If we know anything about the Eagles, it’s their love of defensive linemen. If you’re a big and beefy guy who can reach the quarterback, then Howie Roseman and Jim Schwartz have a roster spot for you.
That’s why it shouldn’t surprise anybody that they went out and signed former Steeler Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million dollar deal with $26 million guaranteed, making him the NFL’s highest paid nose tackle.
But it’s a bit of a misnomer to even label him a nose tackle in the first place. The Steelers did play a 3-4 scheme on defense, but he’s less of an old-school space eater and more of a modern-day hybrid who can do a variety of things on the line, both pass rushing and run stopping while showing the chops and lateral movement to get out in space as well. He’ll play much more like a prototypical 3-technique defensive tackle for the Eagles, lining up on the outside shoulder of the opposing guard and getting vertical into the backfield.
You saw that versatility when Hargrave played 3-4 defensive end while Stephon Tuitt was out injured last year, and he looked really good in that role. It led to prophetic tweets like this one from Nick Farabaugh:
It’s pretty simple why the Steelers might not be able to get Javon Hargrave back and it’s not because they don’t have the cap, they will. The issue he’s a natural 4-3 3-Tech that will get paid so much more by a 4-3 team than a 3-4 team to be a NT. And that’s a darn shame.
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 20, 2019
The sticking point really is his utility, which is why he was able to command a high free agent salary moving from a base 3-4 to a 4-3. The Steelers mixed and matched with four-man sets last season, and on plays like this, Hargrave (#79 on the left) plays like a traditional DT in a wide front:
Hey #Eagles fans, you might not know Javon Hargrave yet, but you guys just got a great player and one of the best young defensive lineman in the NFL.
He was a wrecking ball for the Steelers and fans loved him here. He’s going to be great.
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) March 17, 2020
Hargrave is listed at 6’2″, 305 pounds at Pro Football Reference, which is actually lighter than the 6’4″, 310 Fletcher Cox is listed at. That’s another reason why the “nose tackle” thing is a bit misleading in 2020. Traditionally, those were guys like Casey Hampton, Vince Wilfork, and Ravens-era Haloti Ngata, who would line up over the center and then occupy multiple blockers. Those guys all played north of 315 pounds in a classic 0-technique role, which meant they were basically tasked with gobbling up space and protecting the A-gaps.
That’s not what you see here:
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 19, 2018
Here’s some more video of Hargrave in a variety of sets. You see some four-man fronts and some hybrid fronts, and he looks comfortable and effective in pretty much anything they use:
Javon Hargrave is a stud. He next to Fletcher Cox is going to be FUN.
Don’t forget – Malik Jackson is the rotational pass rusher, too.
— Tyler Steege (@TSteegeNFL) March 17, 2020
It’s pretty easy to see why the Eagles love him. He’s a bull on the defensive line, both versatile and flexible. Jim Schwartz has traditionally liked to move pieces around up front, which you see with the stacking of defensive ends on obvious passing downs and the consistent rotation of depth pieces to keep the pass rush fresh. This season you’re looking at a 1-2 combination of Cox and Hargrave with Hassan Ridgeway coming back on a one-year deal and Malik Jackson returning from injury. That’s looks just as good on paper, if not slightly better, than the Cox/Tim Jernigan/Beau Allen/Destiny Vaeao rotation that took the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2017.
One other good thing about Hargrave is that he’s durable (knock on wood). Coming out of South Carolina State in 2016, he’s played 63 of a possible 64 games, starting 52 in the process (plus four playoff games). He’s compiled 14.5 sacks in four years, adding 22 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback hits. Those numbers will probably go up playing exclusively in a 4-3 base that values pass rush.
Baldy did a really good breakdown, which I will leave you with:
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) March 9, 2020