The idea of the Eagles trading away Brandon Graham has been heavily speculated about since the end of last season. It almost seemed as if it was a foregone conclusion he would have been dealt by, or during, the NFL Draft.
We all know the reasoning…square peg/round hole, not the size Chip Kelly prefers, not a good “space” player, bad scheme fit, etc., etc. Now here we are at the spring OTAs and Graham is running with the second team defense.
However, how long will that last?
According to Graham, he’ll be here for this year at least after being peppered with questions about the trade rumors (quote courtesy of Les Bown/Philly Daily News):
“I feel like they want me here, because I’m still here . . . I felt like if it was something they wanted to do, I’d be gone.”
I’m glad he has a positive attitude, but I’m just not so sure about that reasoning.
According to an actual report by Bob Grotz earlier this offseason, the Eagles did in fact try to trade him (the Graham and a 2nd for Dion Jordan report). So apparently it was “something they wanted to do”, but couldn’t.
Graham has value and there is absolutely no reason to just flat-out cut him at this point in time. A lot of things can happen between now and the season-opener in September, most notable is injuries.
Should any other Outside Linebacker suffer a significant injury during camp or the preseason, the Eagles need options.
However, barring injuries, there will come a point in time when the Eagles will be forced to make a decision on Graham. At the latest, that time will be at the final cuts for the 53-man roster.
Last year, the Eagles only kept three OLBs on the initial roster (Cole, Barwin and Graham).
Now, they have four that are locks to make the final roster this year: Cole, Barwin, Bryan Braman and Marcus Smith. Braman was signed this offseason mainly for Special Teams purposes, but also as depth at OLB so there’s no way he gets cut.
I’m sure keeping just three OLBs last year was not their ideal number for that position, but four seems much more comfortable. If they were to keep Graham too, that means they’d have to allot five roster spots to the OLB position.
Is that feasible? What other position(s) would they have to cut short in order to keep two more OLBs on the roster than they had last year? The most realistic possibilities are as follows…
Last season, they kept 7 Defensive Linemen and 11 Defensive Backs. They could subtract one from each to gain two spots at OLB. Keeping 6 DL and 10 DBs is possible, maybe even likely, but it’s not a certainty.
Then there is the ILB spot where last year they kept five. That seems like a good number given that backup Linebackers in general are looked at as core Special Teamers. But, given the value Kelly places on Special Teams, would he prefer to keep a sixth ILB who has better skills in that regard?
There’s also a guy like OLB Travis Long, who has the size and versatility the Eagles covet. The team is said to be high on him and the only reason he went undrafted last year was due to a knee injury late in his senior season in college.
If the Eagles keep five OLBs, Long will be Graham’s primary competition. And if he’s fully recovered from his injury, that will be a battle to watch.
Chip Kelly was asked during his press conference yesterday if he sees Graham as a fit for the defense going forward. Here was his response (courtesy of Eagles press release):
Yeah, I think he obviously has the skill set to rush the passer and set the edge. And when he’s been in there, he’s been productive. The issue is that the other guy’s really productive, too.
How many times can you get them all on the field together? If you put Brandon in, do you take Trent [Cole] out; if you put Brandon in, do you take Connor [Barwin] out? It’s really the pecking order. I think both our depth at outside linebacker, we’ve added to it by adding Marcus Smith and Bryan Braman. But I feel confident we’re better at that position right now than we were a year ago because of who we added.
Perceptions may vary, but I don’t perceive that as a very promising answer in regards to Graham’s future. Instead of giving a positive impression that Graham could earn playing time, he gives a negative one by basically saying “why would I lessen the defense by having to take a starter out just to get Graham in?”
Then he mentioned adding Smith and Braman and feeling better at that position because of their additions. Again, I see that as a negative for Graham because he’s answering a question about how Graham fits in going forward, and brings up those guys.
This is all coming from a coach who always trumpets competition and is talking about a position where it’s common to rotate other guys in here and there. If Chip wonders why he’d take Cole or Barwin out for Graham, what about Marcus Smith?
I’d imagine he’ll want Smith to get some playing time this year so if he thinks playing time would be limited for Graham behind the two starters, imagine how limited he thinks it will be when factoring in Smith’s snaps.
On Graham’s side of things, he should want to be traded to a team that will give him a better chance at utlilizing his skills properly. Unfortunately for him, he was drafted by the wrong team at the wrong time.
He’s endured nothing but ineptness and discontinuity amongst the coaching staff since his arrival in 2010 (sans last year). His injury during his rookie season combined with the toxic environment in 2011 and 2012 (Juan Castillo/Jim Washburn, etc.) pretty much doomed his career.
Now, he’s in a scheme that isn’t best suited for his skills. It’s a tough position to be in, but the best thing for him would be a change of scenery and a legitimate chance to play.
In any case, the numbers don’t bode well for Graham and they will ultimately force the Eagles’ hand. Will they really keep 5 OLBs this time around after keeping just three last year?
He’ll be competing for a roster spot not just against his fellow OLBs, but against the depth players at ILB, DL, and DB as well. The Eagles will have to decide if he’s worth keeping over another player that is either a better fit, has more upside, offers more versatility, or all three.
This is exactly breaking news, but odds are that, barring injuries, Graham will find himself on another team sometime this summer. Just because he hasn’t been traded yet doesn’t mean he won’t be.