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Free Agent Spotlight: DT Jordan Phillips

This guy could really make a difference in Tampa Bay.

Phillips had a very solid 2019 campaign.
| Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Phillips had a great year in 2019, with the end result being a palatable 9.5 sacks. After an interesting start to his career, it looks as if last year has set him up for a nice payday in 2020.

If 2019 was a true barometer of what this guy can do, then there is little doubt he would be effective in Tampa Bay’s defense. The thought of him, Vita Vea, and William Gholston starting in the defensive trenches should scare the crap out of any and all opposing offensive lines.

Those three guys would give the Bucs the perfect combination of power, size, speed, run defense, and pass rush. Phillips would give the Bucs an extra pass-rush dimension that Suh can’t provide and he would be cheaper, too. Kacy Rodgers would be able rotate his line accordingly on the field, which would make Todd Bowles’ defense even harder to decipher.

So why waste any more time blabbering? Let’s go ahead and take an up-close look at the potential unrestricted free agent.

JORDAN PHILLIP’S CAREER THUS FAR

It’s hard to gauge the sixth-year player’s career up to this point. He was taken by the Dolphins in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, so the talent is obviously there, but for some reason, he couldn’t get it going in South Beach.

Phillips started 26 games for the Dolphins from 2015-2017, but only registered 4.5 sacks during that time. He was on the field for an average of 43% of the Dolphins’ defensive snaps, so that could be one reason for the lack of production.

At the same time though, why couldn’t he get on the field?

One could point to the roster. The Dolphins had an elite trio of pass rushers in 2015 (Phillips’ rookie year) that included Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, and Ndamukong Suh. Both Suh and Wake were still on the roster through the 2017 season, as well. Phillips was listed at DT and started 22 games from 2016-2017, yet his playing time actually decreased from 2016 (54%) to 2017 (38%). For context’s sake, Suh was on the field for 85% of defensive snaps in 2016 and 84% in 2017.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins
Phillips’ time in Miami did not go as planned.
Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Phillips’ opportunity finally arrived in 2018. Suh was out of the picture, so the interior of the defensive line belonged to him.

But things didn’t go as nearly as expected.

Phillips lost his starting job in the summer leading up to the 2018 season. He gradually began losing snaps to reserves (again) and everything hit a head during a blowout loss to the Patriots.

He lost it on the sidelines after only playing 31% of the snaps against the Patriots. He played the fewest out of the eight active defensive lineman on that day. Phillips could be seen arguing with coaches on the sideline and was subsequently let go within the next 48 hours.

See? The Patriots just aren’t good for football. But I digress.

Buffalo claimed Phillips off the waiver wire and the rest is history.

WHY IT WORKS

There’s no telling if Ndamukong Suh will be back in 2020 and no one knows if he will give the Bucs any type of discount. The veteran defensive lineman’s services have never come cheap, so why would that change now? Plus, the current depth on Tampa’s defensive line is questionable at best due to other pending free agents like Rakeem Nunes-Rochez, Beau Allen, and Carl Nassib (who rotated on the defensive line every now and then).

I keep bringing up snap counts with Phillips. If he comes to Tampa Bay, he will be part of a defensive line that frequently rotates its players. Suh led all defensive linemen with 77%, Vea finished with 66%, Gholston with 44%, Rakeem Nunez-Roches with 26%, and Beau Allen with 16%. Bowles uses a lot of two-man fronts, so Phillips will likely be used in those subpackages, which should increase his playing time.

Phillips may not be as solid as Suh in the run game, but he is certainly more explosive when it comes to rushing the passer. Don’t get me wrong, Vea can definitely collapse the pocket and is pretty effective at getting to quarterbacks, but this defensive front can become one of the league’s best if they can get a true pass-rushing threat from a down lineman. Phillips and Vea would arguably become the biggest, most athletic defensive tackle duo in the NFL.

This first example is why the Bucs could easily get over-the-moon excited for this guy. Usually, Phillips plays along the interior of the defensive line, but here, he’s lined up at what looks to be the 4T with Shaq Lawson lined up wide.

His teammate, Lorenzo Alexander is playing “defensive tackle” and draws the double team, which allows Phillips to get his 1-on-1 with Rodger Saffold. Phillips easily drives Saffold back into Marcus Mariota’s lap for the sack.

He’s on the right side of the defensive line wearing No. 97:

This is one of Buffalo’s pass rush formations and Tampa Bay could certainly employ something like this. Just imagine this play, except with someone like JPP (possibly) playing on the interior. Carl Nassib (possibly) could line out wide of Phillips, since he has played with his hand in the dirt before.


Having a player that’s as athletic and powerful as Phillips allows you to be very creative with your formations/alignments. On this play, Buffalo basically uses the same alignment in the previous example, but Jerry Hughes is on the closed side instead of Trent Murphy.

Adding Hughes to the strong side forces Tennessee’s offensive line to focus on that side again, which leaves Phillips and Lawson with another 1-on-1. This time, they use a stunt instead of a pure rush. They time it perfectly. Saffold and Taylor Lewan are both thrown off. Phillips makes his way around the distracted Lewan into the backfield for the sack.

This time, he’s on the left side of the screen, but it’s just a different camera angle:

We all know how Bowles loves to disguise his defenses with creative play designs. Having Phillips on the roster would fit right into his hands.

BUT...

The biggest on-field question with Phillips has to be whether or not he fits in a 3-4 defense. The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia believes Phillips can play in multiple defenses, but we will never know for sure until he gets on the field.

Per Kapadia:

Phillips is an athletic, powerful defensive tackle who is scheme-versatile and should get a chance to start somewhere.

There’s comfort in Kapadia’s statement, so let’s move to the next question, which is how effective is Phillips in run defense?

Here, he does a very good job of withstanding the combo block of Lewan and Saffold. Phillips is then able to use his size and strength to fight off Lewan as he chases down Derrick Henry and helps make the tackle. Lewan is never really able to push him out of the play and the end result is a good play from the backside on Phillips’ part.

He appears to be playing the 3T, but it may also be considered the 4i. I’m not a professional, mmk?? (haha)


This play won’t show up in the stat sheet, but this is a good example of how Phillips can free up others around him to make plays. Here, he completely absorbs the double team from Lewan and Saffold, but it simultaneously allows Lawson to win his 1-on-1 and Tremaine Edmunds (No. 49) to flow over the top and help make the tackle on Henry.

Phillips (No. 97) is lined up over the left guard’s outside shoulder (3T):

Overall, there really isn’t a glaring weakness when it comes to Phillips’ game. It really seems like he is the only thing that can stand in his way of becoming one of the better players in the league.

WHAT’S THE COST?

Per John Wawrow of the Associated Press, the Bills plan to let Phillips hit the market. So, there’s a shot the Bucs could land him if they play their cards right.

Somehow, Phillips’ 2019 market value is sitting at around $6.1 million/year, which seems pretty damn low for a guy coming off of 9.5 sacks. Spotrac.com has his evaluation at three-years/$18.6 million. That would make him the 19th-highest paid defensive tackle in the league.

I wouldn’t look at Buffalo’s decision as a negative. The perception is that first-round pick Ed Oliver is ready to take over on the interior of the line, which gives the Bills the luxury of allowing Phillips to test the market. From what I’ve gathered, there will be plenty of interest in the veteran player.

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW

What caused Phillips to fail to live up to expectations in Miami? Why did he have such a tumultuous relationship with the coaching staff? Was 2019 a fluke? Will he make a difference in the run game? How much will the pass rush improve? Is he really scheme-versatile?

Phillips is the ultimate wildcard and pretty much the definition of a boom-or-bust signing. Fortunately, he won’t break the bank if he does end up being a bust and could be a major steal if he is a boom (depending on price, obviously).

MAKE THE DECISION

I initially thought this would be a good fit for the Bucs, but I’m not so sure after doing more research. Phillips has mostly been a rotational player for his career. It may be a bit overzealous to pay him starter money and expect him to play 77% of snaps (Suh’s 2019 number) when he has yet to show that he can be a consistent producer year-in and year-out.

What do you think?


Poll

When it comes to Jordan Phillips, the Buccaneers need to....

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (6 votes)
  • 56%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (75 votes)
  • 19%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (26 votes)
  • 11%
    Call Him Up If We Have A Need After The Draft
    (15 votes)
  • 8%
    Don’t Need Him
    (11 votes)
133 votes total Vote Now
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