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 tackle position.
Regular season stats: 783 snaps, 5.5 sacks, 24 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 pass deflection, 1 defensive TD, 16 QB hits, 43 QB hurries, 23 stops
Playoff stats: 176 snaps, 10 tackles, 1 sack, 4 QB hits, 11 QB hurries, 8 stops
Review: Remember when the season was over because Cox skipped THREE DAYS of voluntary OTA practices? Yeah, me neither. Cox was his dominant self in 2017. He was a game-wrecker. Look no further than his Thursday Night Football performance against the Panthers for a good example. The Eagles did a great job of managing his regular season snaps in order to keep him fresh for the playoffs. That’s a credit to Jim Schwartz’s heavy rotation at the position. Cox was named first-team All-Pro in 2017 and he also earned his third consecutive Pro Bowl berth. He ranked second out of all DT/NT players in pressure rate.
Outlook: Cox is only 27 years old and he’s signed through 2022. He still has plenty of great years ahead of him as an elite defensive tackle for the Eagles.
Regular season stats: 586 snaps, 16 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6 QB hits, 15 QB hurries, 17 stops
Playoff stats: 93 snaps, 1 tackle, 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, 1 QB hurry, 1 stop
Review: The Eagles had high expectations for Jernigan after trading for him last year. Jernigan delivered on that promise early in the season. He was looking dominant early on. Then he started to slow down after suffering a foot injury against the Panthers in October. The Eagles didn’t sour on him, though. Instead, they signed Big Money Tim to a long-term contract extension during the bye week. The early returns on the deal weren’t great since Jernigan continued to be quiet. His playing time was even limited in some games down the stretch.
Outlook: One of the concerns about Jernigan coming from Baltimore was that he faded later in the season. Hopefully his lack of dominance in the second half of the 2017 schedule can be explained away by injury. Moving forward, the Eagles need him to be more like the player he was before he signed a big extension. If he can do that, the combination of Cox and Jernigan should be a great defensive tackle duo for years to come.
Regular season stats: 495 snaps, 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 25 QB hurries, 18 stops
Playoff stats: 73 snaps, 2 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 QB hit, 6 QB hurries, 0 stops
Review: The Eagles reportedly had interest in signing Allen to an extension last offseason but those talks were seemingly derailed after Allen suffered a torn biceps injury while working out in February. Allen’s injury caused him to miss most of training camp and preseason but he returned in time for Week 1. Allen was the player he was expected to be: a good backup defensive tackle who can also fill in as a starter when necessary. PFF graded Allen as 42nd out of 79 tackles in 2017.
Outlook: It would be ideal for the Eagles to retain the 26-year-old Allen as a backup to Cox and Jernigan. He’s set to be a free agent, though, and he might find decent money on the market. Philadelphia might not be able to keep the man Doug Pederson once lovingly referred to as “Honey Beau Beau.”
Regular season stats: 231 snaps, 7 tackles, 1 pass deflection, 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, 6 sacks, 6 stops
Playoff stats: 11 snaps, 1 tackle
Review: Vaeao entered the season as the Eagles’ fourth defensive tackle behind Cox, Jernigan, and Allen. He suffered a hand injury in Week 1 that caused him to miss six games. Vaeao returned to the field in Week 7. He really didn’t do anything memorable.
Outlook: For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus graded Vaeao 69th out of 79 DT/NT players in 2017 and 61st out of 73 as a undrafted rookie free agent in 2016. In other words, Vaeao seems pretty replaceable. It should require a strong offseason for him to make the team in 2018.
Regular season stats: 102 snaps, 3 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 QB hit, 2 QB hurries, 2 stops
Review: PFF really loved what Qualls did last preseason. He finished the summer ranked 1st out of 189 players at DT/NT. In 142 preseson snaps, Qualls put up two sacks, seven hurries, six tackles, and seven run stops. Qualls only got regular season playing time when multiple injuries at defensive tackle forced the 2017 sixth-round pick into action. On a couple occasions, the Eagles kept Qualls as a healthy scratch while Justin Hamilton (who is now a member of the Chiefs) was active over him. This was noteworthy since Hamilton was previously on the practice squad while Qualls was on the main roster. It’s clear the Eagles liked Qualls’ long-term potential more than his ability to contribute in the short-term.
Outlook: There’s an opportunity for Qualls to step up and replace Allen as the Eagles’ No. 3 DT. Or at least replace Vaeao as the Eagles’ No. 4 DT. It won’t just be handed to him, though. He’ll have to earn his spot.
Outlook: Shittu spent the entire 2017 season on injured reserve after suffering an injury during offseason practices. The former undrafted rookie free agent showed enough promise in 2016 to make the Eagles’ practice squad. He’s an under-the-radar depth player to keep an eye on.
Outlook: Craig failed to stand out much after signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent following the 2017 NFL Draft. He spent a brief stint on Philadelphia’s 2017 practice squad. Long shot to make the team this year.
WHO COULD SIGN?
The Eagles could try to re-sign Allen. They’d probably have to risk losing him in free agency in order to do that. Let Allen test the waters and try to bring him back if he can’t find a deal he likes. The feeling here is that some team will give him more money than the Eagles can offer.
Nick Fairley is a free agent. There’s a belief his football career could be over due to a heart condition. That’s why the Saints cut him. All hope might not be lost for him, however. In January, ESPN reported he’s still looking to play. Taking a cheap flier on Fairley, who used to play for Jim Schwartz, could be a nice attempt to fill Allen’s spot.
Former Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton is going to be a free agent. He’d be an inexpensive veteran depth guy.
NFL DRAFT OPTIONS
I wouldn’t rule out the Eagles drafting a defensive tackle as high as their first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
2017 Eagles DT snap count— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) February 19, 2018
Fletcher Cox: 608 (59%)
Tim Jernigan: 492 (47.7%)
Eagles starters combined for 1100 snaps
Beau Allen: 422 (40.9%)
Destiny Vaeao: 230 (22.3%)
Elijah Qualls: 103 (10%)
Justin Hamilton 44 (4.3%)
Eagles backups combined for 799 snaps
As previously mentioned, Schwartz likes to heavily rotate his linemen. The backup defensive tackles are going to get a decent amount of playing time.
BGN draft writer Ben Natan highlighted some d-line options for the Eagles. Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle is an intriguing player due to his rare combination of massive size and athleticism.