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Brandon Graham, Giants a match in free agency this time?

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Eagles defensive end nearly became a Giant the last time he was a free agent

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Atlanta Falcons v Philadelphia Eagles
Brandon Graham tackles Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Looking for pass rush help before the 2015 season the New York Giants targeted then-free agent Brandon Graham and very nearly got the Philadelphia Eagles defensive end to change NFC East addresses.

Here was what Graham said after choosing to stay in Philadelphia:

“It was serious [with the Giants]. I told them I was serious, but I’m going with the Eagles. I couldn’t go up the street. I couldn’t be this close to Philly and think I was not going to have to watch my back around the New York area. It’s too close.”

At the time, Graham signed a four-year, $26 million deal to stay with the Eagles.

Well, Graham is a free agent once again. The Giants are once again in the market for pass rush/edge help. Could the Giants once again try to pry Graham out of Philly, where he has now spent all nine seasons since the Eagles made him the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft?

Let’s take a closer look as we continue profiling potential free agent targets for the Giants.

The basics

Age: 31 in April
Height: 6-foot-2 | Weight: 265
Experience: 9 seasons
Position: Defensive end
2018 salary cap hit: $8 million

2018 stats: Games (16) | Sacks (4) | Tackles (39 — 9 for loss) | Quarterback hits (11) | Passes defensed (2) | Forced fumbles (1)

Pro Football Focus: Overall grade (88.1) | Run defense (870.2) | Tackling (62.5 — 5 missed tackles) | Pass rush (77.8) | QB pressures (77) | Pass rush productivity (5.8 — 28th out of 56 qualifying edge rushers) | Run stop percentage (10.4 — fifth out of 52 qualifying edge defenders)

PFF says: “Although Graham thrives as a pass-rusher, he isn’t a one-trick pony. He has earned 80.0-plus run-defense grades each of the last three seasons and has reduced his missed-tackles mark in those same seasons. Even at age 30, Graham remains a versatile player that has the ability to be a prominent factor in any team’s defense that can extend him an offer.”

The skinny

There are three questions when you consider a Giants-Graham pairing. Those are scheme fit, age, money. Let’s look at all three.

Scheme fit

Under James Bettcher, the Giants are — theoretically — a base 3-4 defense. Why theoretically? I did a rough snap count and by my calculations the Giants had an extra defensive back on the field roughly 75 percent of the time, which means they weren’t in a 3-4. The nickel or “big nickel” defense (an extra safety instead of a corner) is a four-man front.

What that really means is that the Giants’ defense requires versatility. It requires defensive linemen and edge players who slide up and down the line of scrimmage or play at both from either a three-point or two-point stance.

Which brings us to Graham. He is traditionally thought of as a 4-3 defensive end. When the Eagles transitioned to a 3-4 for a handful of seasons, though, Graham played mostly as an outside linebacker — an edge player.

Entering his age 31 season and not having played standing up for a couple of years, Graham probably isn’t a player you want to drop into coverage. The Giants, though, used Olivier Vernon as an edge player in 2018 and rarely dropped him into coverage.

NFL.com says Graham “Graham has been successful in multiple schemes, has been solid against the run, has shown a knack for forcing fumbles and is an asset on special teams.”

I asked Michael Kist of SB Nation’s Bleeding Green Nation for his thoughts on Graham’s scheme versatility. Kist said he “wouldn’t be concerned” about scheme with Graham and that “He can still set an edge standing up on early downs.”

Age and money

We will take these two together because, well, because they work together.

Graham will be a 31-year-old player entering his 10th NFL season in 2019. Giants GM Dave Gettleman cautions all the time that you worry about production, not age, and showed his belief by signing older players like Jonathan Stewart and Connor Barwin last offseason. Yes, those moves didn’t work out.

Julius Peppers is a pass rusher who played well until retiring at age 38. Cameron Wake was productive in 2018 at age 36.

With Graham at 31 and still a productive player against both the run and the pass, age is likely not an issue.

Money, though, probably is.

Spotrac projects Graham to receive a five-year, $77.4 million contract ($15.4 million annually). That would put him in the top five among defensive ends, and seems really exorbitant for a guy who has never made a Pro Bowl nor ever had a double-digit sack season.

Graham does intend to see what is available to him on the open market

“I love Philly but I owe it to myself and my family to explore free agency,” Graham told PFT by phone on Tuesday morning. “I’m in the business of doing what’s best for my family. I need to explore the market.”

That market might finally lead him somewhere other than Philly. The view here, though, is that it probably won’t lead him to the Giants.