No offseason overviews saw the defensive line as a need for the Eagles. Especially not on the interior, where the front already had the significant investments of Malik Jackson and Fletcher Cox. Yet, knowing Howie’s history, and Schwartz’s scheme, surely it shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
The Birds have added an interior defensive lineman every year since Schwartz was sacked from Soldier field. Timmy Jernigan, Michael Bennett and Malik Jackson were all recruited for the singular purpose of sacks. The Eagles’ even front deploys four defensive lineman at all times, they want to take every opportunity to maximise their potential for pressure. Hargrave won’t be sitting on the bench either. Schwartz has consistently rotated on the interior throughout his tenure as the defense’s head honcho. Truthfully, having Cox and Jackson on base downs is a bit of a luxury, and Timmy Jernigan’s non-football injury scuppered any chance of securing that position for the future. Hargave is great value at $13 million a year. That’s only 12th amongst interior defensive lineman. Not all nose tackles are created equal, and Hargrave provides significantly more impact than the likes of Jarran Reed ($11.5 million/year) or Eddie Goldman ($10.5 million/year). The distinction between nose tackles and 3 techs in Schwartz’s 1-gap scheme is as meaningful as Doug’s claim he’s committed to Mike Groh.
While the Hargrave addition earns an A for awesome, Darius Slay’s signing earns more suspicion. The evidence has Jim Schwartz’s fingerprints all over it. In the hierarchy of organised crime, he’s more Stringer Bell than De’Angelo Barksdale. Far from being a pawn, Schwartz’s autonomy appears absolute on the defensive side of the ball. Is it reasonable for Schwartz to have so much sway surrounding a player he coached for half a season five years ago? Slay is 29, appears declining somewhat, and earning top dollar compared to corner-matched controls. Perhaps recent transactions involving mid-round picks and Detroit Lions make me nervous, but Slay is far from guaranteed to live up to the cost and compensation over the long-term.
It means the situation at safety remains problematic. Rather than overhaul the secondary as a whole, the front office have opted to tweak the unit with one major splash. Mills’ move to safety, especially if he ends up starting week one, could be disastrous. McLeod returns for good value, but was amongst the prime culprits for the coverage breakdowns a season ago. Consistency is great, but the backend has been poor for the past couple seasons, and it’s hard to make an argument for continuity when one of the starters is undergoing such a dramatic positional shift.
The main area of need – offensive playmakers – remains unaddressed in its entirety. The Eagles need to nail draft night.