The Eagles’ 2011 draft has long been filed under “D” for Disaster – ever since owner Jeffrey Lurie specifically absolved general manager Howie Roseman of blame for the picks made while then-coach Andy Reid had final say on personnel decisions.
It is the top of the draft – first-round pick Danny Watkins and second-rounder Jaiquawn Jarrett – that rightfully draws the criticism. But the Eagles found the anchor for their offensive line, center Jason Kelce, in the sixth round of that draft. Kelce signed a seven-year contract last week that will keep him with the Eagles through 2020.
On Monday, the team signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year deal. Thornton was in that 2011 class, too. He wasn’t even drafted, signing with the Eagles as a rookie free agent. Over the course of several defensive coordinators and a major scheme change, the 6-foot-4, 309-pound Thornton emerged as a reliable starter at defensive end.
Thornton was an exclusive rights player (the term “free agent” really doesn’t fit), so it was all but a foregone conclusion that he would re-up with the Eagles.
The youth and flexibility along the defensive line give the Eagles plenty of options. They have Thornton, 25; nose tackle Bennie Logan, 24; and end Fletcher Cox, 23, at the top of the depth chart. Cox, their 2012 first-round pick, is the only one making a premium salary. Clifton Geathers, Damion Square and Vinny Curry rotated in and played situationally.
Thornton drew praise all season from coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis. He was ahead of the curve in converting from the 4-3 scheme to the 3-4 that Davis brought in. Pro Football Focus ranked Thornton third in the NFL among 3-4 defense ends as a run-stopper. Only Houston’s J.J. Watt and the Jets’ Sheldon Richardson graded higher.
Thornton’s emergence gives the Eagles the luxury of addressing other areas as needed. But his relative affordability doesn’t prohibit them from upgrading at the position if their draft board dictates they should take a defensive end.
The 2011 draft didn’t go well for the Eagles, but that class provided them good players on both lines.