Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf will debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...
CM: With the Fourth of July behind us, Training Camp is inching closer and closer on the horizon. Here's a good topic to kick around on this Monday. Which player do you consider the most difficult-to-replace on the Eagles' roster?
BW: I think you can make a case for a number of players, but I don't expect much of an argument that the correct answer is Jason Peters. Considering that the Eagles are expecting to integrate two new starting offensive linemen, Peters, perhaps the league's best at the most important position on the line, is as essential to the success of the offense as anyone -- especially with the likelihood that his quarterback is one with an extensive injury history.
Most everywhere else on the roster, the Eagles' depth is strong. There are two starting-caliber quarterbacks, three running backs, three inside linebackers, etc. For my money, Fletcher Cox is the best player on the roster but there is good, young depth on the D-line and, in this defense, I believe the team could make due without Cox for a few games here or there. Malcolm Jenkins would be the other main contender for me, because of the dearth of experience at the safety position and the need for improved secondary play. Still, Peters gets my vote.
CM: Peters is an outstanding choice for all of the reasons you mentioned, Bo. Since his arrival in 2009, the Eagles have not had a losing season when he played. The Eagles are 49-30 (.620 win percentage) with Peters in the starting lineup.
I'm going to give some praise here to a player who made his first Pro Bowl in 2014 and that's Connor Barwin. He played over 1,000 snaps last season (at least 50 in every game). He provided a consistent pass rush, leading the NFC with 14.5 sacks. He is also disruptive in the run game and even when he doesn't get to the quarterback. The Eagles released Trent Cole and re-signed Brandon Graham, but they are looking for that third pass-rush option behind Barwin and Graham. Barwin has become so reliable and dependable that he goes under the radar in my opinion.
DS: Peters is a great choice, but I also think Lane Johnson could slide to the left side, or Allen Barbre could play well there. No doubt, though, Peters is a Hall of Fame player and he's huge to what the Eagles do.
I'm going to go with Connor Barwin. I just think he means so much to the defense and the team, both for what he does on the field and what he brings to the locker room. It's very difficult to replace those skills. Barwin is an all-around linebacker who provides a great deal of flexibility for coordinator Bill Davis. We saw last year how Barwin's pass-rushing skills translate in this defense, and he's also tough against the run and he can turn and run in pass defense.
BW: It's true that the depth at outside linebacker behind Barwin and Brandon Graham features some real unknowns. Is Marcus Smith ready to contribute? Travis Long has been an interesting prospect for a while who would have made the roster last year if not for a season-ending injury in the preseason finale. Vinny Curry is apparently getting some reps as a stand-up linebacker which could aid the pass-rush in Barwin's absence and the plethora of inside linebackers would help Barwin's contributions in coverage. In the sense that Barwin going down would force some players out of position, while a Peters injury would not have quite that same effect, your point is well-taken. I may be talking myself into Malcolm Jenkins as the answer after all ...
CM: I can't believe no one has mentioned the biggest free agent prize on the defensive side of the ball in Byron Maxwell. He was the day-one, big-ticket signing who was brought in to solidify a position group that struggled mightily last season, especially down the stretch. Maxwell is in his prime. He's the prototype of what the Eagles want at the position. He's thrived in a similar scheme. As Spuds noted in his excellent column on Maxwell, he's brought some swagger to the defensive backs meeting room.
Yes, the Eagles have a lot more depth at cornerback now, but it's for the most part inexperienced. To me, Maxwell has to be the most difficult-to-replace Eagle.
DS: Can I hear a shout out for Jason Kelce? Talk about a guy who means everything to this offense ...
BW: You won't get much of an argument from me on Kelce's importance, but we did see the offensive line tread enough water with David Molk at center last year.
What of Jenkins though? He's the captain of the secondary and the starting safeties without him would be what? Walter Thurmond and Jaylen Watkins? Earl Wolff?
CM: Have you changed your decision, Bo? When I brought up Maxwell, I could have gone with Jenkins but what's the more important spot? I would argue that it's harder to find good safety play because of the transition from college to the pro game. There is no question that Jenkins is the rock on the back end of the defense. The Eagles would be pressed if anything were to happen. It might be a situation like Kelce/Molk last year where you would learn quickly about some of the young guys. Jenkins is high on this list, but still not at the top for me.
I understand why we haven't brought up quarterback to this point, but it's the most important position on the team. Most teams you would immediately single out the quarterback. Not so here.
BW: Maybe it's shaking off the cobwebs of the Fourth of July vacation week, but I might be leaning toward Jenkins over Peters now all of a sudden. You make a great point about QB though. You'd have to think that over half the teams in the league would single out their quarterback as the most indispensable player, but with Mark Sanchez battling Sam Bradford, the Eagles probably aren't one of those teams.
CM: While Bradford isn't the most difficult-to-replace Eagle, I do think that for the team to reach its full potential they need him. We all know what the Eagles invested to acquire him. We know how the Eagles have brought the best out of the quarterbacks who have played the past couple of seasons. We have to wait until Training Camp to see him take the next step in his rehab, but there is no question just how important Bradford is to the overall equation of this year's team.
DS: The POSITION of quarterback is the most invaluable, of course, but with Mark Sanchez on board with Bradford, the Eagles have two capable veterans who have won in this league. Three, if you count Tim Tebow, who is in a roster battle with Matt Barkley. I'm sticking with Barwin, by the way. I just think he means so much for this defense.