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Bennett addition prompts change for Eagles 3rd-down pass rush

Geoff Mosher



Jan 28, 2018; Orlando, FL, USA; Seattle Seahawks Michael Bennett (72) against the AFC in the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

One prominent reason the Philadelphia Eagles are defending Super Bowl champions, and Super Bowl champs for the first time, is the selflessness with which many of their veterans demonstrated throughout the season.

LeGarrette Blount, never known for model citizenship, didn’t utter a peep in Week 2 when coach Doug Pederson didn’t give him a single carry against the Chiefs.

Likewise, Blount was the first to smother Jay Ajayi in the end zone after the fellow running back, acquired at the deadline to take more carries away from Blount, scored his first Eagles touchdown.

Isaac Seumalo didn’t gripe when the coaches yanked him from the starting lineup after two weeks. Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack stayed professional throughout an awkward weeks-long jockey at left guard.

Brent Celek didn’t whine about his diminished role as a pass catcher, Vinny Curry didn’t complain about his diminished role as a pass rusher and Alshon Jeffery never once demanded more targets despite registering the lowest yards-per-game average of his career.

The Eagles and team architect, Howie Roseman, are once again banking on overall team chemistry and the culture cultivated by Pederson and his team leaders – Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz – to navigate through a potentially tricky defensive line situation in 2018.

League sources confirmed the Eagles have traded with Seattle for three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Mike Bennett, which should be announced when the new league year begins next week.

The Eagles will send backup receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick for Bennett and a seventh-rounder, ESPN reported Wednesday.

The Bennett acquisition almost surely sends defensive end Vinny Curry out the door. Curry’s $11 million cap figure in 2018 will force him into becoming a cap casualty.

Bennett joins an elite group that already includes three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Super Bowl hero Brandon Graham and 2017 first-round pick Derek Barnett. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and defensive end Chris Long were also significant contributors to coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defensive line, which was unquestionably the defense’s best attribute last year.

Bennett often moved from end to tackle on pass-rush downs, a versatility that will be enticing to Schwartz, who similarly moved around Graham, who led the defense with 9.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss.

The Eagles flourished on third down, mainly because of a pass-rushing line that featured Long and Barnett on the edges, flanking interior rushers Cox and Graham. All four are expected to return in 2018, so Bennett’s addition will require more individual sacrifices for the betterment of the team.

Start with Bennett. He played 931 snaps last year for Seattle, almost 85 percent of the defense. No Eagles lineman played more than Graham’s 663 snaps in Schwartz’s rotation, so it’s safe to assume Bennett is headed for much fewer snaps in 2018. Bennett will be 33 in November, so the lighter load should benefit him.

The Eagles didn’t acquire Bennett to have him come off the bench, so it seems likely right now that Derek Barnett will once be used situationally despite his highly productive rookie campaign.

Barnett, picked 14th overall, put up five sacks, nine tackles for a loss and 32 combined quarterback pressures and hits in his part-time role. Just a few days ago, it seemed inevitable Barnett would start in 2018 and push Curry out the door.

On third down, Barnett will take snaps someone’s snaps away, whether he’s lined up inside or outside. It’s hard to see Schwartz taking third-down snaps away from Cox, Graham and Barnett, so Bennett’s addition will likely diminish Long’s snaps.

Long played 496 snaps last year, 48 percent of the defense, and ranked second in the NFL in strip-sacks with four. He placed second on the Eagles’ defense behind Curry with 38 combined quarterback hits and pressures.

Long, the 2008 second overall pick, resurrected his career in Schwartz’s career and played better as the season progressed, but he turns 33 this month and is likely in the last year of his career.

There’s no question defensive line depth is still the Eagles’ strength, and could be even better in 2018, but it’ll take another year of impact plyers checking egos at the door.

Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.

Geoff Mosher is an award-winning sports reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering all major sports and leagues and a sports-talk host on Philadelphia radio. He has covered the Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL since 2005, beginning at the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal and continuing onto Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, where he wrote for CSNPhilly.com and co-hosted TV shows such as "Eagles Extra" and "Quick Slants." He has also appeared as an Eagles analyst on NFL Network, ESPN and NBC Sports Network along with FOX, CBS and NBC affiliates in Philadelphia. Since 2015, Geoff has hosted on sports-talk station 97.5 The Fanatic (WPEN) along with co-hosting two separate Philadelphia sports-themed podcasts. He has also covered the 76ers, Phillies, Flyers, Penn State football, New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets and several other teams and events. Geoff earned a reputation for breaking major news on the Eagles beat and for his in-depth analysis and film breakdowns. He has also written for the Super Bowl gameday program.