Brandon Graham figures to be a key member of the Eagles' defense this season. The 28-year-old defensive end, who signed a multi-year contract extension with Philadelphia last year, is expected to be part of a heavy three-man rotation that also features Vinny Curry and Connor Barwin.
If Chip Kelly originally had his way, though, Graham wouldn't still be an Eagle. Graham shared an interesting nugget in a recent interview with Pro Football Focus.
“Chip [Kelly] was going to let me go at one point, because he liked another guy, Travis Long, over me. And Travis got hurt last preseason game, and I stayed and balled out and I became the starter—and the rest is history.”
The Long injury referenced by Graham occurred in Philadelphia's fourth preseason game in 2014. It was Long's second ACL tear; his first took place in his other knee during his senior year at Washington State. Long then suffered a third ACL injury shortly after the start of Philadelphia's 2015 training camp.
Kelly likely wanted to keep Long over Graham because the former was seen as a better fit at 3-4 outside linebacker. Long was better at dropping into coverage than Graham. With that said, Graham was still the all-around better talent. Graham was a former first round pick who had shown potential as a pass rusher off the bench. Long was a former undrafted free agent with injury concerns.
In fairness to Kelly, he did seemingly realize his mistake and later showed that he valued Graham. The Eagles signed Graham to an extension last offseason, while Kelly was in control of the personnel department, after letting him test free agency.
Still, the Eagles are fortunate that Kelly didn't get his way back in 2014 and Graham is still on the team. The Michigan alumnus is much better suited to play in the 4-3. In fact, when Graham last played as a 4-3 defensive end in 2012, he led the NFL in PFF's Pass Rush Productivity stat. He also finished first in opposing penalties drawn.
Philadelphia released Long last week in order to allow him to catch on with a 3-4 team. At the time of this posting, Long is still a free agent.