Eagles Face Difficult Decision with Brandon Graham
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Professional sports is a tough, competitive world, the ultimate meritocracy.
Even that doesn't fully explain the landscape for a high-level athlete, however, because the shark -- in this case, chasing success -- is always swimming. And if any organization stops moving for even a minute, it will quickly find itself falling behind.
In Philadelphia, perhaps the Phillies trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins, best exemplifies that as the cornerstone of the greatest era in franchise history before quickly settling into the descent and becoming an albatross that the organization is still trying to recover from.
Up the New Jersey Turnpike you will see another example where the New York Giants have let emotion get in the way when it comes to Eli Manning and until Big Blue finally recognizes a jewelry box and a surname doesn't equal success in perpetuity, relevance will escape the organization.
It's no surprise that the best team to handle this delicate balance across all major sports has been the New England Patriots where Bill Belichick had adopted a philosophy of it's better to give up on a player a year early than a year late and has stuck to it in a dogged fashion.
Rumors of a Belichick/Tom Brady rift began a couple of years ago when Belichick seriously contemplated whether moving forward with Jimmy Garoppolo would be the better way to go than the aging Brady, a thought Robert Kraft wisely short-circuited, perhaps during a relaxing visit to the day spa.
Cheap shot aside, you can see the difficulty in moving on from players who've developed into icons for both the franchise and the community it represents and how difficult the decision is. Even Brady will show decline at some point and when it does come Plan B probably isn't going to be as good as Garoppolo.
The Eagles find themselves on the cusp of a difficult decision with Brandon Graham, the well-regarded, locker-room leader who just happens to be the architect of the most important play in team history, the strip sack of the aforementioned Brady, which essentially sealed Super Bowl LII for Philadelphia.
For fans that waited generations for that moment, a lifetime dispensation card was awarded to Graham, who will never have to pay for another drink in the Delaware Valley as long as he lives. However, many of those same fans were disappointed when Lombardi Trophy No. 1 didn't get some company in the lobby of the NovaCare Complex in 2018-19.
That shark always keeps swimming.
Graham is scheduled to be a free agent on March 13 after finishing up his latest contract, one where he generally was underpaid and overperformed. He will also turn 31 in early April at a position which costs a premium in the NFL, however.
Old habits die hard as well and some point to Graham's inability to finish [he's never had double-digit sacks in his career] over his dominance as a two-way player. The consistency of Graham's pressure since he turned the corner in Philadelphia is among the best edge players, something, when coupled with his ability to defend the run and the versatility to also play at a high level on the interior, have made Graham a unique and not so easily-replaced player.
Graham has intimated he might take a little less to stay with the Eagles, something that will further ingratiate himself with the team's fans but Howie Roseman seems poised to move on, eschewing opportunities at an extension earlier in the process.
“I love Philly. People know I love Philly. My first priority is to make sure we can work something out," Graham said during the team's clean-out day after the season. "I respect that they drafted me here. Howie -- I was his first guy [he drafted]. We got unfinished business so, hopefully, we can get it done.”
The bet here is that Roseman's business with Graham is already finished.
The edge market in free agency appears to be a deep one but that will likely change by March 5, where players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Dee Ford, and Frank Clark could get the franchise tag if their teams can't work out long-term deals with them. That would leave Graham and perhaps New England's Trey Flowers as the jewels of the market at a position that generates the most money after quarterback.
Spotrac.com has estimated Graham's potential market value at over $15 million per season. Meanwhile, the Eagles have to budget for Carson Wentz's big-money extension, they have proven performers like Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett and Chris Long under contract for 2019 on the edge, and Roseman has already called April's draft historic when it comes to the defensive line talent.
You don't have to be all that adept at reading tea leaves to understand what that means.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen