Is Fletcher Cox's contract a problem?
Now that Sam Bradford has returned to the nest, Fletcher Cox is the lone member of the Eagles skipping the team's ongoing voluntary workouts. That along with the figures being floated for a new contract the two sides are working on - anticipated to total around $100 million with around $60 million guaranteed - has been the cause of some angst this offseason.
First of all, as far as Cox's "holdout" is concerned - strange terminology when participation is voluntary - it couldn't be less of an issue. As a defensive lineman, the fifth-year veteran isn't really missing anything right now, and in all likelihood, he'll show up as soon as the practices become mandatory. There's no reason to risk injury unnecessarily while negotiating such a massive deal.
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As far as said deal wreaking havoc on the Eagles' books, obviously we'll have to wait and see the final numbers and how it's structured, but there probably isn't much reason to worry about that, either. If there's one thing vice president of football operations Howie Roseman is an expert at, it's managing the salary cap. Meanwhile the idea that winning teams don't invest heavily in defensive tackles simply isn't true, as three of the four highest-paid interior linemen as recently as 2014 went to the playoffs.
Cox racked up 9.5 sacks as a 3-4 defensive end last season. He's by far the best player on the Eagles already, and he's about to be unleashed as an interior pass-rusher in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's aggressive wide-9 scheme. Whatever Cox winds up signing on the dotted line for, he will almost certainly be worth.
Can Vinny Curry anchor the pass rush?
Much more alarming is the contract the Eagles awarded Vinny Curry this offseason - five years, $46.5 million with $18 million guaranteed. Not because the former second-round draft pick couldn't possibly live up to it, but because there's very little in the way of concrete evidence to make such a declaration with any certainty.
Granted, the way the deal is structured, the Eagles can easily get out from under the contract after two years. Essentially, the club is gambling that Curry could excel as a full-time defensive end in Schwartz's 4-3 defense, which there is reason to believe.
Up to this point, Curry's lack of production has been largely a matter of circumstance. He was buried on the bench his rookie campaign, and spent the past three years as a situational pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme for which he was ill-suited. However, Curry did demonstrate a knack for disruption, especially in 2014 when he registered 9.0 sacks and four forced fumbles while playing less than one-third of the defensive snaps. Lightning didn't strike twice, as he finished with only 3.5 sacks last season in similarly limited playing time, but the potential was there.
Curry has an explosive first step, and while he was undersized at end in a 3-4, his 6'3", 279-pound frame will be a load coming off the edge in a 4-3. It's easy to look at the stat sheet and call the soon-to-be-28-year-old a one-hit wonder. The film, on the other hand, says differently. When used properly, not only could Curry be a quality starter - quite honestly, he might be a Pro Bowler.
Is Connor Barwin a pure defensive end?
It's fair to say Connor Barwin could be considered a prototype 3-4 outside linebacker. At 6'4", 264 pounds, he has the size to set the edge or rush the passer, twice racking up double-digit sacks in a season, yet is also athletic enough to drop into coverage and comfortably play in space, even lining up on the perimeter and jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Barwin is a true jack of all trades and was perfect for the position.
With the Eagles switching to a 4-3, the eighth-year veteran will revert to defensive end, where hasn't played since he was essentially a rookie. The question is whether he will be as effective lining up in the trenches on an every-down basis, and are his talents maybe going somewhat to waste by using him that way?
As to the latter, it will be interesting to see if Schwartz moves Barwin around the defense. With Curry and Brandon Graham also at end, the luxury certainly exists if the Eagles so desire. It's not the defensive coordinator's style to deviate much from his scheme, but Barwin's value elsewhere could be too great to ignore, particularly if a thin group of linebackers struggles.
More importantly, whether Barwin can remain effective with his hand in the dirt doesn't seem like it should be much of a problem. This is a Pro Bowl player who's posted an 11.5- and a 14.5-sack season as an edge-rusher. It shouldn't be completely new or that much different at all. He also posted 4.5 sacks at end as a rookie for the Texans. The only concern might be whether the wear and tear of mixing it up at the point of attack over a 16-game schedule would lessen Barwin's impact, but again, with Curry and Graham sharing the load, the Eagles should be able to manage that.
Will Bennie Logan be as effective in new scheme?
At one time, this question was "Is Bennie Logan big enough to play nose tackle?" Perhaps it's a good sign the answer turned out to be resounding "Yes."
By his third season at nose, Logan had become dominant at the position, particularly against the run. Injury slowed him late last season, but after 11 games, the 26-year-old was among the leading NFL linemen with 49 tackles and 11 run stuffs. In fact, Logan became so good at reading the offense's play pre-snap, he often knew what was coming beforehand and would blow past the center unblocked off the snap to blow up the ball-carrier in the backfield.
Things are going to be quite a bit different for Logan in Schwartz's scheme. Logan's instinct will still serve him well, but no longer will he be lining up over the center and choosing his gap based on the right read. Barring the emergence of another interior linemen, Logan will also be a regular three-down player for the first time in his career - and he hasn't shown much in the way of a pass rush in limited opportunities with 3.0 career sacks.
None of which is to count Logan out. In addition to being a smart player, the 2013 third-round selection is also capable of overwhelming opposing linemen with his strength. That being said, it's going to be a bit of an adjustment going from what he was asked to do as a 3-4 nose to a 4-3 tackle in a wide-9. For what it's worth, if their lack of investment in the position this offseason is any indication, the Eagles feel his abilities will translate just fine.
Is there enough interior depth?
The Eagles appear to have a solid if not downright dangerous rotation at defensive end between Curry, Barwin and Graham, with either Marcus Smith or seventh-round rookie Alex McAlister likely vying for snaps. As for who behind Cox and Logan could provide the occasional breather along the interior, the situation gets a little murky.
There are bodies - it's a matter of whether any of them are actually any good. The Eagles spent a fifth- and seventh-round picks on Taylor Hart and Beau Allen two years ago, though neither has been particularly productive. Of the two, the 6'3", 327-pound Allen may have a better shot to contribute as he'll no longer be shoehorned into a nose. It remains to be seen whether Hart has value beyond a 3-4 end too, which even that he struggled with at times last season.
2012 third-round selection Mike Martin was also added to the mix just before the draft as well, though that's probably a bit of a Hail Mary. The 25-year-old does have experience in a wide-9 front, but also only one sack in 30 games over the past three seasons, so the Eagles certainly aren't relying on any production there.
A trio of undrafted rookies are in the mix at well (Aziz Shittu, Destiny Vaeao, Connor Wujciak), which suggests the Eagles realize they have a bit of a problem here. The guess here is they'll be scanning the waiver wire come August and into September, because at the very least, there is nobody proven backing up Cox and Logan. That's a problem just for the sake of fielding a decent rotation, and potentially crippling if a starter were to sustain a lengthy injury.
5 Questions: O-line