Defensive tackle became a draft priority again for the Eagles this past spring, spending two picks on the position by selecting Milton Williams in the third round and Marlon Tuitupolu in the sixth.
How rare was that?
The last time they took two DTs in the same draft was 2006 when they grabbed Brodrick Bunkley 14th overall then tacked on LaJuan Ramsey in the sixth round, 192 picks later.
How long had it been since they spent as high as a third-round pick on a defensive tackle?
Try 2013 when they made Bennie Logan a third-round choice in 2013, the 67th player taken overall.
Williams was the 73rd overall player drafted. Tuitupolu came along at No. 189, 116 picks later.
Our series examining each position group n the roster focuses on the DT position after opening with the defensive ends.
Clearly, the Eagles are in transition up front, with Fletcher Cox now the highest-paid player on the team and having blown out 30 candles on his last birthday, Dec. 13.
“I’m not in my 30s,” said Cox during OTAs. “I’m only 30. Let’s not make me older than what I am. Every year is a good opportunity for me. I just take it year by year. I always look forward to competing any time I’m on the field, practice, individual, just look forward to competing and make sure my body is ready to gear up for the season.”
Javon Hargrave will start next to Cox as he enters the middle year of a three-year contract he signed prior to the 2020 season. Hargrave is being counted on for bigger and better things in his second season with the team when he collected 4.5 sacks, three of which came in the final five games.
His salary cap rises from $5.7 million to $17.8 next year, so you can see the concern there, just as you can see the concern for Cox and his big cap hit of more than $23M this year and next.
"I've enjoyed Fletch, I've enjoyed Hargrave,” said new D-line coach Tracy Rocker. “My conversation with them is not just football, you know, just talking about things that they do outside of football…I've enjoyed just working with them.
“And the deal is I love about them, it's just their attitude, and their toughness, and they're willing to compete. And just practice hard and have some drive about it. So that's been that's what's been exciting to me about them."
Starters: Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave
Reserves: Milton Williams, Raequan Williams, Hassan Ridgeway, T.Y. McGill, Willie Henry, and Marlon Tuipulotu
WHAT’S CHANGED: For the fourth time in the last six years, there will be a new defensive line coach with Rocker taking over for Matt Burke.
“Every D-line coach I’ve had coached hard,” said Cox. “From Jim Washburn to Coach Azz (Jerry Azzinaro) to Chris Wilson to Phillip Daniels to Matt Burke, every D-line coach coaches hard, and that’s what D-linemen like. They like to be coached hard. I think we thrive off being coached hard and being hard on ourselves also. Tracy is off to a good start with that.”
The Eagles also released Malik Jackson two years into a three-year deal he signed in 2019. Jackson, mostly a disappointment and limited to just 13 games over two seasons in Philadelphia, signed a one-year deal with the Browns.
HIGHLIGHT REEL: Cox didn’t have the kind of season in 2020 befitting someone making the kind of money he is, but the former first-round pick in 2012 (12th overall) still had 6.5 sacks playing 68 percent of the defensive snaps. His 54.5 career sacks are the fifth-most in team history and more than any other defensive tackle that played for the organization. And he’s not done, yet.
Hassan Ridgeway is still just 26, but injuries have curtailed his availability the past two seasons, and that could leave him vulnerable for playtime challenges from the two draft picks – Milton Williams and Tuipulotu.
If Raequan Williams takes a leap from undrafted rookie to his second season, he could be a big factor in the rotation. Last year, he played in six games and took nine percent of the defensive snaps but recorded five tackles and a sack.
ROCKY (THE LONGSHOT): Willie Henry. A former fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2016, Henry has been beset by injury. He played in 35 games, with 22 starts, for Michigan and recorded 9.5 sacks in that span, but he missed his rookie season with an ailment that sent him to the IR but played 14 games in 2017 recording 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Offseason hernia surgery limited him to three games the following year then he chose to sit out 2019 to get his body right.
Last year, he played one game with the 49ers but was waived with a “non-football illness” and spent parts of 2020 on San Francisco’s and the Texans’ practice squads.
WHO STAYS ON THE 53?
Cox, Hargrave, Milton Williams, Raequan Williams, Ridgeway.
Tuipulotu (to the practice squad), McGill, Henry.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.