With Tim Jernigan deal, Eagles investing big in unheralded position

PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles ensured that the power interior line combination of Tim Jernigan and Fletcher Cox will remain intact by signing Jernigan to a four-year extension Thursday that runs through 2021. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $48 million and includes $26 million fully guaranteed.

That's good news for an Eagles defense that has been powered largely by the play of the defensive line. Jernigan, a 25-year-old Florida State product, adapted almost instantly to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s attack scheme after being acquired from the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason. He has a team-high eight tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and five hurries.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better defensive tackle tandem in the NFL. But the Eagles are paying a big price for it. They signed Cox to a six-year deal worth over $100 million in 2016 with over $36 million fully guaranteed. After the Jernigan signing, they have more than $62 million in guaranteed money committed to two players along the interior.

On one hand, it makes sense to pay your best players regardless of position. And it is absolutely true that Schwartz's scheme is predicated on the defensive front being a disruptive force without the assistance of extra pass-rushers. To that end, they're investing in an area that both the organization and the defensive coordinator put a lot of value in.

It does, however, run counter to a philosophy held by some around the league that big dollars should be reserved for more critical positions such as quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback.

The Eagles had what they called an "optionality" approach this offseason where they acquired players with short-term deals such as Jernigan and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, giving themselves the choice to part ways with little harm if they proved not to be a fit or try to lock them up long term if they were. The only issue is some major dollars typically have to be dished out to players who are hot while nearing free agency.

This is a significant commitment for a team that has not been in the greatest salary-cap position over the past year or two. But it's hard to argue with the 8-1 roster that executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has put together. Jernigan has been a key piece of that.