The Philadelphia Eagles had one of the best pass rushes in all of the NFL last season. As a team, they totaled 49 sacks, 167 quarterback pressures, a pressure percentage of 27.9 percent, and 62 quarterback knockdowns. All of this was done while blitzing on just 22.2 percent of the defensive snaps, the fifth lowest percentage of any team in the league.
The defensive line was the only bright spot on the 4-11-1 Eagles last season. And on paper, they should be even better this season, with the most notable addition being Ryan Kerrigan.
But there’s one player whom, while being an asset along one of the most productive defensive lines in football, hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations since being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. I’m of course talking about Derek Barnett.
There are a handful of built-in excuses for Barnett’s lack luster play through four NFL seasons. For starters, he’s dealt with several injuries throughout his career, as he’s failed to play a full 16-game season since entering the NFL. The other one you’ll hear a lot, is the fact that he’s still only 24 years old. The comparisons between Barnett’s subpar start to his NFL career and Brandon Graham’s is typically cited by any Barnett apologist.
Some of those points are fair, but that doesn’t diminish how pivotal this season is for Barnett.
Barnett is entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021. The $10 million price tag he was given after the team exercised his fifth-year option is an obvious overpay, but it shows that the organization still has faith in his abilities, and they’re willing to give him one more year to prove himself.
But past this year, Barnett’s future in Philly is murky at best.
Not only did the team go out and acquire a proven pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan, they drafted a handful of defensive ends as well. Both Taron Jackson and Patrick Johnson have the potential to make the roster this year. Johnson in particular has a high ceiling for someone who was drafted in the seventh round, mostly due to his polished technique and nose for the football.
We can’t forget Josh Sweat either, who came on strong last season as a situational pass rusher. While playing just 38 percent of the defensive snaps in 2020, Sweat totaled six sacks, nine tackles for loss, and 12 quarterback hits. Barnett played 49 percent of the defensive snaps last season and finished with 5.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, and 16 quarterback hits.
If Barnett is going to become the premiere pass rusher we all hope he will be in Philly, he has to do it this season. Otherwise, he’ll have to prove himself all over again on another team. There’s too much young potential at the defensive end position for the Eagles to overpay for someone like Barnett.
At this point in his career, he’s put up situational pass rusher type numbers. That type of player shouldn’t be paid anything over $10 million per season, and the Eagles already have younger, cheaper players to play that role (Sweat, Johnson, or even Kerrigan for this season at least).
Not to mention the team could potentially have three first round picks next season. It’s certainly plausible to think that they may use one of those selections on a premiere pass rusher if Barnett disappoints again this season.
With all that being said, the most ideal outcome here is that Barnett has a breakout season and warrants a nice contract extension. If he truly put it all together this season, then resigning a 25-year-old for the next 3-4 seasons is a no-brainer. But the Eagles have options here.
If Barnett wants to get paid like a premiere pass rusher, then he’ll have to come out this year and prove that he is one.
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