As the Eagles continue adding players in this offseason – last week they signed a veteran linebacker, Zach Smith, who has a very good chance to play a lot in the defense this year, and they claimed a safety off of waivers, Blake Countess, who has a chance to be the depth safety the team has lacked in recent seasons – we have to look back at the man who made all of this roster-building activity possible and explore the domino effect a single move can have.
Brandon Graham, who decided to remain with the Eagles and sign a three-year contract extension worth an average of $13 million per season, triggered what has become a larger-than-many-thought offseason for the Eagles, who traded for wide receiver DeSean Jackson, signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, added all kinds of role players and proper “fits,” and at the same time created a healthy salary-cap situation should the team want to sign quarterback Carson Wentz to a long-term contract extension in the months ahead.
Graham could have actually entered free agency and signed a contract on the market that probably would have paid him significantly more money – Trey Flowers, for example, left New England after recording a total of 21 quarterback sacks in three seasons there to sign for five years, $90 million (including $40 million guaranteed), an average of $18 million per season – but instead opted to remain with the Eagles.
“At the end of the day, it worked for me,” Graham said. “I never wanted to leave Philadelphia. It’s where I’ve played my entire career and it’s where I want to end my career. That means something to me.”
It doesn’t happen often, that kind of loyalty. The Eagles made Graham a first-round draft pick in 2010 and then signed him to a second contract in 2015, and now he’s on his third deal. Graham has made more than $50 million in his career, but what kind of price tag do you place on a defensive end who made one of the greatest plays in the history of the franchise when he sacked and forced the ball loose for a fumble that the Eagles recovered late in the Super Bowl LII win over New England and quarterback Tom Brady? Priceless, is the answer.
Had Graham desired to get the most money in free agency, he would have entered the market and been the plum of some team’s free-agency story. Instead, Graham decided that home is where the heart is, and his team-oriented decision allowed the Eagles to pursue Malik Jackson and trade for DeSean Jackson and add a player like Zach Brown in early May.
“I think we have something special going,” Graham said when he signed the contract. “I just felt that I made the best decision for me and my family in the long run. I want to be here and keep winning with the Philadelphia Eagles.”
Graham got the offseason ball rolling, and the Eagles have used that momentum to window-dress an already-strong roster with a blend of young players taken in the NFL Draft and veterans acquired in free agency, off the waiver wire and through trade. As a result, the Eagles are loaded. The season ahead is going to be a fun one to follow.
The roster wouldn’t look like it looks had it not been for Brandon Graham, who deserves all kinds of credit for putting the team first in his contract decision. ••