DENVER, COLORADO - NOVEMBER 14: Fletcher Cox #91 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates a win against the Denver Broncos after a game at Empower Field At Mile High on November 14, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.

By Dylan MacKinnon

For years the Eagles defense has been built around its Defensive Tackles. The big name has of course been Fletcher Cox, who has been a mainstay along the line for over a decade. But the Eagles have also recently invested big money in names like Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, and continue to add DTs in the draft like Milton Williams. It is clearly a position they value highly. So with 3 first round picks, will a new DT be on their radar? Let’s take a look at the Eagles needs at DT, and if it is a position worth addressing this offseason.

What They Have

The Eagles are in a weird place at DT. On paper, they are already highly invested in the position. In 2022 they owe Cox $14.9 million, and Hargrave $17.8 million. And behind them they have former 3rd round pick Milton Williams who showed flashes his rookie year and who many expect to take the next step year two. But after those 3 there is not much else. The final two DTs currently on the books for 2022 are Marlon Tuipulotu, and Marvin Wilson, neither of whom played any noticeable role in the defense this year.

Raequan Williams and Hassan Ridgeway could return, but its also very possible they change teams. Meaning as of now the Eagles are a bit light at DT despite he position making up 15% of their cap space. They at the least need some capable reserves, if not a young rookie capable of making a big impact. The money they have invested already in the position makes it hard for them to make a big splash in FA, but they could certainly make a play for a role player who can take snaps, be a run stopper, but not cost them a arm and a leg. But if they are going to address DT it is much more likely to be in the draft.

Future At the Position

Fletcher Cox gets a lot of heat for not being as a good as he used to be. And he isn’t. Over the past 5 seasons he is 4th in the NFL with 297 QB pressures. But this year he had only 23 pressures, a little bit less than 2 a game (though he came on a bit more late in the year). He was just 61st in the NFL this year in QB Pressures, when he used to be top 10 every year. Cox used to be a double digit sack guy. But it took Cox the last two seasons to reach a combined double digit total, with only 3.5 this season. He is still a somewhat productive player, but he is not the force he used to be.

With that said, it is highly unlikely he goes anywhere. Cutting or trading him comes with a dead cap hit of $40 million. You could designate him as a post 6/1 trade or release, but all that does is spread the $40 million over two seasons. In the end it would save you a little bit of money in 2022, but would increase his cap hit in 2023 by $12 million, for a guy who isn’t even playing. Trading or releasing him would make no sense for the Eagles. it is also worth mentioning that Cox seems very happy where he has at and has said he wants to stay here multiple times.

Then there is Hargrave, who was perhaps the most productive DT in the league to open the season. He had 5 sacks in 4 games. But over the next 13 games he had just 2.5 sacks. It was the reverse of his first season in Philly where he started slow but closed the season on a tear. They need more consistency out of him, but overall he is a productive player. And as said earlier, Milton Williams showed a lot of potential. But there is no guarantee he can turn into a true starter, but he certainly deserves the chance to play in a bigger role.

What They Can Do

As I said earlier, it will be hard to address this need in Free Agency. They simply have too much invested in DT to add another big name. DT already makes up 15% of their cap with just those players.

But with as many draft picks as they have, they could make a move on draft night. It is not the best year to need a DT, but there are some names worth keeping a eye on. Jordan Davis out of Georgia is certainly in play in the first round. Davis’s team mate Devonte Wyatt is a name to watch as well. Demarvin Neal from Texas A&M is an interesting project, but he took a step back in 2021 so that pick would be a risk. There are also names to watch later in the draft like Travon Walker, Thomas Booker, Haskell Garrett, and Travis Jones. The Eagles have options if they want to make a move at DT,

Conclusion

DT is perhaps not the most pressing need, but it is a need. They need someone who can rotate in, and ideally someone who can eventually be a starter. Cox will eventually need to be replaced, as will Hargrave. We hope Williams can be the guy, but it would be good to have backup options. And given how much the Eagles love DTS it would make sense if they added a DT early this draft.

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