Football

Marcus Hayes: Can Vinny Curry be as big a bargain for the Eagles as Chris Long?

When the Eagles won the Super Bowl after the 2017 season, then went to the second round of the playoffs in 2018, their combined outlay was about $345.4 million.

High-mileage defensive end Chris Long cost them around $5.25 million, or about 1.5% of their outlay. He compiled 13 sacks and 105 total pressures (sacks, hits, and hurries) and played in every game. He was a massive bargain.

Long supplied a huge return on a modest investment. The Eagles are banking on Vinny Curry doing the same.

After a year of separation spurred by financial realities, they reunited this winter when Curry signed a one-year contract worth $2.25 million. Can he be this season's Chris Long?

"Nobody can be Chris Long," Curry said. "At the end of the day I'm going to do the best I can do to contribute."

He'll help out as a backup end, as a pass-rushing tackle, as a special-teams body. He doesn't expect his career to end in Philly, the way Long's did. Long, now 34, stepped away from the game after last season. Curry thinks this can be a stepping-stone for him.

"I would like to say, in that Super Bowl run I was a big part of our success as well," Curry said. "I can tell you tell you this: ... I'm hungry, bro. Sorry. I was about to curse. But I am, dude. I'm hungry."

He'd better be starving. The Eagles not only lost Long but they also traded high-priced, discontented end Michael Bennett to the Patriots, and Bennett was better than Long was last season.

Championship teams often receive outsize contributions from affordable players. When the Phillies went to back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009 they spent more than $235.4 million in payroll. Afterthought outfielder Jayson Werth cost them $4.725 million, or about 2% of their payroll. Werth hit .270 with 60 homers and 166 RBIs and compiled an OPS of .871.

Sometimes the value is more concentrated. Cody Ross made $4.45 million in all of 2010 when, after being waived by the Marlins and claimed by the Giants, he hit .288 from late August through September, then hit .294 with five homers in the Giants' title run. Either way, massive bargains.

Like Chris Long.

Like Vinny Curry?

It was suggested that Curry's hunger might produce even better results than Long enjoyed.

Long arrived in Philadelphia at 32, having played 130 games, 103 of them starts.

Curry is 31, but with 96 games played, just 23 of them starts. He never started until 2017, five seasons after the Eagles picked him in the second round of the draft.

He doesn't expect to get many starts this season – not playing behind left end Brandon Graham, who signed a three-year, $40 million extension in March, and right end Derek Barnett, a first-round pick two years ago who spent his rookie season playing behind Curry.

The Eagles released Curry after that season because Curry refused to take a pay cut. He'd managed just three sacks in 2017, the second year of a five-year, $47.25 million contract that general manager Howie Roseman lavished on a pet player who'd had one standout season – nine sacks in 2014.

Cutting Curry, a native of Neptune, N.J., saved the Eagles $5 million in salary-cap money last year.

The Bucs bit: three years, $23 million. He had 2 1/2 sacks in 12 games last season, in which he made $6.5 million. They cut him in February before any of his remaining money became guaranteed.

Which brought him home. Back to the fellas who nursed him through 2018, when a high-ankle sprain left him in a hard cast, wheeling around One Buccaneer Place on a knee walker, incapacitated for four of five games smack in the middle of the season.

Led by Fletcher Cox, the Eagles defensive line counseled him long-distance.

"I was in that cast for weeks," Curry moaned. "Sitting up there, watching TV. And you get a phone call. And it's Fletch. Or even Chris Long. Or (retired former teammate) Trent Cole calling, because I still talk to him almost every day, too.

"Imagine being somewhere after talking with and seeing guys every day, then going somewhere else and still talking to them every day."

If Curry was feeling low, all they needed to do was remind him of how good the line had been in 2017. And, to an extent, it was super good – but not the way most had imagined.

The wide-nine scheme coordinator Jim Schwartz favors produced mediocre results against the pass, but it stopped the run dead, and the ends were in the middle of it.

Among all NFL ends who faced at least 95 runs, all four primary Eagles ends ranked in the top 11 in run-stop percentage, according to profootballfocus.com. Graham led the league at 13.7 percent. Barnett was sixth, at 11.5 percent. Curry ranked 10th, at 9.7. Long was 11th, at 9.6.

Cox ruled the middle of the line, and the linebackers played well. The ends helped the Eagles field the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, and Curry shined.

Will he shine again, perhaps even brighter?

"He really looks like he hasn't missed a beat," Schwartz said during the team's offseason workouts in May.

"I'm wiser. Smarter. I understand my purpose," Curry said. "It's a high testosterone game. Somebody's got to be the balance."

Curry at least sounds like Long: measured, content, focused. If he plays like his predecessor, he won't be a bargain for long.

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