Philadelphia Eagles: Eli Harold presents a unique reclamation project

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

After exclusively playing outside linebacker since college, Eli Harold presents the Philadelphia Eagles with a unique project coming off the edge.

Trade alert, trade alert: The Philadelphia Eagles have made their first move of free agency.

That’s right, despite a strong showing by second-year defensive end Daeshon Hall against the Tennessee Titans, Howie Roseman clearly believed that his team needed a little extra pop coming off the bench and has traded an undrafted free agent offensive lineman to the Buffalo Bills for fourth-year rusher Eli Harold.

Penn State tackle Ryan Bates will now go down in Eagles history as a one-and-done (that is, unless the team resigns him down the line).

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While the move, first reported by Ian Rapoport, is relatively small potatoes when compared to the health and wellness of Nate Sudfeld (who will be out for about six weeks), it does present a somewhat unique opportunity for a four-year player to have a fresh start at a brand new position.

Here’s why.

After generating legitimate buzz going into the 2015 NFL Draft after a trio of solid seasons at Virginia and an impressive showing at the combine (highlighted by a 4.60 40 yard dash, 35 inch vertical jump, and 123 inch broad jump), Harold was considered a steal for the San Francisco 49ers when he fell all the way to 79th overall.

That didn’t really happen.

Over three seasons with the Niners, Harold played for three different head coaches and was forced to learn three different defensive schemes, but despite opportunity after opportunity, he never quite adapted his style of play to the game’s highest level.

Fun fact, 2018 Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter was selected nine spots after Harold and has pretty much become everything scouts hoped he ex-Virginia Cavileir would become coming out of college.

With his best season as a 49er coming in 2016, where he amassed all of three sacks in 690 defensive snaps, John Lynch clearly had seen enough of the 6-foot-3, 255 pound rusher going into the 2018 NFL season and opted to flip the probable trim down casualty to the Detroit Lions for a conditional-seventh round pick.

From there, Harold had a career year, nearly doubling his career sack total from five to nine, but that wasn’t enough to earn a new contract with the Matt Patricia-led club.

No, Harold had to takes his talents to Buffalo on a one-year contract to continue his NFL career, a move that lasted all of one preseason game before his eventual trade.

So, if Harold couldn’t even stick with the not-great Buffalo Bills, why should we expect the 25-year-old from Virginia to suddenly put it all together in the City of Brotherly Love?

One word: Speed.

After spending the last seven years of his football career playing as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, Harold will now have his responsibilities simplified to one thing and one thing only: Get to the quarterback coming off the edge as fast as you can.

Sure, Jim Schwartz still does require his ends to play the run, but his attacking wide-9 scheme requires relentless defensive lineman to shoot the gap towards the ball carrier, regardless of down and distance.

With solid explosion and an impressive bend around the edge, Harold should excel in such a scheme if given the right role.

Though we don’t know how well Harold could hold up against the run as a base down end, he should be able to excel as a pass-rushing specialist on third downs – filling in for a now-retired Chris Long if he ultimately wins out the role.

Furthermore, because of Harold’s extensive experience playing outside linebacker in a 4-3, he should be a natural fit coming off the edge in a wide-9 duo to his comfort spread out wide.

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Will it work? Only time will tell, but it’s safe to say Eli Harold has a much better chance to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster than Ryan Bates, effectively making this move a net positive regardless of whether he becomes a rotational end, a deep bench reserve, or ultimately fails to make the roster come September.