Barnett’s Future Complicates Things for Chris Long
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The Eagles want Chris Long back and the veteran still enjoys playing football so the end game here should be pretty straightforward, a return engagement in 2018 for the popular veteran.
Not so fast.
There are other issues at play for Long, who will turn 33 on March 28.
He's won back-to-back Super Bowls and as a former No. 2 overall pick under the old collective bargaining agreement, he's made enough money to live 10 lives comfortably. Long also has many interests outside of the game so while he wants to continue playing, that comes with a caveat: he wants to keep having fun while doing it.
And for Long that really means one thing: pinning his ears back and getting after the opposing quarterback.
It's why he left Foxborough after winning Super Bowl LI at a time where even the most fervent of Philadelphia fans didn't think the Eagles had a chance to do the same thing a year later.
If you rewind, it seemed strange at the time because Long had spent his entire career on bad Rams teams before playing 65 percent of the snaps on a championship club that wanted him back.
Long wanted something different, though: a particular style of defense.
He found it of course with Jim Schwartz as the Eagles' left end in the nickel pass rush, accumulating five sacks and four forced fumbles while playing nearly 50 percent of the time.
And it was his hurry that forced the bad throw from Case Keenum in the NFC Championship Game against Minnesota that resulted in a pick-six by Patrick Robinson that stole the heart from the favored Vikings.
Long was almost a perfect fit for Philadelphia, a veteran who understood his role, produced at the highest level and was as strong a locker-room presence as any team could possibly hope for.
That's why the Eagles want him back but the presence of three-time Pro Bowl selection Michael Bennett, who was picked up in a trade from Seattle earlier this month, changes things, not necessarily from a playing-time standpoint but from a role perspective.
With Vinny Curry now in Tampa and Bennett having arrived from the Seahawks, Schwartz would like to use a similar four-man rotation at defensive end. However, on paper at least, the "NASCAR" package that Long excelled in during the 2017 season would now be Bennett, Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
Three of those names are stars and in pen -- Bennett, Cox and Graham -- while Barnett, the team's first-round pick last April would have to be in pencil because Long was a better player than the then-rookie last season.
That said, the Eagles shouldn't promise anything to Long (other than a raise) to get him back because Barnett has the higher ceiling long-term and the longer shelf life.
Promising things in March is something the New York Jets do, not the Super Bowl champions.
Long has been around long enough to understand what the NFL is.
The Eagles value him and want him to return but his preferred role might not be there in September because maximizing the potential of Barnett means getting the now second-year player on the field in pass-rushing situations.
“For me, at my age, every year is important to make a decision and to take self-inventory,” Long said at his Waterboys charity event in St. Louis on Wednesday. “Is your body there, is your mind in it, do you have the passion?"
"It takes a lot," Long continued. "For me, every year I’m one year at a time from here on out. For however long I play. Philly’s been awesome. ... They kind of adopted me like family, so that definitely factors into everything. The chance to repeat. I’m still supposedly mulling it over, but I’m leaning on going back and playing."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen