In 2014, the Eagles secondary was the Achilles heel on a team that blew a 9-3 start, to finish 10-6 and miss the playoffs. The Seahawks finished a play away from repeating as Superbowl champions, largely behind their elite secondary led by Richard Sherman, and one Earl Thomas.
Not that anyone needs to be reminded, but the Eagles had the chance to take Thomas in the 2010 NFL Draft. In fact, they traded up four picks to the 13th spot, in what many perceived to be a move to select Texas’ Earl Thomas, to be the replacement for Brian Dawkins that the team lacked in 2009. Instead, Andy Reid and company (whoever was winning the power struggle at that point) shocked the world with the selection of Michigan defensive-end Brandon Graham.
Graham struggled to make much of any impact in his first two seasons, but improved noticeably from there, even after being forced to move from defensive-end to outside-linebacker in 2013 as the Eagles transitioned to the 3-4 defense.
In his five years with the Eagles, Graham’s best season came in 2014, when he recorded 46 combined tackles, while forcing four fumbles and sacking the quarterback 5.5 times, all of which were career highs.
Graham’s stellar 2014 season reportedly led to in-season extension talks that never ultimately turned into an extension. We are now one month away from free-agency beginning, and it seems that the two sides were so far apart in extension talks that it is unlikely that Graham will return.
"The Eagles tried to extend Graham during the season, but the sides were far apart and nothing has since evolved, which means the 2010 first-round pick is one step closer toward hitting the open market.Graham, who broke out this past season as a reserve, is a classic case of someone whose value will be “discovered” next week in Indianapolis. He’s seeking a four-year deal in the $30 million neighborhood, with $20 million guaranteed.The Eagles don’t have great depth at his position so they’d be wise to keep lines of communication open and match any reasonable offers Graham might command. But as of right now, it appears that Graham is headed out the door."
Certainly, the Eagles pass-rush was crucial in them having one of the best front-sevens in the league last year. That isn’t to say the Eagles should necessarily meet Graham’s asking price, but with him likely leaving and Trent Cole’s long-term future in question, that kind of creates another hole for the Eagles to potentially have to fill in the draft. Does that put another dent in the idea of mortgaging an entire draft (at least) for Marcus Mariota, should that possibility present itself?
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From Graham’s perspective, he may not mind a change of scenery. It was easy to see that he enjoyed officially shedding the bust label over the past two seasons, and that he enjoyed playing in Billy Davis’ defense. But he did take very personally that he was labeled for his entire tenure as the player that prevented the Eagles from landing either Earl Thomas or Jason Pierre-Paul, and the idea of playing in another city for more money will likely intrigue him.
It’s hard to drive home enough how much Graham grew understandably sick of the constant comparisons to Thomas, a player that he will never be able to outdue. Not that it really affected me, but Graham blocked both my personal Twitter and the Section215.com account last year when we tweeted out an article about him potentially being a trade candidate. He did that to many other people around the city, in a clear sign of frustration.
His career started slowly, but he worked very hard to make sure that he wasn’t a bust. And he accomplished that goal, to the point where he will be compensated very well on the open market this off-season. But he still isn’t Earl Thomas, and perhaps going to another city will allow for him to feel like he can finally be recognized for being the stellar player that he has developed into.