It has become very clear what the Eagles have in mind in this free agency portion of the offseason: They want to create as much competition as possible at as many positions on the roster. That’s why adding veteran Vinny Curry, a familiar face who returns to Philadelphia after a season in Tampa Bay, makes so much sense.
A second-round draft pick in 2012 from Marshall, Curry was released by the Eagles following the 2017 Super Bowl season, and quickly signed a three-year deal with Tampa Bay as the Bucs made an effort to overhaul their defensive line. Curry earned the starting left defensive end job and played solid football with his trademark toughness and effort against the run especially apparent, before suffering an ankle injury midway through the season that sent Curry to the sidelines for four games. During that time, Curry lost his starting job and ended up playing 12 games, with seven starts, for Tampa Bay. Curry recorded 21 tackles, 2.5 quarterback sacks, seven quarterback hits, and five tackles for loss.
Tampa Bay released Curry on February 12 and he’s been free to negotiate with any team since then. Curry attracted a good amount of interest from around the league but ultimately decided that coming back to Philadelphia in a system that he knows so well, was the right fit for him.
So, how exactly does Curry fit in?
The picture at defensive end is fluid for the Eagles, who understand just how important it is to have a depth chart that is deep, talented, and interchangeable. Adding Curry after retaining Brandon Graham prior to free agency, helps a lot. That certainly doesn’t mean the Eagles are finished adding to the edge, or to the defensive line for that matter.
There is no official depth chart – not until the preseason begins, in fact – so the Eagles are going to give new defensive line coach Phillip Daniels as many options as possible from which to choose. Graham is going to get his reps with his new contract, bringing his energy and production on every snap. Third-year man Derek Barnett is expected to be healthy after a shoulder injury suffered in October sent him to the Injured Reserve list for the remainder of the 2018 season. Chris Long is on the roster, although he has not publicly indicated his plans for 2019. Curry is another veteran option who plays strong against the run, is a tough guy, and gives excellent effort.
Then there is a short list of younger players who are going to have some stiff competition for roster spots and playing time. Josh Sweat, a fourth-round draft pick last spring, is a highly talented player who must show that he can play fast and aggressive football with durability after a college career and a rookie season marred by injuries. Daeshon Hall was a third-round draft pick by Carolina in 2017 and then joined the Eagles late last season and showed his athletic ability on special teams and with some speed off the edge. Joe Ostman returns after spending his rookie season on the practice squad.
Of course, the Eagles may also opt to dip into what is considered an excellent edge pass-rusher draft class. With three picks in the first 57 in late April, Howie Roseman and Co. will have options.
That’s the idea – load up and let the best players win jobs. The Eagles' defense thrived in 2017 with the line of scrimmage leading the way. It certainly helped that the Eagles' offense scored so prolifically early in games and the defense often played with a lead and had the chance to pin its collective ears back and get after the quarterback, but the line didn’t quite dominate in 2018 as it did the year before. Having depth – which the Eagles continue to build with the addition of Curry – at end helps and bringing in Malik Jackson to play alongside Fletcher Cox inside adds a presence that offensive blocking schemes will have to respect and account for.
Daniels is a no-nonsense coach who played in the league for 15 seasons. He isn’t a big talker, and he wants his players to bring energy and a physical presence on every snap. More than anything, Daniels wants to have the flexibility to rotate his players, give everybody a fair amount of snaps, and keep players fresh for the fourth quarter and for late in the season. Curry is now in the mix, again. He’s going to fit right into the culture of the locker room and the city, and he’s going to play hard-nosed football.
In this second week of free agency, when teams historically add lower-risk players on shorter-term contracts, the Eagles have added depth at secondary with Andrew Sendejo and at end with Curry. Smart moves with veterans coming in knowing they have a lot to prove.
Curry, of course, is overjoyed to return to the Eagles, the team he’s loved his entire life and the team with whom he won a Super Bowl. The Eagles, putting sentimentality aside and focusing strictly on football, add a nuts-and-bolts end who helps the versatility at a position the Eagles know has to be great for the entire defense to work in the season ahead. It’s an under-the-radar reunion as the rest of the league sees it, but it makes every kind of sense for the Eagles and Curry to get back together to make another championship run, starting where it all begins on that side of the line of scrimmage – the defensive line.