Eagles starting defensive tackle Tim Jernigan had surgery to repair a herniated disc last week. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Field Yates, he is expected to be sidelined four to six months and is unlikely to be ready for the season opener against the Atlanta Falcons. He is a candidate for the physically unable to perform list. That would leave a giant void next to Fletcher Cox, at least in the short term.
Ngata is a top candidate to land the starting gig. That certainly wouldn't be anything new for the 12-year veteran, who has racked up 165 starts during his esteemed career, collecting five Pro Bowl berths, two first-team All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl championship with the Baltimore Ravens along the way. He's fought through various injuries during the past few seasons, however, and spent the majority of last year on injured reserve with a torn bicep.
He acknowledged that he's been year to year for two or three seasons now when it comes to the retirement question, but didn't want to go out on injured reserve. Ngata said at his introductory news conference in March that he has a lot left in the tank.
Because defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz frequently rotates his linemen, the expectation was that Ngata was already going to see the field a good bit. He effectively replaced Beau Allen on the roster, and Allen played 41 percent of the snaps last year for the Eagles in a "reserve role."
Jernigan, by comparison, played close to 50 percent of the snaps. He had 2.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits/pressures and 9 tackles for loss last season as part of one of the top lines in football. They rewarded him with a four-year, $48 million extension in November -- a deal that was recently reworked following the injury to reduce the amount of guaranteed money the Eagles are on the hook for this season.
Ngata, who signed a one-year, $2.6 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, won't be asked to go it alone. Defensive ends Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett are both adept at moving inside on passing downs, and DTs Destiny Vaeao and Elijah Qualls are two promising young players who should contribute. But the Jernigan injury moves the accomplished veteran back into the spotlight. And for the Eagles' D-line to be at its best, Ngata will have to show that he can still shine.