Now that Chris Long is officially retired, the Eagles have a hole to fill on their defensive line. If everyone plays up to their potential, the defensive front-7 is set. But banking on production when the odds aren’t in your favor isn’t smart business, and I’m sure Howie Roseman realizes that.
Fletcher Cox is coming off his best season as a pro, earning himself All-Pro honors while accumulating 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and 34 QB hits, all career highs. But aside from Cox, the rest of the defensive line took a major step back last season. BG only recorded four sacks; the second lowest total of his career. Derek Barnett missed two-thirds of the season due to injury, only recording 2.5 sacks when he was healthy.
Michael Bennett and Chris Long were the team’s best edge rushers last season, and now they’re both gone. Bringing in Malik Jackson should help a bit along with the addition of Vinny Curry. But Jackson is an interior guy so he doesn’t directly help the edge rushing situation and Curry isn’t a premiere pass rusher by any means.
The free agent market for pass rushers isn’t great, but there are some players that would fit in to a situational role on the Birds defense. The trade market is more promising for sure, and we all know Howie is masterful when it comes to pulling off trades. Here are three possibilities or routes the Eagles can take to replace Chris Long in the defensive line rotation.
Free Agent: Derrick Morgan
As I already said, the free agent market for pass rushers is pretty dry at this point in the offseason. Derrick Morgan was drafted the same year of Brandon Graham and has been a solid defensive end for the Titans the past few seasons.
He’s coming off the worst year of his career though, only recording half a sack in 13 games. In the two years prior Morgan combined for 16.5 sacks and 36 total QB hits — the best two-year output of his career.
He hit a wall last season, there’s no denying that. At 30 years of age being a starting defensive end probably isn’t the best role for his declining skill set, so transitioning into a situational pass rushing role could prolong his career.
He should be relatively cheap as well, coming off his worst statistic year and all, and we all know that Howie has a knack for bringing in contributors for pennies on the dollar. If Howie decides to take the free agency route to fill Long’s vacancy, Derrick Morgan will likely be the target.
Trade: Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
Falcons’ pass rusher Vic Beasley seemed to be on his way to becoming one of the best sack masters in the NFL after his second season in the league. He totaled 15.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign, earning him first team All-Pro honors. In the two years since Beasley has only combined for ten sacks total, a pretty drastic decline for such a young player.
Some argue that he simply peaked in 2016 and that the Falcons will likely never get that same type of production out of him. The common theme among Atlanta fans is that he’s either a bust/one shot wonder, or that he only needs one more season to get right under Dan Quinn. Aside from Vic’s outstanding 2016 output, he’s averaged 4.5 sacks per season. Clearly, his 2016 campaign was the outlier.
If the Falcons’ brass doesn’t believe they’ll ever see the 2016 version of Beasley again, dealing him while he still has value would be a wise decision. He’s also entering the final year of his contract, so the time to trade him is now or never.
Howie would probably have to give up a mid round draft pick for him, but putting him along a defensive line where he won’t be pressured to produce at a high pace could benefit him immensely. Coming off the bench as the pass rushing ‘sixth man’ is a scary thought, especially if he can conjure the same type of play he produced in 2016. A change of scenery could be just what he needs to get his career back on track.
Trade: Arik Armstead, San Francisco 49ers
After signing defensive end Damontre Moore and Dee Ford along with drafting Nick Bosa this offseason, the Niners suddenly have a loaded defensive end room. Arik Armstead, who started all 16 games for San Fran last season, could be the odd man out. He recorded three sacks, 48 total tackles and 12 QB hits in 2018.
He isn’t a pass rushing specialist like Beasley is, but he would still provide depth at the end position. Although he hasn’t showcased the ability to get after the passer at an elite level, I’d still rather have Armstead coming off the bench in the defensive line rotation than either Josh Sweat or Shareef Miller. Sweat and Miller may have a higher ceiling, but right now Armstead is clearly the better option.
With how loaded the Niners are at defensive end, I would be shocked if they didn’t at least try to trade Armstead. He probably wouldn’t cost as much as it would to trade for Beasley too, which would be appealing to Howie.
If the Falcons refuse to give up on Beasley, trading for someone like Armstead would be a solid consolation prize.