PHILADELPHIA - Jim Schwartz's history with Brandon Graham started long before the veteran defensive coordinator arrived in Philadelphia for the 2016 season.
Back in 2010 when Schwartz had the big chair in Detroit, he had the opportunity to coach the North Team at the Senior Bowl. The coach wanted to have a little fun with his staff, a group that included current Eagles assistants Matt Burke, Jeremiah Washburn, and Ted Rath, and got them together to offer $500 to anyone who could predict the game's MVP.
There was one caveat, however. Schwartz got to go first.
He selected Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham and sure enough, BG helped lead the North over Tony Sparano's South Team, 31-13, and Schwartz got to keep his money when Graham was named the game's MVP, compiling two sacks and a forced fumble.
That anecdote was offered up by Schwartz on Tuesday when reacting to Graham's long overdue first Pro Bowl nod for his work during his 11th season in Philadelphia.
“Man, there were some tears shed in the coaching staff rooms (Monday) night,” said Schwartz. “Just a totally deserving guy."
At 32, Graham has been a top-level edge defender for years but was often overlooked because big sack numbers tend to get all the attention. Schwartz, however, stresses a disciplined pass rush where group success is the goal.
Graham leads the Eagles in sacks this season with seven and tackles for loss with 12. He's second in QB hits with 14 but has been sackless over the past six games.
ProFootballFocus.com has Graham graded as the ninth-best edge defender in the NFL this season and he actually graded higher in every season from 2014 to 2019, topping out as the second-best in the game during Schwartz's first season with the Eagles in 2016.
"He’s had a long career, and he’s been a very good player for a long time," Schwartz assessed. "But to get his first Pro Bowl nod, it sort of choked everybody up because we know what kind of guy - you guys know what kind of guy he is. I think the fans know what kind of guy he is.
"He’s persevered through some tough times early in his career. He’s battled some injuries. He’s an incredibly hard worker. He plays with a lot of spirit. All the things that you respect about a player, Brandon Graham personifies. So for him to get that nod was big.”
Perhaps more important than any on-field success is Graham's leadership. He serves as a team captain and is arguably the emotional leader of the entire roster which has had a difficult season at 4-9-1 with two regular-season games remaining.
Graham wasn't always a fan favorite, often labeled as a bust as the 13th overall pick in 2010 with many fans wishing Philadelphia selected Earl Thomas or Jason Pierre-Paul.
Graham ended up outlasting both those players in their original cities and was the architect of perhaps the biggest play in the modern era for the Eagles, his Super Bowl LII strip-sack of Tom Brady which essentially sealed the game and delivered Philadelphia its first, and to date, only Lombardi Trophy.
“I think what you can’t overlook with Brandon is he wasn’t an immediate success as a rookie,” Schwartz said. “It’s a tough business in the NFL. There’s a lot of scrutiny. There’s scrutiny from the fans, there’s scrutiny from the media, there’s scrutiny from the locker room, scrutiny from the coaches. It’s tough to deal with.
"He never lost his faith. He never wavered, and he got past that and has gone on to have an outstanding career, and he has a lot left on his career. I’m really proud of him.”
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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