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What the Eagles should do at defensive end

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Eagles roster outlook: position-by-position.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2017 roster. It’s already time to start figuring out what this team needs to do to repeat as Super Bowl champions next year. We continue this roster outlook series by looking at the defensive end position.

THE PLAYERS

BRANDON GRAHAM

Regular season stats: 662 snaps, 34 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 passes defensed, 1 defensive TD, 4 QB hits, 45 QB hurries, 36 stops

Playoff stats: 160 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 HUGE forced fumble, 5 QB hits, 12 QB hurries, 3 stops

Review: Brandon Lee Graham (aka BLG) was responsible for making arguably the biggest play in Eagles history: strip-sacking Tom Brady late in the fourth quarter to essentially clinch Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl win. It should be impossible to see Graham and not think about that play from here on out. That play capped off a very strong season from Graham.

Outlook: There was talk last year that Graham was going to hold out in hopes for a new contract. That talk didn’t last for long, but it wasn’t totally baseless. The Eagles did alter Graham’s contract so that he’d be able to receive more money through incentives. In November, a report emerged stating the Eagles and Graham are working on an extension. Graham then made his desire for a new contract public via a recent interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Eagles should do their best to keep Graham around. He’s a very good player and a great locker room presence as well. He’s a Super Bowl hero. Graham turns 30 in April, so his age is a concern, but he doesn’t have high mileage. He only started 23 games in his first six seasons. He also relies on strength more than speed, which probably ages better in the long run.

VINNY CURRY

Regular season stats: 575 snaps, 26 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 17 QB hits, 27 QB hurries, 24 stops

Playoff stats: 126 snaps, 5 tackles, 4 QB hits, 11 QB hurries, 4 stops

Review: Curry, who never started a single game in his five seasons before 2017, started every single game at defensive end in 2017. It was a bounce-back season for the 2012 second-round pick. In 2016, Curry only played 42% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps (sixth most of any Eagles defensive lineman) despite being handed a big contract extension in the offseason. This year, Curry was more productive with increased playing time. He finished second in the NFL in quarterback hits and ranked 13th out of 39 4-3 defensive ends in PFF’s pressure rate. He wasn’t exceptional by any means. Just quietly good.

Outlook: Curry turns 30 years old in June. The Eagles might prefer to move on from his contract since they could save $5 million. If that’s the case, it would likely be a trade. I can’t really see them cutting him. The problem is: who is trading for Curry’s contract? In terms of annual value, he’s making top seven defensive end money. Curry isn’t that kind of impact player. It’s possible the Eagles could try to restructure his deal or ask him to take a pay cut. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Curry this offseason.

CHRIS LONG

Regular season stats: 496 snaps, 20 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 14 QB hits, 33 QB hurries, 19 stops

Playoff stats: 92 snaps, 4 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defensed, 6 QB hurries, 6 QB hits, 3 stops

Review: What a season it was for back-to-back Super Bowl champion Chris Long. He was a fantastic pickup for the Eagles as a rotational pass rusher off the bench. Long’s pressure rate ranked seventh out of 39 4-3 defensive ends. A number of his four strip-sacks came in key situations, such as when he knocked the ball out of Jared Goff’s hands to help the Eagles clinch the NFC East in Week 14. Long was also responsible for pressuring Case Keenum into throwing a pick six to Patrick Robinson in the NFC Championship Game. Clutch player. Long made a huge positive impact in the community by donating all of his game checks to education. What a guy. Long’s off-field efforts were rewarded with the highest honor the NFLPA can bestow upon a player: the Byron “Whizzer” White award.

Outlook: Long has one more year left on his deal. Is the 33-year-old thinking about retirement?

Nope.

DEREK BARNETT

Regular season stats: 424 snaps, 18 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive TD, 10 QB hits, 21 QB hurries, 17 stops, 2 blocked kicks

Playoff stats: 82 snaps, 2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 QB hit, 3 QB hurries, 1 stop

Review: Not everyone was thrilled by the Eagles’ selection of Barnett in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. All told, though, he had a pretty productive rookie year as a rotational pass rusher off the bench. Barnett’s pressure rate ranked 22nd out of 39 4-3 defensive ends while his run stop rate was seventh best. Barnett even made plays on the ball on special teams with two blocked kicks. The crazy thing about Barnett is that he turns 22 years old in June. He’s still very young and he’s only going to get better.

Outlook: Interested to see the jump Barnett makes from Year 1 to Year 2. Maybe he’ll be able to supplant Curry (if he’s back) as a starter in 2018 if the second-year player plays well and forces his way onto the field more often. That’d be nice.

STEVEN MEANS

Regular season stats: 53 snaps, 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 2 QB hurries, 2 stops

Review: Means beat out Alex McCalister to become the Eagles’ fifth defensive end. He also earned a one-year contract extension in the process. Means only played six games in 2017, including the Eagles’ Week 17 finale against the Cowboys. It was nice to see him notch a sack in that game. A lot of Philadelphia’s offensive linemen have praised Means for being a really good test for them in practice.

Outlook: Means always seems to be productive when he plays. It’s just that he isn’t able to get a lot of playing time since the Eagles are so talented and deep at his position. If Curry isn’t back, that would potentially open up a role for Means. Otherwise the 27-year-old will likely resume his 2017 role in 2018.

BRYAN BRAMAN

Regular season stats: 67 special teams snaps, 12 defensive snaps

Playoff stats: 1 special teams tackle, 1 tipped punt

Review: Braman isn’t actually a “real” defensive end but it’s official listed position so we might as well talk about him here. The Eagles opted not to re-sign Braman as a free agent last year. He spent most of the 2017 offseason unemployed before he had a brief stint with the Saints. After New Orleans cut him, he remained a free agent until the Eagles signed him in December. Philadelphia used the roster spot they freed up by placing Carson Wentz on injured reserve in order to bring Braman back. The move paid off as Braman was able to contribute on special teams. He did make a bad mistake on an accidental muffed punt in the Eagles-Falcons playoff game but he redeemed himself later by tipping a punt.

Outlook: Braman is a free agent once again. It really wouldn’t hurt to bring him back on a minimum deal but I don’t know if the Eagles will. Personally, I’d sign the special teams dude who goes all out and has a motto of “Kill. Maim. Destroy.” to a lifetime contract.

WHO COULD SIGN

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Eagles bring back 2016 seventh-round pick Alex McCalister for his third training camp with Philadelphia. He made some progress from Year 1 to Year 2. The fifth defensive end spot came down to him versus Steven Means last summer.

If the Eagles are looking for a player they can sign to the veteran’s minimum, how about Leger Douzable? He once played under former Rams defensive coordinator and current Eagles linebacker coach Ken Flajole. He has the versatility to play both defensive end and defensive tackle. Douzable was also like the only guy to notch a sack while going up against Lane Johnson this season. And his name is cool.

Former Eagles first round pick Marcus Smith is available. Lol.

NFL DRAFT OPTIONS

Long turns 33 in March. Graham turns 30 in April. Curry turns 30 in June. Long and Graham are currently only signed through the 2018 season. Curry could potentially be a cap casualty this year or in the future. In other words, defensive end is still a long-term need. You can never have too many good pass rushers, anyway.

If there’s a really good edge rusher at No. 32, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Eagles drafting him. More likely the Eagles might target a pass rusher in the middle rounds. Check out Ben Natan’s post for some potential draft targets.

Mike Mayock’s top five edge rushers:

1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State

2. Marcus Davenport, UTSA

3. Arden Key, LSU

4. Harold Landry, Boston College

5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State