Why Derek Barnett never became what the Eagles expected

Why Derek Barnett never became what the Eagles expected originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

A few months before the 2017 draft, then-Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas dashed into GM Howie Roseman’s office and in Roseman’s words “started raving about Derek Barnett,” the Tennessee defensive end.

Roseman let Douglas go on and then showed him a piece of paper that had been sitting on his desk where he had written, “Derek Barnett.”

So when the Eagles were on the board in April, with edge rushers like T.J. Watt and Jonathan Allen still available, as well as guys like Marlon Humphrey, Jonathan Allen, Tre’Davious White, Budda Baker and Alvin Kamara, the Eagles snapped up Barnett with the 14th pick overall.

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“He stands for what we want to be,” Roseman said.

Five years later, Barnett’s five-year tenure with the Eagles has almost certainly ended, and although he was a starter when healthy the last four years and had a historic fumble recovery in the Super Bowl, overall Barnett’s Eagles career was a massive disappointment.

He wasn’t a flat-out bust like Jon Harris, Jerome McDougle and Marcus Smith, three 1st-round defensive ends from Eagles drafts gone by who combined for eight career sacks.

But he was a big-time underachiever.

When you draft an edge rusher 14th overall you expect more than 21 ½ sacks over five years. You expect more than a career-high of 6 ½ sacks. You expect more than 2.0 sacks in his prime at 25 years old in a contract year after signing a $10 million one-year tender.

What went wrong?

Barnett started off well enough. He was 4th among rookie edge rushers in 2017 with 5.0 sacks, and he etched himself forever into Eagles history when he recovered Tom Brady’s fumble after Brandon Graham’s strip sack with a couple minutes left in the Super Bowl. And he had 2 ½ sacks in his first six games in 2018 before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Story continues

In 2019 and 2020, for the first time, he was healthy and a full-time starter, and there were moments where it looked for all the world like he was about to bust out and become the double-digit sack guy the Eagles expected. He had 3 ½ sacks during a five-game stretch in 2019 but then got hurt and had just one sack over the next two months. He had 2 ½ sacks in his first three games in 2020 but then three over the next 10 weeks and then got hurt again.

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There were long gaps where he was just invisible. And this past year, with Graham out for the year, he managed a pitiful 2.0 sacks and had two separate six-game stretches with none.

That made him the first defensive end drafted in the top half of the 1st round to record 2.0 or fewer sacks in a season in which he started at least 15 games since Washington’s Adam Carriker in 2010.

During the 20 years from 1998 through 2017, the only defensive ends drafted in the first 16 picks to start at least 40 games and have fewer sacks than Barnett are Carriker, Courtney Brown, Tyson Jackson and Jamaal Anderson.

He’s also one of only five defensive ends drafted in the first half of the 1stround over the last 20 years to never record a 7.0-sack season. Only one of those ever did later in his career, and that was Graham.

Barnett wasn’t a total washout. He was very good against the run and he routinely piled up better-than-average pressure numbers. He ranked 17th over the last three years with 49 QB hits, and he was as high as 9th in the league in 2019, his best season.

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But ultimately Barnett was unable to turn that pressure into sacks.

Since he came into the league, he ranks 67th in sacks, and even during the last three years, when he played 43 of a possible 49 games, he ranked 63rd. This past year he was 168th.

In his last 26 games, he had five sacks.

Part of the problem was that Barnett had four position coaches in his five years here – Chris Wilson in 2017 and 2018, Phillip Daniels in 2019, Matt Burke in 2020, Tracy Rocker this past season.

But what ultimately rendered Barnett largely ineffective was his inability to increase his array of pass-rush moves. When he had success it was generally with a spin move, but he never really developed a variety of moves and that made him predictable and easier to block.

And his lack of discipline offset a lot of the positives. Barnett committed 25 penalties in 64 games – one every 2 ½ games – including 10 personal fouls.

As an Eagle he had more penalties than sacks (25 to 21 ½) and more penalty yards than sack yards (176 to 141).

The injuries certainly didn’t help. In addition to the rotator cuff that cost him 10 games in 2018 and eventually required surgery, he had sports hernia surgery after the Super Bowl, then missed two games in 2019 with an ankle injury, missed the 2020 opener with an ankle injury and then two more games with a calf injury.

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As Barnett heads toward free agency, there seems to be no chance he’ll be back. That seemed clear once the Eagles signed Josh Sweat to a three-year, $40 million contract extension in September. Because they certainly weren’t going to sign both of them. Especially with Brandon Graham coming back with a $9.413 million cap hit.

When the Eagles restructured Barnett in August, it meant he would count about $7.25 million against the 2022 cap even if he’s not here.

The crazy thing is Barnett is going to get a huge contract in free agency.

He’s only 25, he’s shown flashes, he has traits teams are looking for, and defensive ends are among the highest-paid players in the league.

There are 23 edge rushers or ends currently making at least $10 million per year, and Pro Football Focus estimates Barnett’s value in free agency at $12.5 million per year over three years with $25 million guaranteed.

Just imagine what he’d be worth if he averaged more than 4.3 sacks per season.


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