Eagles defensive line should continue improving despite moving on from a legend

Fletcher Cox left some huge cleats to fill, but the Eagles' defensive line will impress a lot of people in 2024.
Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles / Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Replacing a team legend during any offseason is tough. Imagine what the Philadelphia Eagles are experiencing in trying to replace two. The offensive and defensive lines will look different this coming season as two team captains are gone. Jason Kelce, the O-line's anchor since 2011, announced his decision to ride off into the sunset on March 4th. Fletcher Cox announced his retirement on Instagram six days later.

Each NFL team handles its draft strategy differently. Some employ coaches and general managers who are in hot water, so they draft based on immediate need. Other select prospects with the next five years or more in mind. Others still use both strategies, the Eagles for instance.

The Birds drafted Cam Jurgens in 2022 hoping he would eventually take over as Kelce's heir. They added two interior defensive linemen during Round 1 in 2022 and 2023 (Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter).

It's impossible to replace Kelce and Cox, but Jurgens gives us cause to be confident in what we believe will still be an elite O-line. Carter and Davis are part of the reason why there is excitement about the D-line. Adjustments are to be expected, but Philly's future still looks bright.

Expect Brandon Graham to step into more of a leadership role and for young Eagles to answer the call.

So, how does an NFL defensive line move on knowing a future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee is no longer with them? Well, as stated, leaning on theories about replacing Cox won't work. That can't be done, but rest easy as a Birds fan.

Also read; Fantastic Jason Kelce moments of the non-football variety

Philly is in better shape than most teams if faced with the same scenario. The Kansas City Chiefs D-line would look dramatically worse without Chris Jones. We'll see what happens with the L.A. Rams post-Aaron Donald.

The Eagles have been preparing themselves. Again Carter and Davis are special. New position coach Clint Hurtt runs the show and a unit that still houses an Eagles legend, one Brandon Graham.

Expect B.G. to become even more of a vocal leader than he already is. He returns for a 15th (and final) season. The Birds are also relatively deep along the defensive front.

Pro Football Focus ranks Philly's defensive line as the NFL's third best, behind the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers. Here's Sam Monson theory for making that decision. He's the writer of this one:

"For the first time in a while, the Eagles have some questions along their defensive line. Their depth is still outstanding, but it isn’t as proven as it has been in the past. Jalen Carter was a dominant force out of the gate as a rookie before cooling off in the second half of the season on his way to an 87.4 overall PFF grade.

Bryce Huff is a significant addition but may not be an upgrade over Haason Reddick on the edge while young players like Jordan Davis and Nolan Smith need to establish themselves as the dominant forces the players they are replacing did in the past."

Milton Williams... Moro Ojomo.. Marlon Tuipulotu... Nolan Smith... Bryce Huff... Jalyx Hunt... Smith, Huff, and Hunt figure to play some outside linebacker and play while standing up, but we see them as pass rushers. The Birds are going to be fine.

Cox played for a dozen seasons and stacked a PFWA All-Rookie Team nod in 2012. A First-Team All-Pro mention (2018), three Second-Team All-Pro nods (2014, 2015, 2017), Pro Bowl mentions (2015–2020) and a spot on the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team came later.

We'll never tell you that the Birds won't miss his presence in the locker room and on the field. When you place your head on the pillow tonight, however, do so with a smile on your faces. The door has opened for some young Eagles to take over the mantle.

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