Eagles Decision on Corey Graham Comes Down to Comfort
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Building an NFL roster is a collaborative effort but someone has to have the final say.
In Philadelphia, it's the now the conventional setup where the team's personnel department -- led by Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas -- assembles the talent and hands it to Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz.
Which brings us to Corey Graham, the soon-to-be 33-year-old safety who remains on the open market despite playing such a key role on a Super Bowl-winning team.
Graham was back in Philadelphia last Thursday but not to sign a new deal. He, like the rest of the 2017-18 club, was at the 2300 Arena to pick up some bling, in Graham's case his second Super Bowl ring.
On his way to the party, The Athletic's Bo Wulf caught up with the veteran on the red carpet who confirmed that his personal plan is not to go out on top and hang up the cleats. Graham wants to continue playing.
“Oh yeah, I’ll play at some point if I’m feeling good, obviously I’ll go out there,” Graham said. “But when the time comes, we’ll sit down and talk and decide what we’re going to do.”
It seems like a no-brainer for the Eagles to want a guy who makes Schwartz sleep soundly at night back, something safety coach Tim Hauck explained last week.
“It was a blessing to have Corey back there," Hauck, a long-time NFL safety himself, admitted. "Having a veteran who doesn’t need a lot of reps and has seen all of the situations and all of the pressure to just step on the field is a comfort level for us."
More so, the organization has some wiggle room under the salary cap in the aftermath of releasing linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Under $100K has now spiked to $6,094,224 of space to be exact. The veteran minimum for a 12-year veteran like Graham in 2018 would be just over $1M so the ability to strike is now there.
There are other issues to take into account, however, including a different position.
Remember one of the major reasons Graham played so much last season -- 36 percent of the defensive snaps in the regular season which increased to 60 percent in the playoffs (spiking at 84 percent in the Super Bowl) -- was the injury to Jordan Hicks, one of the Eagles' two three-down linebackers.
While Kendricks performed admirably after Hicks' Achilles' injury Schwartz also went to a more piecemeal approach with different looks that at times had Malcolm Jenkins playing LB.
If Hicks and Nigel Bradham are healthy in 2018 they will be on the field for all the defensive snaps and there will be less of a need for all the moving parts, including Jenkins in a rover role. Under that scenario, the third safety would only come into play when the Eagles are in their "Big Nickel" package with Jenkins playing the slot corner.
Even that's more complicated, though, because without Patrick Robinson the need for Jenkins to play in the slot more is very plausible.
“Developing the third safety is essential," Hauck explained. "The guy is going to play, it’s just a matter of time. That third guy needs to be very reliable.”
So basically the decision here is to weigh a younger, more cost-effective option with an upside -- former practice squad safety Tre Sullivan -- versus the security Graham offers.
The answer is a simple one but requires a crystal ball no one has. If Hicks and Bradham are healthy and playing full-time and you only need that third-safety 15 to 20 percent of the time you go with Sullivan. However, if you need someone over 80 percent of the time while Tom Brady is throwing darts, you want the veteran.
We already know what the coaches think.
“With Corey, it wasn’t an issue bringing him into the game," Hauck said. "It came down to trust. As coaches, it’s hard putting an unknown on the field when you don’t know what outcome is going to be."
When building a roster from Roseman's perspective, however, you also have to take into account 2019 and 2020 as well and perhaps this is Sullivan's time to take the next step.
Sullivan received quite a few first-team reps at safety this spring opposite McLeod when Jenkins went down into the slot.
"It's been great," the Shepherd product told 973espn.com. "Just learning from Malcolm and Rodney on how to be a professional and then being able to get reps with them on the field. It's a good situation."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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