There was always the highest level of respect, and the most urgent level of concern. When Ryan Kerrigan lined up on the edge for Washington in any game against the Eagles, it was football warfare. Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson always relished the opportunity to line up against Kerrigan, who in 19 games against Philadelphia registered 13.5 quarterback sacks, six forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and an interception he returned for a touchdown.
It was always a challenge.
And at times a nightmare.
"He's one of the best out there, and maybe the best. At least, that's the way I see it," Johnson said of Kerrigan in 2019. "The guy is relentless and has all the tools. I love playing against him. If I'm not at my best, he's going to get the better of me."
Now, the two are teammates, as Kerrigan and the Eagles have agreed to a one-year contract, Philadelphia announced on Monday morning. Kerrigan, a veteran of 10 seasons with Washington who played 156 games and registered 95.5 career sacks, is a four-time Pro Bowl player, one of the NFL's classiest and most respected players, and is regarded as a great locker room and on-field presence.
"We're pleased to add a player and person of Ryan's caliber to our team," General Manager Howie Roseman said. "For the last 10 seasons, we've seen firsthand how Ryan can affect a game on the field and we know that adding a veteran presence to our locker room can only benefit our young players.
"Ryan is excited to show Eagles fans he's got plenty left in his game and we look forward to seeing him do just that this season."
A player who victimized the Eagles for so many seasons is now here to help a new defense with his pass-rush prowess, his toughness, and his leadership. The addition of Kerrigan in many ways strikes a similar chord to the addition of defensive end Chris Long prior to the 2017 Super Bowl season. Long had been a veteran with St. Louis and New England, having won the Super Bowl the season before with the Patriots, and he thrived in a rotational role off the edge.
"He's just a great player who has power and strength and speed. He's special," said Johnson, who never engaged in any trash talking with Kerrigan in their many battles. "I don't think I've ever heard Ryan Kerrigan say a word on the football field. He's a total class act. I have all the respect in the world for him. The only time we've talked is when we were at the Pro Bowl together. He's a great guy and a great football player."
As recently as the opening game last season, Kerrigan was a handful for the Eagles – and the entire NFL. He recorded two quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery in Washington's come-from-behind-win when Johnson was sidelined with an ankle/knee injury. Kerrigan's numbers dipped in 2020 as Washington transitioned to a younger group of pass rushers but he was still highly effective with 5.5 quarterback sacks in just 397 defensive snaps, 38 percent of Washington's total. He added six quarterback hurries, five tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.
Exactly how Kerrigan will be used remains to be seen as we don't yet know the particulars of Jonathan Gannon's defense, but the obvious conclusion is that Gannon wants Kerrigan to do what he's done as well as just about any pass rusher in the last decade – find the football. Kerrigan can do it with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end and he can line up in a stand-up position off the edge and wreak havoc. He had forced 28 fumbles since joining the NFL in 2011, second most in the league in that time. And he is one of only three players in league history (along with Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor) to have recorded 60 or more career quarterback sacks along with three interception returns for touchdowns. Kerrigan has recorded a sack in 68 career games, third most among active players.
Kerrigan is 32 years old (33 in August) and the Eagles feel like he has plenty in his tank to join Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, and some younger prospects bringing pressure off the edge on the football field. Off the field, Kerrigan is a leading league ambassador.
The roster-building process continues as the Eagles add a player who brings so many pluses to the fold for a defense that will have a new look but the same objective: Get to the football and take it away. Kerrigan is one of the best in the NFL at doing both.