Brandon Graham will forever be known for his strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LII, arguably the greatest defensive play in the history of a franchise known for defensive excellence. Brady, now with Tampa Bay, is still not over that loss.
But the defensive end, who is now the longest-tenured player on the team, is a bouncing ball of energy at 32 years old filled with an infectious personality and a charming smile. It's hard to take him seriously when he's trash-talking because the opponent can't tell if Graham is laughing at him or with him. His positivity and optimism reign in difficult times. When the Eagles were 5-7 last season after a humbling loss in Miami, Graham's faith in the team never wavered. The defense responded by allowing 17 or fewer points in three of the final four games of the season, including holding the Cowboys to a season-low-tying nine points in the Week 16 clash that ultimately won the NFC East for the Eagles.
Graham delivered on his end of the bargain in 2019. He led the Eagles with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, and tied for the team lead with 34 combined QB pressures and hits.
That optimism isn't waning as the team's first-round pick in 2010 prepares for his 11th year in the league in an offseason that's nothing but ordinary.
"I'm all-in," Graham said. "It's all about having an advantage and I feel like we've got an advantage right now. We've got the same coach. All we have to do is make sure that we take this offseason like we're supposed to."
The Eagles are, indeed, the only team with the same head coach returning in 2020 with Dallas (Mike McCarthy), New York Giants (Joe Judge), and Washington (Ron Rivera) all bringing in people from outside the organization.
That doesn't mean the offseason has been smooth sailing for Graham. The coronavirus pandemic claimed the lives of a family member (his grandmother's sister) and a close family friend he considered an aunt.
"It just sucks man, but you got to keep pressing, keep going," Graham said. "We understand it's just a part of life. It's tough for the family right now."
This is not the first time that Graham has prepared for a season without the ability to be at the NovaCare Complex. He was a second-year player, coming off a knee injury, during the 2011 lockout when the team didn't get together until Training Camp. This time around, the Eagles have the benefit of a virtual offseason program to which Graham says, "it's how you make it." For Graham, that's been reading more and spending time with his wife and two children.
The Eagles can not only count on consistency with Doug Pederson back as head coach, but with Graham coming off the edge. Since 2012, Graham has played in every game except for the 2017 regular-season finale. His current streak of 32 straight regular-season starts ranks fourth in the league among all defensive ends.
He played a career-high 76 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019. Lined up primarily at left defensive end, Graham knows how to set the edge against the run and make quick work of tight ends who try to slow him down. His quickness and leverage and motor make him an effective pass rusher when manned up against opposing tackles. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz utilized Graham's lateral agility by looping him around the defensive tackle to free him up to chase down the quarterback. Graham set a new career high with three sacks in a single game last season in the win over the New York Jets. All three sacks came with Graham lined up as an interior rusher.
As Graham enters his sixth season as a full-time starter, there are plenty of examples of edge rushers thriving at 32 years old. Cameron Wake posted three seasons with double-digit sacks after he turned 32. Graham's never hit 10 sacks in a season. He came oh-so-close with 9.5 in the Super Bowl season when he was also a team captain. But Lorenzo Alexander was 33 when he had his first 10-plus-sack season in 2016. Individual stats are great, but Graham would prefer to chase down something more elusive than a quarterback for a long time.
"I just want to go out there and give it all I got so we can help each other and lead ourselves back into a good situation, and that's a Super Bowl this year," he said.