With word coming out that Brandon Graham had microfracture surgery this offseason, the Eagles’ need for help on the defensive line seems even more pronounced. Even before that news, there were many arguments for bolstering the team’s pass rush: a lack of pressure down the stretch last season, Juqua Parker’s age, light production from last season’s rookie crop and Andy Reid’s general joy in signing linemen.
If the Eagles decide to make a big free agent move on the defensive line – and it says here that they should -- defensive end is one position that presents several options. In chats here on Philly.com, and particularly yesterday, after news of Graham’s surgery began to spread, Jason Babin has been the player many fans focused on. He, after all, is a familiar name who had a stand out 2010 while playing for now-Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn. But I think the Eagles have stronger options that would fit better with their philosophy: young, productive, rising.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the top defensive ends who might be on the market, keeping in mind, of course, that who exactly will be available will depend on free agency rules and the final details of whatever deal emerges to end the lockout.
-- Charles Johnson, Panthers: Johnson racked up 11.5 sacks last year in his first season as a starter and is considered one of the top ends on the market. He just turned 25 and has played just four seasons, so he should be just entering his prime. Only drawback is that he has just one big season, but part of that is due to not starting before 2010.
-- Ray Edwards, Vikings: Here are Edwards’ sack totals in his five years: 3, 5, 5, 8.5, 8. That’s steadily rising production for a 26-year-old. The concern here is how much his stats were helped by playing with other defensive line stars. But his production is real and while 8 sacks isn’t an eye-popping number (Parker had 8 in 2009), Edwards should still be improving.
-- Babin, Titans: There are good arguments for him. His 12.5 sacks last year are nothing to dismiss, and he obviously thrived under Washburn. But in six seasons before 2010, Babin never had more than 5 sacks, and he turned 31 in May. I’d be worried about handing a big deal to a guy after one outlier season, when he has a long track record of being just OK as a pass rusher. And he’s older than the Eagles like, which is why I doubt that speculation about Babin is anything more than just that.
-- Cliff Avril, Lions: Another young (25), 4-3 player who has produced and improved: 5 sacks, 5.5, 8.5. He also benefits from playing with other star linemen who attract more attention, and with only three years in the league, might not get to the open market.
Others: Anthony Hargrove (Saints) is athletic, 27 and has the versatility the Eagles often covet; Cullen Jenkins (Packers) is a nice player, but is more suited to a 3-4.
Of course, a defensive tackle addition could also bolster the pass rush and take some of the attention off of Trent Cole, but the market there looks much more shallow. Aubrayo Franklin, of the 49ers, is considered a good prospect, but he plays nose tackle in the 3-4.
Albert Haynesworth is the wild card – he’s intriguing because of the Eagles' need for an up-the-middle pass rusher and the Washburn connection, but there are several significant hurdles to him arriving in Philly, including the fact that he’s currently not a free agent and the Redskins reportedly want to keep him away from Washburn. Whatever interest the Eagles had in the past, Haynesworth’s sluggish effort last season and off-field troubles will also give the team cause for concern.