"In the National Football League you have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback; you put pressure on the quarterback it makes everybody better. It makes the secondary better, it makes the linebackers better and that really makes the offense better. They get the ball back and can score a little bit more. So, we went out and brought in some guys we felt can rush the passer."
That's what Andy Reid said right after the Eagles drafted Brandon Graham in the first round of the 2010 draft. His comment highlights something the Eagles have always done: spend big on pass rushers. Since Reid came to Philadelphia, the Eagles have used their first draft pick to take two defensive ends and four defensive tackles. They've also given out fat paychecks to free agents like Jevon Kearse, Darren Howard and Chris Clemons.
Even though many of those moves didn't work out, Reid obviously isn't blowing smoke when he talks about the need for elite pass rushers. He's putting his money where his mouth is.
Graham was just the latest example of this emphasis, and he was supposed to quickly push for a starting spot opposite of perennial All-Star Trent Cole. Graham rose to that challenge, at least at first, and there was a lot of hope that he could progress substantially in his second year. Unfortunately, he suffered an ACL tear in December, cutting his rookie season short and jeopardizing his 2011 as well.
Yet now Graham's recovery is further in doubt after the news last week that he also underwent the even more serious microfracture surgery on that same knee. If Graham's recovery is anything like Victor Abiamiri's, he might not get on the field at all this coming season. and projecting for 2012 is just foolish.
That's a big problem for the vital defensive end unit that already could be characterized as Cole and a bunch of question marks. We weren't necessarily counting on Graham at the start of the season but there was always the thought he could contribute. This might eliminate the best possible contender for stepping up at LDE.
So where does that leave the Eagles? If Graham can't be the guy, they need to go in another direction for a second pass rusher. I'm starting to think the logical step is to make yet another big free agent splash at defensive end.
Ray Edwards of the Minnesota Vikings would be a perfect fit. He's a young 4-3 end who is used to being the number two guy across from Jared Allen. Edwards is also big — at 6'5", 270 lbs he fits the Jim Washburn model. Other possibilities include the Panthers' Charles Johnson or the return of Jason Babin.
If they can't secure reinforcements, the Eagles loss of Graham could really hurt them when football returns.