It was an ultimate business tug-of-war, and in the end Brandon Graham followed his heart and his head and, instead of testing NFL free agency on March 13, decided to agree to terms with the Eagles on a contract extension through 2021 that puts him in position to play his entire career in Philadelphia.
The team’s first-round draft pick in 2010 from the University of Michigan, Graham discussed at length his contract situation in the closing weeks of the 2018 season and into the postseason. In that time, Graham talked about how much the Eagles meant to him – his teammates, the coaches, the organization, the fans, and the City – and he never gave up hope that a new contract could happen.
And now it has.
And this is a happy day.
“This is a great feeling for me right now, man,” Graham said in an exclusive telephone conversation on Friday morning as he pulled up to train for the day in Michigan. “My family and I, we didn’t want to go anywhere else, so to get this done, that’s the best feeling. I’m over here smiling ear to ear. I’ve been doing that since I heard the news.”
Graham is an Eagle, through and through. He’s overcome so much in his time here – a No. 1 draft pick who ripped up his knee in his rookie season, who came all the way back from that, who switched to a standup edge rusher and then back to a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive end, and then became one of the league’s best at his position, his career highlighted by one of the greatest plays in Eagles history with his strip-sack of New England quarterback Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII – and he deserves to play in Philadelphia for the remainder of his time in the NFL.
“I talked with my family and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a lot of things I want to accomplish in Philly. I want to get on that wall (at the NovaCare Complex) for the Pro Bowl, I’ve got a couple of things … being there for this long, hopefully, one day I’ll be in the Hall of Fame. I want to do something big in Philly. Right now, I’m just excited because we get to go back and compete. We’ve got unfinished business together as a team.
“Staying with the Eagles was the right thing to do. I think this is a great deal. We weren’t too far off before (in negotiations that had previously taken place) and right now I’m just excited. I’ve done well with the money from before and this was done in a way that I can do right with my family and I can go out there and continue my legacy on the field.”
What’s right is a new deal through 2021 – Graham’s third contract with the team – as the Eagles once again found a way to keep one of their own. This wasn’t easy. Not at all. Had Graham hit the free agent market, he would have been one of the more coveted players given his high-energy, high-effort, and extremely productive week-in, week-out production. An ankle injury that he played with since the December 25, 2017 win over Oakland through the Super Bowl that required surgery slowed Graham for quite a bit of the 2018 season.
His four quarterback sacks were Graham’s lowest since he had three in the 2013 season – when he played as a standup end when Chip Kelly was the head coach – but Graham registered a career-best 40 quarterback pressures/hits and then he was outstanding in the two playoff games against Chicago and New Orleans with 1.5 quarterback sacks and four QPH.
The Eagles, backed up a bit against the salary cap, made retaining Graham a priority and they got a deal done. Howie Roseman has said since the end of the 2018 season that the tight salary cap situation wouldn’t prevent the Eagles from conducting a “foot-on-the-gas-pedal” approach to free agency and the draft. He backed up that confidence by finding a way to keep Graham in the fold and, at the same time, addressing one of the team’s most important positions.
Given that April’s NFL Draft is said to be one of the best in recent years along the defensive line and the idea that Graham would be mightily tempted to see how the market would welcome him, it was widely thought that the Eagles would potentially have a revamping of the defensive end position in the months ahead. But with the new Graham deal, the Eagles have options. They’ve got Graham, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, and second-year man Josh Sweat under contract at this time and with free agency less than two weeks away – March 13 at 4 p.m., to be exact – the defensive end depth chart has depth in talent, experience, and promise.
That’s not to suggest the Eagles are finished addressing defensive end, but with the extension for Graham, they can proceed without any sense of emergency. They’ve got a good group lined up already, with the goal of making their defensive end rotation the best in the NFL.
Graham is a huge part of that with the way he flies off the edge, the technique that he’s perfected, the burst off the football, and the ability to slide inside and rush the quarterback when the Eagles use nickel personnel.
“I’m comfortable where I’m at as far as the defense. I know how it is to play in one of those schemes that don’t fit you,” Graham said. “That was another thing, too (factoring in his decision to stay). We’ve got a scheme that fits and we’ve got a coach to match. Coach (Chris) Wilson was a great coach, too, but I know Phil (Phillip Daniels) was looking for an opportunity and I’m just happy that he got the opportunity with the Eagles and I get to be a part of his first group that he ever coached.”
The Eagles kept this one quiet and at the end of the day they pulled off what some on the outside would think is a stunning move. Many believed that Graham would be one of the most-coveted free agents on the market in March. Instead, he’s staying where he belongs with a deal that is a big-time win for everyone involved.
“They can’t get rid of me!” said Graham, who starts off March with a new contract and whose wife, Carlyne, is expecting a baby boy to be born at the end of the month to join their daughter, Emerson (3). “I didn’t want to leave and I’m not leaving. This is where I want to be. I’m so excited, man. I can’t wait to see everyone soon. The Eagles fans, they’ve been great this whole time. I love my relationship with them and what Eagles football means to them. I’m ready. I’m feeling great. I can’t wait to get things rolling.”