McMullen: Time for Philadelphia to Embrace Brandon Graham
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Brandon Graham continues to play at a very high level as a versatile part of Jim Schwartz's defensive line, able to bounce back and forth between left and right end while also occasionally moving to the interior in pass-rushing situations.
He's also the architect of arguably the most important play in Eagles history, the late-game strip sack of Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII which essentially sealed the first Lombardi Trophy in team history, all accomplished while fighting through an ankle injury that resulted in offseason surgery and a tweaked hamstring caused by favoring the ankle.
Right now, according to ProFootballFocus.com, Graham is the sixth best edge defender in football behind names like J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Cam Jordan, and Khalil Mack. Despite that resume, however, the 30-year-old Graham could be entering his final month as a member of the Eagles.
Graham is on the final year of his current contract and extension talks have been complicated by that offseason surgery, his age and the NFL's weird, fan-like obsession with sacks.
Talk to Schwartz for instance and he will rave about what Graham brings to his defense as a two-way player who stays disciplined when it comes to the pass-rush plan on any given week, something that could be very important in a game like the one coming up when the mobile Dak Prescott is on the other side.
Jim from the Northeast, however, calls local sports radio and laments about the sack numbers -- three so far by Graham this season -- and the fact that the former Michigan star topped out at 9 1/2 last season, never reaching double digits in his nine years in Philadelphia.
Would you listen to Schwartz or the numbskull from the Northeast?
Well, it's closer than you might think as even the shrewdest of teams offer the really big money to the players that ring up sack numbers. For the Eagles, though, the problems are more about the calendar than anything else.
Thirty is a dirty word in the NFL for good reason and the Eagles have found that out the hard way this season with players like Darren Sproles, Haloti Ngata, Corey Graham and Jason Peters fighting through injuries, seemingly every week. Things like that aren't a big deal from a salary-cap standpoint for role players but Graham will be more in the Peters' range as an aging player who will be seeing significant money.
To date, there has been no real dropoff in Graham's game but things are fluid in the NFL and the dropoff can happen very quickly so long story, short this is a complicated negotiation for Howie Roseman and Jake Rosenberg.
“I’ve thought about it,” Graham admitted Wednesday when asked if this could be the denouement of his time with the Eagles, the only professional team he's known. “And I was like, man, what’s a better way — if this is going to be my last year — than to go out winning (the Super Bowl) back-to-back? I feel like us right now, all we’ve got to do is get into (the playoffs). The sky’s the limit on where we can go. We’re getting healthy at the right time and yes, I have thought about it, and just trying to make it special.”
Graham is a player every NFL team should covet, an unselfish leader who injects energy into the organization every day during a grind which gets even the most focused players at times. The ironic part is that if he was a more selfish player, freelancing instead of doing his job, Graham would already be revered in Philadelphia as one of the best in franchise history.
Enjoy him while you still can.
“I’ve been here nine years, and I’m going to be ready for whatever happens,” Graham said. “And hopefully it’s back here or somewhere else. But I know I will always be here in Philly [in spirit]. So, let’s do it the right way.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen