After a half-decade apart, Jim Schwartz feels like the perfect man to revitalize Ezekiel Ansah’s career as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
From legit starters like Ronald Darby and Nigel Bradham to… other players like Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin, if you happened to play under Schwartz in his lone season as the Bills’ defensive coordinator under current Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, there was a prove-it deal just waiting to be signed in South Philly.
Sidebar: Why did the Eagles never show legit interest in the crown jewel of the 2014 Bills, Stephon Gilmore? To be fair, it’s not like the team has a glowing history of adding highly paid cornerbacks in free agency, as they’d just escaped from Byron Maxwell‘s massive deal to move up for Carson Wentz, but Gilmore is probably the best pure man-press cornerback in the NFL and would have in an instant become the Eagles’ best cornerback since Asante Samuel. *sigh* hindsight’s 20-20 I guess.
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Since taking over the defensive side of the ball in 2016, the Eagles have employed six of Schwartz’s former players, Darby, Bradham, Brooks, McKelvin, Corey Graham, and Nickell Robey-Coleman. Technically Marquise Goodwin was also on that team, but he doesn’t really count since he’s a wide receiver.
Pretty fun fact, right? Well, want to know an even, um, funner fact? Despite a five-year tenure with the team as their head coach, the Eagles have only employed one player Schwartz drafted into the league, Darius Slay, and he technically hasn’t even played for the team yet.
Granted, Schwartz hasn’t been in Detroit since 2013 and even the members of his final draft class are in their late-20s/early-30s at this point, but that seems rather odd, no? Surely someone from that team is worthy of a spot with the Eagles, even if they are no longer in their prime, right? Well, there is a guy from that very squad who could fill a defined role with the club on a value contract: Ezekiel Ansah.
Measuring in at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds with a long torso and a wicked first step, Ansah was selected fifth overall in the 2013 NFL Draft out of BYU to serve as the exterior yin to Ndamukong Suh‘s yang on the Lions’ defensive front. And guess what? It worked.
Despite only appearing in 14 games with 12 starts as a rookie, Ansah led the team in sacks with eight and helped to bounce the Lions back from a disastrous 4-12 record to a much more respectable 7-9. That wasn’t enough to keep Schwartz’s job obviously, as his borderline disastrous tenure in the Motor City ended with a 29-51 record, but that wasn’t on Ansah; the Lions’ defensive front was dominant in 2013 and continued to be under his replacement, Jim Caldwell.
Over his six-year tenure in Detroit, Ansah picked up 48 sacks in 80 games and earned a single Pro Bowl appearance for his 14.5 sack season in 2015. Not quite the production a team wants from a former top-5 pick, but pretty good none the less.
However, after suffering through two separate stints on IR in 2018 – which, fun fact, is possible – new head coach Matt Patricia opted to cut Ansah after six seasons with the organization and allowed the then-29-year-old to test the open market with his perceived value at an all-time low.
Ansah eventually found a home in Seattle, fittingly across from another player the Eagles have been linked to this offseason, Jadeveon Clowney, but his Week 14 shoulder injury leaked into the 2019 season and prevented the former BYU Cougar from proving it on his prove-it deal. Through 11 games of action (one start), Ansah recorded a career-low 2.5 sacks and 18 tackles for an average value of two.
That isn’t good.
So, if Ansah is coming off a bad-by-any-mark season in 2019, why would the Eagles have interest in a potentially broken down, 30-year-old defensive end?
Well for one, the Eagles are currently without a true number three defensive end, as their top option in 2019, Vinny Curry, remains unsigned in his third stint as an NFL free agent. While the idea of Curry coming back to serve as a base defensive end capable of kicking inside on obvious passing downs, his return wouldn’t give the team any new looks to keep defenses guessing.
As things presently stand, Ansah would be the tallest and heaviest defensive end on the team’s roster and could help to bolster the team’s base rush as a side-ambidextrous reserve behind Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Ansah would also be among the Eagles’ fastest defensive ends, clocking a blazing 4.56, only a few hundredths of a second behind Josh Sweat and Genard Avery at his 2013 Pro Day. On the off chance Schwartz actually opts to deploy a blitz with additional interior rushers, having a player like Ansah coming off the edge could give the Eagles the closest thing they’ve had to Chris Long since, well, since Chris Long was on the team in 2018.
Even when Ansah isn’t getting home for the most overrated stat in the NFL, a sack, he’s still collapsing the pocket, pushing offensive tackles into quarterbacks, and affecting plays before they can fully develop. The Eagles have kind of made their defensive name out of removing the seven-plus step drop from opposing offensive coordinators’ playbooks when things are operating like a finely tuned machine, so in that regard, Ansah would fit right in.
Heck, Ansah is big enough to even rush the passer from the interior like Curry, Graham, and Michael Bennet before him, as if rushing a 6-foot-5 giant with legit 4.5 speed coming off the edge isn’t imposing enough.
Now to be fair, maybe 2019 wasn’t a down year and Ansah really is washed, in which case his addition would obviously not be ideal, but isn’t his potential upside as one blank of a change of pace rusher worth at least looking into? Schwartz was his first head coach in the NFL, so there’s a clear connection between the two parties.
No matter how you slice it, the Philadelphia Eagles could use some sort of defensive upgrade coming off the edge going into the 2020 season. While some fans will continue to bang the drum for a premier name like Jadeveon Clowney or Yannick Ngakoue until they are signed/traded, Ziggy Ansah is a far more cost-effective option who could far outperform a modest cap hit in exchange for a chance to reunite with the coach – and scheme – that initially put him on the map. Plus, how cool would it be to have the Detroit Lions’ first two picks from the 2013 NFL Draft reunited on the Eagles roster? Now that would be a fun fact.