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Weapon X Mailbag: What’s the ceiling for the Eagles’ defense?

Plus: Best Eagles-themed fantasy football team names?

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

31 more days.

Let’s hit this week’s questions...

@Ollie92557880: What’s the ceiling for the defense this year? Top 15? Top 10? Top 5!?

If we’re talking ceiling, being a top-five unit is on the table. They’ll comfortably be an above-average defense and I expect them to be in the top 10.

For as bad as the Eagles’ defense might have seemed in 2020, they still came in at 15th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA.

They’re even better now.

Steven Nelson and Anthony Harris will bolster the secondary.

The Nate Gerry nightmare has passed and the Eagles have upgraded at linebacker with Eric Wilson.

The defensive line?

Oh, boy, that defensive line.

The two best d-lines in the entire league may reside in the NFC East with the Eagles and Washington. The ageless Brandon Graham will be back following a career year. Fletcher Cox still mans the interior and Javon Hargrave should bounce back in a healthy season. Free agent addition Ryan Kerrigan and third-round pick Milton Williams will give the Eagles their greatest depth on the line since the team’s Super Bowl campaign.

What’s most exciting about the Birds’ defense is the development of young defensive ends Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett. Sweat has, by all accounts, had the best training camp of any Eagle, looking like a guy who could put up double-digit sack numbers. Barnett isn’t too far behind with his camp performance, as he appears to be putting all the tools together that made him a first-round selection in 2017.

While we don’t know whether Sweat or Barnett will get the starter label, they’ll both play a ton of snaps in fairly equal supply. A rotation of Graham, Sweat, Barnett and Kerrigan should keep all those dudes fresh deep into games.

The Eagles’ offense has been inconsistent in camp, but this defense is going to be a hell of a lot fun this season.

@LargePetroleum: Who is more likely to be starting for the Eagles in 2022 –Josh Sweat or Derek Barnett?

The previous question sort of leads into this.

I feel as if the majority of Eagles fans would automatically say Sweat here.

It’s all about expectations.

Barnett was a first-round pick in 2017. Sweat was a fourth-round pick in 2018.

Barnett is supposed to be great. Sweat blossoming into a legit rusher is a welcomed surprise.

Over the last two years, Barnett has played 27 games and recorded 12 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. In the same span, Sweat has played 30 games and recorded 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

They’re not too far off in age. Sweat turned 24 in March and Barnett turned 25 in June. They’re both young and their futures in Philadelphia are up in the air.

Barnett’s contract was restructured earlier this month with some voided years added to the end of his deal to free up cap space. The Eagles would incur a dead cap penalty of just $2.8 million if he was a post-June 1 cut next year and a penalty of $1.8 million if he was traded after June 1 (via OverTheCap).

If Barnett is here in 2022, it’ll be on an entirely new contract and it likely means that Sweat won’t be.

Sure, the Eagles could try to keep them both, but with Fletcher Cox on a monster contract (could he be gone in 2022?) and Brandon Graham on a deal that should keep him in Philly through 2023, it doesn’t feel possible.

The easiest (and most boring) answer would be to say that whichever guy plays better in 2021 will be the one rewarded with a new deal, but it’s the simplest.

I’m buying Josh Sweat stock. I’m predicting he tops 10 sacks this season and gets a fat contract from the Birds. Once that ink dries, you should be running out and grabbing a Sweat jersey as the team’s best young defender. #94? Good number for a defensive lineman!

@warrenabrahamso: What are some positives you’re already seeing with the coaching changes? Negatives?

It’s a little hard to speak on this given that we haven’t even seen a preseason game yet, let alone a real one. I’ll give you two takeaways:

On a macro level, I enjoy Nick Sirianni’s personality. I like his emphasis on getting through to the group of young, inconsistent wide receivers. His intro press conference was crushed and his rock-paper-scissors excitement was laughed at, but I appreciate the earnestness.

This is a team with young players at some of the most important positions in the sport (Barnett, Sweat, Jordan Mailata, Jalen Hurts, etc.) that could be key contributors for the team for the next half-decade or more. Rebuilding the culture after the implosion of the Doug Pederson-Carson Wentz era is huge to me.

On a micro level, the way Jonathan Gannon has used a variety of defensive fronts is intriguing. In camp, Gannon’s defenses have aligned in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks with former defensive end. Genard Avery has spent time in the “JOKER” position, acting as a standup rusher, something we haven’t seen from the Eagles in years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kerrigan get some snaps in that role too.

It’s less about the fact that Gannon is making use of different fronts and more about the fact that it appears he’s doing so to maximize the talent of the players he has to work with. After the stubborn days of Jim Schwartz, Gannon is refreshing.

@warrenabrahamso: What are some good Eagles Fantasy Football team names?

One new one I came up with this year: Kelly Green Eggs and Cunningham. I’m using it. You want to use it? Go for it!

There are some other ones that are more basic: Hurts So Good, Ertz So Good, Hakuna Mailata, Kenny from the Block, Dallas Sucks (can you beat that?), Kerryon My Wayward Son, Killins in the Name Of, Great Scott, Boston TD Party, Lando Caldickerson, Get Off Of McLeod, Send Me on My Ridgeway, Javon Hargrave Digger, Fire Howie, etc.