Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are scheduled to be the starting outside linebackers for the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles, and first-round pick Marcus Smith will fill in as a pass-rushing specialist on third downs.
Free-agent acquisition Bryan Braman was brought in from the Houston Texans to be a special teams ace, and he should be a good bet to make the 53-man roster. That likely leaves Brandon Graham and Travis Long battling for the final spot, and it should be an interesting camp competition.
Graham is the former first-round pick, a player the Eagles infamously picked instead of All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. Graham has had his moments—on a per-play basis, he was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the most effective 4-3 pass-rusher in the league in 2012.
Still, Graham has registered just 11.5 sacks in 48 career games, and he’s miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Graham’s $3.4 million cap hit for 2014 and $3.2 million cap hit the following season may make him difficult to cut; the Eagles would have to pay about a season’s salary in dead money if he fails to make the roster.
Graham’s main competition is 2013 undrafted rookie Travis Long, who spent last year on the practice squad. Long has never played an NFL snap, but he fits the mold of a typical Kelly pass-rusher—long and lean—and he did play his collegiate career in the Pac-12, which certainly helps his chances.
Look for Graham to win the spot, simply because of his fairly high salary and the fact that he’s probably a better pass-rusher than Long is.