Vinny Curry has no problem understanding why he was considered a disappointment last season, his first under a $47 million contract extension that put him among the 10 best-paid defensive ends in the NFL.
Money aside, it was his production, or lack of it, that fans, the media, and the Eagles organization criticized both publicly and privately. On the field for a career-high 43 percent of the defensive snaps, he recorded just 2.5 sacks, which represented a career low since he became a regular in 2012, his second season in the league. Additionally, his hurries on opposing quarterbacks fell from 21 the previous season to 10 in 2016. To be blunt, Curry was invisible except when it was time to point a finger at weaknesses on the team. And, yes, he accepts that.
“It’s like my dad used to say, ‘Bring home good grades and you get 10 dollars,’” Curry said.
Bring home a long stretch of games in which there are no sacks and few hurries and a defensive lineman – even if he’s already gotten the monetary end of things – won’t be rewarded with praise.
“I was able to block it out,” he said. “At the end of the day, we know I wasn’t 100 percent, so it wasn’t like I was hanging my head low. That’s sports. Everybody has an opinion. Everybody wants to be a GM or a reporter. I mean, I could talk trash about you, but it’s not going to ruin your day. You’ll just say, ‘What’s Vinny’s problem?’”
According to Curry, Vinny’s problem last season was injury, a number of nagging issues that hampered his play without being serious enough to remove him from the defensive end rotation. It started with a bad knee and developed into a hamstring strain and he never felt quite right on the field.
“It was a snowball effect. I really couldn’t do what I can when I’m 100 percent,” Curry said. “You’d see flashes, but the finish of it, something was just missing there. I fought through it and showed guts, but…health was just a factor. I worked with a specific trainer on the injuries and I feel good. I can’t wait to get started.”
Whether the Eagles anticipate a bounce-back for Curry or not, they went out and got veteran Chris Long to replace Connor Barwin and they took Derek Barnett with their first-round draft pick. Also in the mix are Steven Means, who played mostly special teams when he was active last season but did have one sack among his 36 defensive snaps, and 6-foot-6 Alex McCalister, a seventh-round pick in 2016 who was essentially red-shirted with a minor calf injury in order to give him time to add bulk to his frame, which he has done.
“The more the merrier. If it’s going to help the team, I’m all for it,” Curry said. “If you can’t thrive on competition, you shouldn’t be playing this game.”
The competition isn’t to replace Curry this season, perhaps. He’s going to get the opportunity to back up his contention that a healthy Vinny is a productive Vinny. But if not, the terms of that big contract will turn against him. After this season, the Eagles would be responsible for only $6 million in dead-cap money, which represents the remaining pro-rated hit from Curry’s $10 million signing bonus. If the team kept him for 2018, Curry’s base salary, which is $7 million this season, will jump to $9 million. That would be a lot for a defensive end who still isn’t producing and has turned 30 years old by then.
“I just have to get back to being me,” Curry said. “That’s it.”
That would be enough, particularly if it meant a season like 2014, when he recorded nine sacks and really forced the front office to bet contractually on his future. He signed the extension before last season despite a drop-off in 2015 that everyone was willing to blame on the last gasps of a Bill Davis 3-4 defense that seemingly had everyone out of place. That excuse won’t be handy this time around.
“I think he’ll be fine. He should be really good this year,” said Brandon Graham, who will once again be the starter at left defensive end. “We have to make sure we get to the quarterback, because that’s number one as a defensive line. You want to believe your guys in the room can get it done without having to blitz. Hopefully, that won’t be a problem this year.”
The team totaled just 34 sacks last season, which isn’t awful, although just below the league median of 37. The lack of overall pressure did expose the defensive backfield, however, and, well, that could be a concern again if it is repeated. At training camp, no one is worried yet, of course. Vinny Curry is healthy and ready to prove himself all over again. The defensive ends are all expecting to arrive at the quarterback on a regular basis.
“I think the sky is the limit for this team,” Curry said.
They just have to keep it from falling this time.