Eagles can't afford to lose Brandon Graham, but can they afford him?

Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham has 145 quarterback pressures over the past three years, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranks 10th among edge rushers in that span. Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire

PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles have a big decision in front of them when it comes to defensive end Brandon Graham -- maybe their biggest of the offseason.

Graham, who cemented himself in Philadelphia sports lore by coming up with the game-deciding strip sack of Tom Brady late in Super Bowl LII, will become a free agent when the new league year begins on March 13. With one eye on the here and now and the other on the future, the Eagles need to decide whether to reinvest in Graham or use their limited resources elsewhere.

It's not the easiest of calls. Graham, 30, was slowed by injury in 2018 and managed only four sacks, but posted a career-high 9.5 sacks the year prior to help fuel Philly's title run. Traditional numbers suggest he's not a top-tier player -- he has averaged five sacks per season over his nine-year career -- but a deeper dive reveals his impact. He has 145 QB pressures over the past three years, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranks 10th among edge rushers in that span. And though he was limited last season, the Eagles got pressure on the quarterback 29 percent of the time with Graham on the field compared with 24 percent with Graham off the field, per ESPN Stats & Information.

With a good chance that DeMarcus Lawrence, Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark and Dee Ford all get tagged or re-sign in the coming days, Graham is poised to rise toward the top of the free-agent class, his price tag likely going up in turn.

Should the Eagles pony up?

Here's a closer look at one of the more intriguing free-agent situations of 2019:

Have the Eagles shown interest in bringing him back?

Yes -- at a certain price point. There have been negotiations dating to last offseason, but the sides haven't been able to get on the same page financially so far.

The defensive front is always a priority in Philly. Chris Long is still pondering his future, Michael Bennett is 33 and Derek Barnett is coming off shoulder surgery. There are no other proven edge rushers on the roster. Graham is a team leader, a Super Bowl hero and a favorite of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who once said: "I'll probably give him, in my mind, my greatest compliment. I wasn't a very good player, but if I played in the NFL, I hope I would have played like Brandon Graham."

There's plenty of incentive to keep him. The question now is whether the Eagles are willing to up the ante to prevent him from walking out the door.

Does Graham want to be back in Philly?

Yes to that as well. The Detroit native has adopted Philly as his second home and would prefer to play his entire career in an Eagles uniform. He has spoken fondly of the way Terrell Suggs has remained with the Baltimore Ravens for 16 seasons, working out multiple lucrative contract extensions along the way. It's a model he wouldn't mind following. The key from Graham's perspective is whether he feels like the Eagles are taking proper care of him.

What will his market look like?

It should be pretty strong. Pass-rushers are always in demand and there is a real chance that the top free-agent defensive ends/outside linebackers get tagged or re-sign. That would leave Graham, Trey Flowers and Ezekiel Ansah as the top available players at their position.

The Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams are among the teams that make some sense as a potential landing spot for Graham. It's also worth noting that the New York Giants were in the running for Graham the last time he was a free agent.

What kind of money are we talking about?

The anticipated range is about $12 million to $15 million per season. Edge rushers currently on that scale include Nick Perry ($12M), Carlos Dunlap ($13.5M), Robert Quinn ($14.3M), Danielle Hunter ($14.4M), Everson Griffen ($14.5M), Calais Campbell ($15M) and Jason Pierre-Paul ($15M). The projected number for defensive ends playing under the franchise tag in 2019 is a touch over $17 million.

How do you expect this to play out?

The last time Graham was a free agent, in 2015, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman jumped in at the last minute and re-signed him to a four-year, $26 million contract, blowing the Giants' offer out of the water. The Eagles will likely wait for Graham's market to set once again. And since Graham's preference is to remain in Philly, it makes sense that the Eagles would be given a chance to match the best offer that comes in.

Roseman & Co. set a "walkaway" number for each free agent before the process begins. Whether Graham's price tag exceeds that threshold will determine whether he's in Philly or elsewhere in 2019. That's the drama that awaits.