was still a good starter. His 45 hurries were the sixth most of any 3-4 outside linebacker. He had two sack fumbles when going up against Tyron Smith, who is one of the best left tackles in the league. For being a 4-3 defensive end playing as a 3-4 outside linebacker, Graham made the most of his opportunity and played well.
The future is bright for Graham since he'll be moving back to the 4-3. Graham led the NFL in "Pass Rush Productivity" as a 4-3 DE in 2012.
Numbers: 131 snaps, 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Review: After only playing a total of 105 snaps as a rookie, Smith played more than that in his sophomore season. Unfortunately for Smith, he did nothing to really shed his bust label. He just didn't produce much when he played. His best game came in Week 17 when Chip Kelly was finally gone. He actually played a decent amount of snaps in that game. Maybe he just needs more of a chance? Maybe he'll be a more serviceable player in Philadelphia's new scheme? No one will be holding their breath.
Numbers: 9 snaps, 1 tackle, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
Review: Braman makes his living on special teams. He also makes the most out of the limited snaps he plays. He probably doesn't belong as a full time player but I don't see why it could hurt to experiment with giving this guy some more playing time. Kill. Maim. Destroy.
Review: The Eagles signed Means from Houston's practice squad in early December. He was never active for a game. Philadelphia clearly wanted to stash him for the future.
Review: For the second year in a row, Long got hurt before the season began. It's a shame because he has some talent but he just can't stay healthy.
Who Could Leave
Graham signed a long-term contract extension last offseason. Graham started his career as a 4-3 defensive end so he's probably happy about Philadelphia's scheme change.
Barwin, on the other hand, might be a victim of the scheme change. He has experience playing as a 4-3 defensive end, but the Eagles just gave a contract extension to Vinny Curry. It would seem Graham and Curry figure as starting 4-3 defensive ends. So does that leave Barwin as the odd man out? Barwin is too valuable to be a cap casualty but it's worth noting the Birds can trade him to save $6.1 million. If a 3-4 team comes to the Eagles with a strong offer for Barwin, they'll have to consider taking it. If not, Barwin will stick around. He's a great locker room guy and he makes a lot of positive contributions to the community.
Cutting Smith would actually cost the Eagles about $1 million in cap space. Trading him would save over $100K. Maybe Smith can prove he's not a bust in a new scheme. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
Braman is too good of a special teams player not to stick around. Means and Long are bottom of the roster guys for now.
Who Could Sign
The Eagles have starting money invested in three players at 4-3 defensive end. They're not going to do any major spending at this position. Mario Williams is a name that's been brought up because of his success under Jim Schwartz but it doesn't make sense from a money and playing time perspective.
Philadelphia might want to add a true 4-3 defensive end for veteran depth. How about a familiar face ... Daryl Tapp! He's going to be a free agent and has some experience playing for Schwartz. He wouldn't cost much and he gives the Eagles a serviceable backup.
NFL Draft Options
There are some talented rushers in this class. Joey Bosa will be long gone before the Eagles pick. Penn State's Carl Nassib is a guy the Eagles spoke with at the Senior Bowl. The Eagles don't need to force a pick at this position but you can never really have too many good pass rushers.