Eagles’ biggest strengths heading into 2021 should be no surprise originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Andy Reid is long gone. So too are Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson and now there’s another new head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Through all that change, one thing has remained.
The Eagles still build through the trenches, perhaps more than any other team in the NFL.
And as Nick Sirianni takes over a team that won just four games last season, that’s at least one thing he has going for him. He’s inheriting an offensive line and defensive line that are sill the strengths of the team. Just like Big Red designed.
“We’re the engine that runs this team: O-line, D-line,” Brandon Graham said. “How we play up front, that’s how this team is going to go.”
The Eagles have never been shy about their philosophy of building through the lines. Reid made sure of it and Howie Roseman continues to build his teams the same way. For the most part, it has made the Eagles a successful franchise over the last 20 or so years.
It’s amazing that nearly a decade after Reid last coached in Philly, three of his players are among the six captains of the team in 2021. And all three — Graham, Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox — are linemen.
“We’ve been fortunate to, first of all, draft really, really good players in those positions,” Kelce said. “We were fortunate enough to invest in those positions, which makes our ability to function and our ability to call plays easier.”
Although it isn’t luck. It’s design.
The Eagles this season are spending nearly $49 million in salary cap space on their defensive line and just over $35 million on their offensive line, according to Spotrac.
Together, it’s a total of over $85 million (or 41.1% of their adjusted cap figure) on their two lines. That’s more than any team in the NFL.
And when you look at their draft picks, the strategy shows there too. Since 2000, the Eagles have taken 19 players in the first round — 12 of them have been linemen.
During this time they have drafted 65 players on Days 1 and 2 of drafts — 24 of them have been linemen.
So it’s not just talk.
“Obviously, the line play often overlooked, I guess,” Kelce said. “But it’s crucial to building a cohesive defense or offense. You need the skill positions to win games, no doubt, but having poor offensive lines and poor defensive lines will lose you games really quick.”
The Eagles were supposed to have strong lines last year but the offensive line was decimated by injuries, starting 13 different lineups in 16 games. The D-line was again very good.
This year on offense, the Eagles hope to stay healthy. If they do, the line of Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. And even if there are some injuries, the Eagles look deeper this season with Andre Dillard, Landon Dickerson, Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig coming off the bench.
As for the defensive line, Cox and Graham are still the anchors but the rotations looks like a good one with Derek Barnett, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Milton Williams and Hassan Ridgeway.
The expectations nationally for the Eagles coming into this season aren’t very good. Some folks don’t believe in Jalen Hurts. Some don’t believe in Sirianni.
But if this team ends up exceeding those expectations in 2021, you can bet the lines will be a big reason why.
“It does start with us every time,” Graham said. “And we always talk about it. We put that on our shoulders to make sure that doesn’t go unnoticed every year. Every year we need the D-line and O-line to be the sparks of the team.”
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