Graham confident he'll be staying with Eagles

Posted: May 30, 2014

ALL OFFSEASON, Brandon Graham turned down interview requests made through the Eagles. Face-to-face with reporters after yesterday's organized team activity session, Graham's first impulse was to walk away, saying something over his shoulder about not wanting to get himself into trouble.

But Graham, 26, the 2010 first-round pick fans will forever blame for not being Earl Thomas, has never been an angry or difficult player. As a rookie - which seems a long time ago now - he routinely shook reporters' hands, even if they were the same hands he'd shaken the day before and the day before that. So it was not out of character that maybe a half-hour after refusing to talk, Graham somehow managed to show up just outside the NovaCare media room. He then answered every question asked of him by a media swarm.

"I just go hard, man. I came in the right weight. Shoot, I'm feeling good, 265. I'm controlling what I can," said Graham, who got married over the weekend. "I feel like they want me here, because I'm still here . . . I felt like if it was something they wanted to do, I'd be gone."

Yesterday's confusion over whether he would talk mirrored Graham's maybe-yes, maybe-no situation with the Eagles. Graham, 6-2, 265, lacks the long, lean frame coach Chip Kelly likes. Asked about that yesterday, Kelly gave a facetious answer: "Ideally, I would want someone 6-11 that weighs 400 pounds. So he's a little bit under that."

Graham was drafted by the previous regime as a 4-3 defensive end, and, after a serious knee injury, he was showing promise in that role toward the end of the 2012 season, before the coaching and system change. Last season, Graham played 331 of the Eagles' 1,231 defensive snaps - a little more than a quarter of the plays. With three sacks (he notched another in the playoff loss to New Orleans), Graham and fellow "misfit" Vinny Curry (four sacks in 322 snaps) were, on a per-snap basis, the Eagles' most productive pass-rushers. But Graham did not look comfortable dropping into pass coverage, and he was not a bulwark against the run.

As the Eagles packed up following the playoff loss, Graham spoke of wanting to be a starter somewhere. It seemed likely he would move on. Reports indicated the team tried hard to trade him before the draft. Nothing materialized, and general manager Howie Roseman said after the draft that the trade of running back Bryce Brown to Buffalo was the only deal involving a veteran he even came close to making.

In the first round of that draft, the Eagles took Marcus Smith, another pass-rush college defensive end, who will play outside linebacker here. If Smith were to back up Trent Cole, that might not leave a roster spot open for Graham - and if it did, it sure wouldn't be that chance to start Graham said he wanted. But Smith so far is playing behind Connor Barwin instead of Cole, which might leave a little more daylight for Graham.

"I just want to show those guys that I really want to be here. I love Philadelphia; I've made it my home. I would be sad if I had to go," he said.

Yet Graham continues to "favorite" tweeted trade speculation from fans and reporters in other cities, along with Eagles fans' caustic assessments of his abilities. Graham has said in the past he uses the criticism as motivation. It isn't clear how favoriting's assertion that "I'd love Brandon to come to Green Bay. Should have happened already" fits into that narrative.

Graham signed a 5-year rookie deal, with a team option for a sixth year in 2015, which the Eagles are unlikely to exercise. The cap hit for cutting him this year would be $3.415 million. His base salary is $1,670,500.

Graham's pitch yesterday was that he has finally lost all the weight he gained to be a more effective 4-3 end, that he understands the system better in his second year under coordinator Bill Davis, that "with a year under my belt, I can take it to another level."

"Last year, I was a lot more nervous, because I was trying to do a little too much," he said. "Now it's more calm. Now I know where to be, where coaches want me to be.

"Any person's dream is to start. But as long as I'm playing, that's all that matters to me. At the end of the day, I just want to get out there and show what I can do, and if we're winning, that's all that matters."

Kelly was asked yesterday whether he feels Graham fits the Eagles' defense.

"Yeah, I think he obviously has the skill set to rush the passer and set the edge," Kelly said. "And when he's been in there, he's been productive. The issue is, the other guy [Cole] is really productive, too. How many times can you get them all on the field together? If you put Brandon in, do you take Trent out? If you put Brandon in, do you take Connor out? It's really the pecking order."

On Twitter: @LesBowen


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