Entering the player acquisition period of the offseason, it's worthwhile to focus on the defensive line. By releasing Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson earlier this week, the Eagles have only three surefire, true defensive linemen for the 3-4 defense/4-3 under they're expected to play. (Brandon Graham, Trent Cole, Vinny Curry, and Phillip Hunt are likely to become pass rushers in the new defense and must also drop back in coverage. However, nothing is set it stone.) So these are the three players to pay attention to, and how they fit:
FLETCHER COX -- There is no player on the defense who generated more excitement from those in the Eagles organization than Cox, a a 6-foot-4, 298-pounder who can play in any system. Cox would like be the "three-technique" tackle, and he'll line up between the guard and the tackle. (This could also be an end in the 3-4.) "He can be an end, a 3-technique, a nose tackle, he can be a 5-technique,a 4-technique," general manager Howie Roseman said. "He's got an incredible skill set. He does all those things really well. I think you're looking for a jump from him year one to year two."
Cox recorded 5.5 sacks last season. The Eagles love his versatility, his size/speed combination, and his personality. He's also notably young; Cox will not turn 23 until December. By comparison, Star Loutlelei is already 23, as is Ziggy Ansah. And Dion Jordan will be 23 when next season begins.
You can put Cox into the starting lineup with a pen.
CEDRIC THORNTON -- Thornton has been an under-the-radar player, but the Eagles have liked him ever since they signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2011. They liked him so much that when Thornton was on practice squad in 2011 and another team had interest in signing him to the active roster, the Eagles matched the salary and paid Thornton an active-roster salary even when on practice squad. Thornton stayed because he felt confident he had a future with the Eagles, and he was on the roster throughout last season. He had one sack last season in a reserve role, although the Eagles view him as an emerging player. And at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds, Thornton will get an opportunity as a strong-side defensive end in the expected new defense. He will be 25 next season.