Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner ... maybe? Players are currently scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex later this month. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the defensive tackle spot. Previously: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive line | Defensive end.
Cox is coming off a season in which he posted the second lowest sack total of his career. This is hardly to suggest he was bad in 2019 but he wasn’t quite the consistently elite force the Eagles needed him to be as the highest paid player on the team. In fairness, Cox was coming off a serious foot injury that prevented him from practicing all offseason long. Now healthy, the Eagles are expecting Cox to bounce back in 2020. The team has surrounded the 29-year-old with more help at his position so that offensive lines can’t just always key in on him.
The Eagles surprised many by handing out big money to another defensive tackle in free agency. Upon closer inspection, there are things to like about Hargrave’s profile. The 27-year-old has only missed one game in his career. He doesn’t have gaudy sack numbers but he was the fourth best interior defensive lineman last year in terms of Pro Football Focus’s pressure rate. There’s thought that Hargrave wasn’t the perfect fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive scheme and he’ll have more of an opportunity to thrive in Philly. We’ll see if their bet pays off.
The Eagles believe losing Jackson — whom they signed to a three-year, $30 million contract in March 2019 — to a season-ending injury in Week 1 last year was a big deal. So they must be excited about getting the 30-year-old back for the 2020 season. Jackson is making less money than both Cox and Hargrave so he might not be starting but he figures to see a lot of rotational playing time. He’s not known for being the best run defender but he should be able to provide some pass rush juice. The Eagles also know that Jackson can take some snaps at defensive end but that’s not suddenly expected to be his primary position.
Ridgeway showed some good flashes as a rotational backup before landing on injured reserve halfway through his first season with the Eagles. Philly re-signed the 2016 fourth-round pick to a one-year contract worth $1 million back in March. Ridgeway could have a minor role in the defensive tackle rotation in addition to providing depth.
Rush is the Eagles’ heaviest player listed on the roster at 6-5, 350 pounds. The 2019 undrafted rookie free agent signing is unsurprisingly a better run defender than pass rusher. Maybe he should change his last name to reflect as much? In any case, Rush will push for a fourth or fifth defensive tackle spot.
Huggy Bear spent some time on the Eagles’ roster and practice squad last season. The 2019 undrafted rookie free agent will be competing for a depth job in 2020.
Hector originally signed with Philly as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018. He’s hung around on the back of the roster and practice squad since. This could be his final chance to make a good impression.
The Eagles had a draftable grade on Williams and gave him the second highest guaranteed money figure out of their 13 undrafted rookie free agent signings. The shortened offseason obviously works against him but the Eagles seem to like something about his potential.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
The Eagles aren’t paying out three of the NFL’s top 20 interior defensive line contracts in terms of annual value by accident. They believe generating interior pressure is valuable, specifically when it comes to attacking quarterbacks who get the ball out quick or like to step up in the pocket. They also believe success from their defensive tackles will help their edge rushers. The Eagles are really hoping they won’t be decimated by injuries at the defensive tackle position for the third year in a row. They’re counting on Cox, Hargrave, and Jackson to form a fearsome trio on the inside. The latter two are expected to take extra blocking attention away from Cox.
It’ll be interesting to see exactly how the playing time is split up. We all know Jim Schwartz likes to heavily rotate his defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh. On that note, the Eagles were able to get away with Cox only playing 59% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2017. Injuries forced him to play 80% in 2018 and 78% in 2019. The 2020 Eagles will be looking to get back to their 2017 formula.
Ridgeway is the favorite for the fourth defensive spot but he faces competition from the other young guys. The Eagles could keep a fifth if someone really stands out.
WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?
No surprise cuts in store here. There was some thought the Eagles could try to move on from Jackson after signing Hargrave but that’s not financially feasible. Releasing or trading Jackson creates $16.3 million in dead money and a cap loss of $11.5 million. Moving on from Jackson in 2021 is more of a possibility.
The biggest room for surprise is Williams making the team.
On a scale of 1-5, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ defensive tackle position? (5 being the most.)
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