As free agency approaches, talk around the Philadelphia Eagles is starting to focus on positions of need. On the defensive side, it seems that nearly every position has been mentioned as a position of need. While help with the secondary and pass rush are obvious keys, nose tackle has been cited as a position as well.
The Eagles entered 2013 needing a nose tackle for the first time after switching to a 3-4 defense. They signed former San Francisco 49ers tackle Isaac Sopoaga to a 3-year-deal with limited guaranteed money to bridge this transition. Due to his age and relatively lacking resume, it was clear that Sopoaga was not viewed as a long-term answer at the position.
Still, his performance was at least slightly disappointing. Sopoaga ended up being dealt to the New England Patriots along with a sixth-round pick in exchange for a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft. This left the position to be manned by Bennie Logan and Damion Square.
Logan was a rookie in 2013, drafted in the third round out of LSU. The Eagles valued his versatility, projecting as a player who could at different times man all three defensive line positions. Sopoaga’s mid-season departure opened the door for Logan to start, and he was an improvement over Sopoaga. He was occasionally pushed around by elite interior linemen, but for the most part Logan held his own.
Square, meanwhile, was a rookie who went undrafted in 2013. He beat out veteran Antonio Dixon for the backup job after a solid showing in Training Camp and the preseason. However, he made very little impact during the regular season and did not make much of his increased playing time after the Sopoaga trade.
So, where does that leave the Eagles? Some believe that the team is still without a true nose tackle and needs to prioritize. Evan Silva of Rotoworld listed it as the Eagles’ second biggest position of need behind safety, and he’s not the only one making it out as a big deal.
It’s an overreaction, in my estimation. Yes, Logan had his struggles, but he was a rookie who was a bit undersized. He will learn more, and he is being tasked with gaining weight in this offseason. An extra 10 or 15 pounds on his frame will allow him to increase his strength while maintaining his valuable athleticism.
If there is an opportunity to get a better nose tackle, that’s not to say the Eagles should avoid it. If Louis Nix somehow falls to the 22nd pick, there’s a good chance he would be the best player available on the board for the Eagles. Nix would be a valuable addition, and Logan’s versatility would still be a valuable commodity in the rotation, making him a sort of fourth lineman behind Nix and starting ends Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. This would be a great scenario for the Eagles, giving them a very talented, very young defensive line to build around.
But that is unlikely. And beyond Nix, this is a weak draft at the tackle position. My best guess is that Logan works on adding weight to his frame in the offseason and will start again in 2014, while the team looks for players to compete with Square for the backup job. The Eagles are deep at the end position with Vinny Curry and Joe Kruger potentially backing up Cox and Thornton in 2014. But Square can definitely be upgraded.
The success of Vince Wilfork at the nose tackle position does not inherently mean that every tackle needs to weigh an outrageous amount. Logan is not far off from being an effective interior defensive lineman, and a little experience and weight gain will go a long way to making it happen. Sometimes the easiest way is also the smartest way.