Oct 26, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Shoestring Budget 2015 Defense
With much of the salary cap gone, “poof”, vanished, the Eagles now must use surgical precision to tweak here, rework a contract there, and fill the roster with players who add to the team without the salary of an NFL superstar. Sounds impossible? Well, it’s not really. Despite the fears of the unknown, and the rapid pace at which available salary cap space became committed salary cap is pretty much on par with the way things work in the NFL. For years the Philadelphia Eagles had watched the team underspend by $20M+ a year and were left wondering what might have happened if they had signed that one last free agent to put them over the top? In 2011, the team discovered that blind acquisition of free agency cannot make up for a horrendous draft. As the team said farewell to free agents, the next man up was not quite filling the shoes of the guy who had left. With the 2013 and 2014 drafts, I think the team has found itself in a better place. The defense tired in 2014. It tired because the offense was so fast that the other team was able to run more plays. In fact, the Eagles were second to the Cleveland Browns in numbers of plays on defense.
So the team needs more than holes plugged. It needs depth. It needs quality depth. 2015 may be the year for that.
A year ago, mock drafts continued to target a first round defensive lineman for the Eagles. “They got pushed around in the playoff game.” one said. “The Eagles defensive front needs talent” said another. But in our piece from a year ago, I saw no need to add defensive linemen, except for depth. And as we found during the draft, the team added a defensive end in the fifth round in Taylor Hart and a nose tackle in the seventh round in Beau Allen. With a starting line up of defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Fletcher Cox book-ending the anchor of the defense nose tackle Benny Logan, the team is in excellent shape for years to come – assuming that they can keep all three resigned. Backing up the middle is Beau Allen and Wade Kalikipi, while the ends have Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, and Taylor Hart.
This defensive line is ideal for what the Eagles do on defense and they are young and reaching a level of NFL maturity where those who are destined for greatness will begin to show signs of it.
This is both a good thing (for now) and a curse, in that the young defensemen will likely be coming up to their next contract soon. Can they play themselves out of the Eagles price range? Unfortunately, yes.
Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, and Cedric Thornton have all played with great heart and resolve. They will be looking for a huge contract in the near future. But with players like Beau Allen, Vinny Curry, and Brandon Bair gnawing to get more playing time, the team will have trouble paying for everyone. As much as I hate to say it, the recent wave of veterans leaving who look for their pay raise is not a lesson I will soon ignore. And with so many quality players coming of age, 2015 may be the crest of the hill for our defensive line.
Right now, the defensive line is in about as good of shape as any segment of the Eagles team. Defensive end Vinny Curry comes off the bench to wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks, while Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan plug the line and keep nearly all running lanes bottle up. Fletcher Cox had a remarkable 2014, and should project an even better year in 2015. So what is left? The future is uncertain. With so many dollars committed, the team will need to begin “plan B” options for veterans who will not be happy to accept a deep discount offer to remain on the team.
So what does that mean? Look for something similar as 2014. The Eagles have adequate depth for short duration absences in 2015, but should a quality defensive linemen fall to day three, I would not be surprised to see the Eagles take one there. The Eagles have eight defensive linemen for three positions at this time. By the time training camp opens, I expect to see them sign two more. Defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro has done some pretty good work for the Eagles in his first two years. 2015 will demonstrate once more that he is one of the best DL coaches in the NFL.
Next: The Shoestring Linebacking Corps