Chris Long Remains a Valuable Contributor on Eagles Defense
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Chris Long paused in the offseason to think about his football mortality.
The son of a Hall-of-Fame father turned 33 back in March and has carved out his own legacy in professional football as a No. 2 overall pick who ultimately turned into a star with the then-St. Louis Rams, topping out with consecutive double-digit sack seasons in 2011 and 2012.
As his career marched on there was an emptiness, however, and Long went searching for the team success that always eluded him with the perpetually-rebuilding Rams.
He found that in New England during the 2016 season riding the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady train to a Super Bowl LI victory, garnering a ring that matched Howie Long's SB XVIII jewelry with the Los Angeles Raiders.
Something was still missing for the younger Long, though. While he contributed to the Pats' success the fit wasn't great and by the time the gun went off after the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, Long was already looking ahead, intent on finishing out his career as a valuable part of a good defense.
That led him to Philadelphia and Jim Schwartz, the brilliant defensive coordinator who values the defensive line so much that he continuously calls it "the engine" of his defense.
And one of Schwartz's goals is garner pressure without blitzing so the rush is designed to get home without any help.
Long fit like a glove into that last season and won his second consecutive Super Bowl ring, something even his father couldn't accomplish. Meanwhile, this time Long was a really meaningful contributor as the left end in the team's Nascar Package when Brandon Graham slipped inside.
Long's biggest contribution came in the NFC Championship Game with the Eagles down 7-0 and the talented Minnesota Vikings gaining confidence by the minute. That is until Long raced around right tackle Rashod Hill and reached Case Keenum just as the quarterback was attempting to throw.
The football fluttered out to the flat where Patrick Robinson intercepted it and followed a convoy to the end zone. The sudden change in momentum had Lincoln Financial Field rocking with the sound reaching past the Delaware River and into New Jersey. It literally stole the heart of the Vikings, who were blitzed from there and dispatched back to the Bold North to watch the Eagles invade and win Super Bowl LII.
Long had signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia before the season and the Eagles obviously wanted him back, re-working his contract and bumping Long's base salary from a non-guaranteed $1M to $2.5M that is fully guaranteed, eliminating $750,000 per game roster bonuses as well as another $750K in incentives.
Long had already earned it.
The tweak was no guarantee that Long would be back, though, especially after the Eagles acquired Michael Bennett in the offseason. Now Philadelphia had five players for four spots in that nickel-rush package. Graham and Fletcher Cox will never be affected so three players have to split the reps at the other two spots (Long, Bennett and Derek Barnett).
"Things that have never been said in the NFL: ‘I have too many pass rushers. I have too many good corners.’ Those are things that defensive coordinators, defenses in general, value," Schwartz said earlier this summer. "You need to be built for the long haul. There’s going to be injuries. It was well-documented last year, injuries that we had."
The Eagles ultimately convinced Long there would be enough work to go around and in the opening-night win over Atlanta, that proved to be true. The rotation for the defensive ends read: Graham 46 snaps, Bennett 45, Barnett 40, and Long 39.
More importantly, it worked. Philadelphia had a terrific pass rush and turned a former MVP, Matt Ryan, into an ordinary QB who was seeing ghosts even when the rush didn't get home.
And Long was the most productive of them all, notching 1 1/2 sacks and grading out as PFF's best edge defender of the game, outpacing the bigger reputations on both sides.
"I can still play," Long understated after the game.
When asked about those retirement rumors back in the offseason, Long admitted there was only one yardstick to get him back.
"I just want to contribute," he said.
So far, so good.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen