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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Leading up to the start of free agency, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the players on the Eagles roster who could become cap casualties this offseason and how the team should look to handle each.
In this edition, we will be covering defensive tackle Tim Jernigan.
Drafted in the second round of the 2014 draft, Jernigan spent his first three seasons in the league with the Baltimore Ravens. In his first season, he was used as a depth piece while he started half of the Ravens’ games in his sophomore season and took control of the starting job in 2016.
In his three seasons in Baltimore, Jernigan proved to be a solid pass rusher (13 sacks, 35 quarterback hits) and a better run stopper (93 tackles, 16 for loss). His performance led to the Eagles having an interest in him.
In a masterful move, Howie Roseman acquired Jernigan, who was still on his rookie deal, simply for swapping draft picks and moving down 25 spots in the draft (The move down is where they landed cornerback Rasul Douglas). Jernigan was brought in to replace Bennie Logan as he departed in free agency.
The Birds benefited greatly from Jernigan’s presence alongside both Fletcher Cox and Beau Allen, allowing the team to use an effective rotation and allow the trio to be better rested and healthier as they got to the playoffs and Super Bowl LII.
The Eagles loved Jernigan’s play as well as his energy and rewarded him with a four-year, $48 million deal. The deal was short lived as an injury during an offseason workout lead to the final three years of his contract becoming option years for the franchise.
Jernigan essentially missed the entire season, playing only 45 snaps in the final few weeks of the season. He registered just two tackles and a quarterback hit. That is the fewest among any Eagles defensive lineman with even DaeShon Hall and T.Y. McGill each taking over 50 snaps.
Aside from Jernigan, the Eagles currently have three defensive tackles under contract.
The Eagles could absolutely have a good pairing with Fletcher Cox and Treyvon Hester. Hester was more than just the hero of the divisional round that blocked Cody Parkey’s kick. He was actually ranked as the 12th best interior defensive lineman in the league by Pro Football Focus. Of course, Fletcher Cox ranked only behind Aaron Donald.
The other player under contract is Bruce Hector. Hector will absolutely be around during training camp to compete for a spot, but he is far from guaranteed a spot which would leave the team with essentially no depth returning.
It must also be mentioned that the draft is deep with defensive linemen this year and, with three picks in the first two rounds, it would be shocking if the Eagles did not draft at least one immediate impact player at defensive tackle or end.
On his current deal, the Eagles would carry a $13 million cap hit for Jernigan should they choose to accept his option. The team could also choose to decline the option and save nearly all of that space against the cap. That could be more than half of the space they would need to franchise tag Nick Foles (the team would need to create around $20 million in cap space) and Jernigan played fewer than 50 snaps while carrying a $5 million cap hit in 2018.
For comparison, Fletcher Cox, the far-and-away second best defensive tackle in the league has a cap hit under $12 million in 2019.
Two defensive tackles at the same part of their careers who signed deals last offseason were Bennie Logan (one-year, $4 million) and Star Lotulelei (five-years, $50 million). The difference between those two and Jernigan is that these two are more strictly run stoppers while Jernigan can have a greater impact on the passing game than the other two.
Jernigan is a great fit for the Eagles, both scheme and personality-wise, however his $13 million cap hit is too much for perhaps any lineman not named Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox. The market value for Jernigan is probably somewhere around $8 million per year, but with Ndamukong Suh, Sheldon Richardson and Grady Jarrett as other potential free agents, Jernigan might not reach his market value on the market this season, which plays into the Eagles favor. With the smallest cap hit coming at the start of the contract, the Birds should have the room to restructure a deal with him, just as they did with Rodney McLeod.
PREVIOUS EAGLES OFFSEASON ENTRIES:
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Brandon Graham
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Jordan Hicks
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Ronald Darby
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Jay Ajayi
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Golden Tate
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Jordan Matthews
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Richard Rodgers
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Haloti Ngata
Eagles Free Agent Evaluation: Mike Wallace