The Philadelphia Eagles have once again earned the title of offseason champions. While this is usually meant in a negative way, the Eagles were just a few plays away from winning Super Bowl 57. Putting together an impressive offseason once again could be all it takes to put them over the top next season.
We dive into whether the Eagles did enough on the defensive side of the ball and how they compare to last year’s unit. They lost several key contributors but also reinvested into the unit in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The 2023 Eagles’ Defense Vs. Their 2022 Defense
The 2022 Eagles’ defense was a force to be reckoned with. They set the all-time NFL record with 70 team sacks, ranked fourth in defensive EPA, allowed the second-fewest yards in the league, and forced the third-highest turnover rate. It’s hard to be much better without being a historically elite defense, and this unit was a better Super Bowl showing away from earning that crown.
The depth across all three layers was immensely impressive. The 2022 unit featured linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, who totaled 269 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Though they weren’t overly impactful in the passing game or forcing turnovers, they were consistent.
The defensive line was the obvious strength of the unit, considering their sack output. No defense has ever produced four individuals with 10 or more sacks. The Eagles had four who were at 11 or more, including Haason Reddick’s 16.
With four edge rushers crashing down and producing sacks like that, the defensive tackle position needed beefing up. There were moments of brilliance, including Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox overwhelming opponents, and rookie Jordan Davis being a dominant run presence in the games he played. They also relied on veterans Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to soak up snaps when Davis was banged up.
It’s hard not to call the secondary another strength. Cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry were solid coverage players with good ball skills. They were complemented by versatile, highly-productive safeties in Marcus Epps and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
Finding a true weak point on the defense was difficult. At worse, the Eagles had a high baseline of competence, if not playmaking.
A lot changed over the course of the 2023 offseason. Hargrave cashed in with the 49ers, Edwards and White weren’t a priority to bring back, Epps went to Las Vegas, and Gardner-Johnson signed a shockingly low one-year deal with Detroit. Robert Quinn, acquired at the trade deadline, Suh, and Joseph, are all still free agents.
In total, the Eagles lost their top-five tacklers and their leader in interceptions. 490 tackles, 15.5 sacks, and six interceptions walked out the door.
Did The Eagles Fill Their Defensive Needs?
The Eagles certainly didn’t rely on free agency to help address their new openings. Their only notable defensive additions were linebacker Nicholas Morrow and safety Terrell Edmunds. Neither will make more than $2.6 million in 2023.
Instead of opting to sign one or a few players who they would have liked to have kept, general manager Howie Roseman said he was afraid of disrupting the chemistry of the team if they chose to pay one player and not another. In the end, he was able to bring Slay, Bradberry, Cox, and Brandon Graham back. He also built unique depth using foresight and getting tremendous value over the last few draft classes.
Some internal growth and promotions will occur. 2022 third-round pick Nakobe Dean spent most of his rookie season on special teams but is expected to step up this coming season. Reed Blankenship, an undrafted free agent who started four games as a rookie in 2022, will compete with 2023 third-rounder Sydney Brown and veteran K’Von Wallace for the starting job, per head coach Nick Sirianni.
The draft additions of defensive tackle Jalen Carter, edge rusher Nolan Smith, Brown, and cornerback Kelee Ringo address the majority of question marks that exist. The question is how big of a role each individual is able to take on right away if need be. Carter, Smith, and Ringo don’t need to be thrust into a Day 1 starting job due to the depth of their respective positions.
There is a major question mark at safety, even with Brown, Blankenship, Edmunds, and Wallace atop the depth chart. The decision not to bring Gardner-Johnson back will be carefully scrutinized if they’re unable to replicate his immensely productive 2022 season.
Though Gardner-Johnson said there’s “no bad blood” between him and the Eagles, it’s hard to imagine the team valued him so little they couldn’t match the one-year, $6.5 million deal Detroit landed him on.
Does that mean the Eagles did enough to recapture the magic they created in 2022?
New defensive coordinator Sean Desai, who overtook the unit after Jonathan Gannon was named the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, has more than enough talent at his disposal. If Desai can get the unit to gel quickly and overcome the lack of a clear starting free safety, then the Eagles should have no issues replicating a Super Bowl-caliber defense.