BRANDON GRAHAM JUST KEEPS ON TRUCKIN'
That Brandon Graham will celebrate the start of his 13th season in an Eagles uniform Week One is quite an impressive accomplishment.
It’s even more impressive when you consider the rocky road Graham traveled early in his career in Philadelphia.
There was the local and national criticism that the Eagles took for even selecting Graham, an undersized defensive end out of the University of Michigan, with the 13th pick in the 2010 draft, over the two guys who went right after him, safety Earl Thomas and Jason Pierre-Paul.
There was the “bust’’ talk, which began early in Graham’s rookie season and continued for several years as he struggled to find a role with the Eagles while
Thomas and Pierre-Paul quickly became Pro Bowl regulars.
There was the devastating knee injury late in his rookie season that required microfracture surgery and sidelined him for much of 2011.
There was Jim Washburn, the Eagles’ crotchety defensive line coach, who had little use for Graham and refused to play him.
There was a switch to a 3-4 defense in 2013 when Chip Kelly replaced Andy Reid, and a switch back to a 4-3 in 2016 when Kelly was replaced by Doug Pederson.
Then, last year, another devastating injury – a ruptured Achilles tendon in the second week of the season that had a lot of people – including me -- thinking Graham’s career, at least as an Eagle – was over.
But he’ll be there Sunday in his hometown of Detroit when the Eagles play the Lions at Ford Field. He’ll be there making the 104th start of his career, all as an Eagle.
“It’s so funny the way things work out,’’ Graham said. “When the schedule came out, I saw we were opening in my hometown. I didn’t get a chance to play last year when we were there because of the injury.
“To be starting my 13th season with a game in Detroit, and my first since the Achilles injury, it’s going to be something special.’’
No one has called Graham a bust in quite a while. He has 59 career sacks, the fourth most in Eagles history, behind only Reggie White (124 ½), Trent Cole (85 ½) and Clyde Simmons (76).
That doesn’t include his most memorable sack. The one that endeared him to Eagles fans forever and guaranteed that he never will have to buy a beer in Philly for the rest of his life: the monumental fourth-quarter strip sack of Tom Brady in the Eagles’ dramatic win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX.
While he doesn’t have as many sacks as Pierre-Paul (91 ½) or as many Pro Bowl appearances as Thomas (7), Graham has managed to outlast them both. Thomas last played in 2019. Pierre-Paul is an unsigned free agent after playing the last four years with Tampa Bay.
At 34, Graham still seems to have a lot left in his tank. He has made what appears to be a complete recovery from the Achilles tear.
Before the injury, he typically played about 70 percent of the defensive snaps. That percentage figures to drop a little this season with the offseason additions the Eagles have made to their defensive line and the concern over keeping Graham healthy.
“I feel so good,’’ Graham said. “My body feels great. I just can’t wait to go out there and see exactly how everything holds up in the first game.’’
The Eagles need their renovated defensive line to step up this season. They had just 29 sacks last season, which was the fewest by the Birds since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Having Graham back will help. So will the additions of Haason Reddick and first-round pick Jordan Davis.
Graham still is looking for that elusive double-digit sack season. He had a career-high 9½ in the Eagles’ Super Bowl season in 2017. He had eight in 2020. That year, he had seven sacks in the first eight games, but only one in the final eight games.
Graham will become just the fifth player in Eagles history to play 13 seasons with the team. Brian Dawkins, Harold Carmichael and Bucko Kilroy each played 13 years in Philly.
Chuck Bednarik played 14. Dawkins, Carmichael and Bednarik all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Graham said he never envisioned playing this long with the Eagles.
“There were times when I didn’t know if I’d be back or not,’’ he said. “I just was like, I’m thankful for the opportunity regardless. Growing up, Ray Lewis was my guy. To see him play 17 years at one place and me already at 13, I couldn’t have dreamed that. Because it doesn’t happen very often.’’
If this is it for Graham, if the 2022 season ends up being his last in an Eagles uniform, he’ll have zero regrets. That said, if it’s up to him, he’d like to play three more years. He’d like to make it 15 years in midnight green, then ride off into the sunset.
Realistic? We’ll see.
Graham has played 161 games in an Eagles uniform. The franchise record is 188 by kicker David Akers. If he can stay healthy and is productive enough to convince the Eagles to bring him back next season, he could leap over Akers.
“It’s funny,’’ Graham said. “When I first got here, I remember me and Nate Allen (the Eagles’ second-round pick in 2010) would be sitting in the hot tub before training camp practice.
“I’d be saying, ‘I can’t believe we’ve been doing this two weeks straight. Practicing three hours [in the morning] and then another three hours [in the afternoon or evening]. But it’s so different these days. I feel like I can play as long as they allow me to play.
“If I see myself starting to fall off, I’m not going to be scared to just say, you know what, it is what it is. If that’s this year or next year or whenever it is, I’m just going to be real with myself and make that transition to take it to the next level or whatever I want to do next.’’
Right now, that time doesn’t seem to be close. *