by: Ryan Waldis
This might be surprising to hear, but the Eagles have a multitude of needs heading into the offseason. After finishing 7-9 for the second consecutive season, it’s clear that the Eagles roster is completely devoid of talent and playmakers. With both free agency and the draft fast approaching, here is my list of the Eagles biggest needs.
As a sidenote, I didn’t include kicker or punter on this list. The Eagles seem set at kicker for a while thanks to the emergence of Caleb Sturgis, and while Donnie Jones is getting up there in age, the organization just gave him a three-year extension in November, suggesting that he’s not going anywhere.
Format: Player Name (contract terms | year contract expires)
Honorable Mention – Fullback
FB’s currently on the roster: None
Doug Pederson has stated that he’d like to have a fullback on the roster, and that he’s “on an assignment” to find one. I list this as an honorable mention instead of a number simply because it’s unclear when Pederson wants to start utilizing a fullback. It could be in 2017, it could be a couple of years from now. It is interesting to note that the Chiefs made use of a FB during Pederson’s time in KC, so perhaps the Eagles will trot one out sooner rather than later. Jimmy Kempski suggested Kyle Juszczyk as a guy that makes sense for the Eagles; I’d be on board with that free agent signing if it were to happen.
12 – Quarterback
QB’s currently on roster: Carson Wentz (4 years/$26.6 mil | 2021), Chase Daniel (3 years/$21 mil | 2019)
The Eagles just (hopefully) drafted their franchise QB last year in Wentz, and with the amount of money Daniel is being paid, it’s not as if the Eagles will be actively searching for a young backup this year. The Eagles typically kept two QB’s active on gameday, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they found a young, practice-squad eligible QB in free agency as opposed to drafting one in the later rounds.
11 – Safety
S’s currently on roster: Malcolm Jenkins (4 years/$35 mil | 2021), Rodney McLeod (5 years/$35 mil | 2021), Chris Maragos (3 years/$6 mil | 2020), Terrence Brooks (4 years/$2.8 mil | 2018), Jaylen Watkins (RFA)
The Eagles have one of the formidable safety duos in the league in Jenkins and McLeod, both having graded out as above-average safeties by Pro Football Focus. Being that Jenkins is 29 and McLeod is 25, the Eagles probably wouldn’t be looking to draft or sign their replacements this year. Maragos is a special teams ace, but if you think that Brooks and Watkins aren’t serviceable depth, maybe you look at a safety that you can develop in the later rounds. As with any other position, it wouldn’t hurt to look at the UDFA’s as well.
10 – Tight End
TE’s currently on roster: Zach Ertz (5 years/$42.5 mil | 2022), Trey Burton (RFA), Brent Celek (3 years/$13 mil | 2019)
The front office just gave Ertz a big extension, and while his performance this year wasn’t outstanding by any means, the popular opinion seems to be that Ertz will finally have that breakout season that we’ve all been waiting for in 2017. If he could learn to break some tackles and get his YAC average up, Ertz could become one of the best TE’s in the league. If not, he could still be a great target in the passing game for Wentz as the latter continues to develop. Burton seems to have carved out a role in Pederson’s offense, so it would be surprising to see him hit the free agent market. It’s clear that Celek will retire as an Eagle, so he’s not going anywhere. It’s unorthodox for a team to carry four TE’s on their roster, so it would be shocking for the Eagles to take a run at one in free agency or the draft.
9 – Center
C’s currently on roster: Jason Kelce (6 years/$37.5 mil | 2021), Isaac Seumalo (4 years/$3.2 mil | 2020), Aaron Neary
You could put Wisniewski with the center group too, but he’ll make an appearance with the guards. It’s easy to criticize Kelce: he’s undersized and has trouble blocking some of the bigger interior defenders in the league. He had six penalties over the first five games of the season. There have been some questionable snaps recently. Still, finding a center isn’t easy, and Kelce is more valuable than a lot of people give him credit for. His athleticism sets him apart from a lot of other centers, which allows the Eagles to do things in both the run and pass games that other teams aren’t able to. After struggling for the first several weeks of the 2016 season, he started performing better.
Will he ever regain his 2013 form? It’s doubtful, but when you take into account all of the other holes on this team, it doesn’t make sense to target a center this year, especially not when you have the potential future center in Seumalo already on the team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Kelce lose his starting job to Isaac at some point next season–I’d welcome a competition in training camp–but he’s not a total dumpster fire. Look around the league, and realize that you could do a lot worse than Kelce at center.
8 – Interior Defender
DI’s currently on roster: Fletcher Cox (6 years/$102.6 mil | 2023), Bennie Logan (FA), Beau Allen (4 years/$2.2 mil | 2018), Destiny Vaeao (3 years/$1.6 mil | 2019), Aziz Shittu, Taylor Hart
The team has already committed a plethora of money to Fletcher Cox, and for good reason: he was the fifth-best interior defender this season per PFF, behind only Aaron Donald, Calais Campbell, Kawann Short, and Ndamukong Suh. He was in the top 15 in regards to run defense, and was one of the top-five pass rushers. He’s more than worth the money. It makes you wonder whether or not the Eagles would commit even more money to another DI in Logan. Logan’s main strength is defending the run, and he’s performed well enough over his first four years in the league to warrant a considerable payday. There’s some team out there that will overpay for Logan, and if it’s not the Eagles, they’ll need to find a replacement.
Could that replacement be Allen or Vaeao? It’s possible, although I see them both in more of a depth role. Still, it’s well documented that this organization is cap-strapped, so they might have to settle for Beau or Destiny as a starter for a season or two until they either decide to draft an interior defender early or choose to find one via free agency. Of course, all this speculation might end up being for naught, and Logan might remain in Philadelphia instead of moving.
7 – Offensive Guard
OG’s currently on the roster: Brandon Brooks (5 years/$40 mil | 2021), Allen Barbre (3 years/$4.3 mil | 2018), Matt Tobin (2 years/$1.5 mil | 2018), Stefen Wisniewski (FA), Dillon Gordon, Darrell Greene, Josh LeRibeus
Brooks one of the best guards in all of football in 2016, grading out highly in both the run and pass games. He actually received the second-highest grade of all guards, behind only Ravens stud Marshal Yanda. The Eagles are seemingly set at RG for years to come. Still, assuming Seumalo moves to center at some point or another, the Eagles situation at LG is a little murky. Barbre graded out alright this year, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and his contract expires next year. Perhaps the Eagles look to draft his replacement this year. Maybe they keep Seumalo at guard, and draft a center either this year or next. Maybe none of this happens and Howie Roseman does something that I’m not expecting him to do. All fair possibilities.
6 – Offensive Tackle
OT’s currently on the roster: Jason Peters (4 years/$41.3 mil | 2019), Lane Johnson (5 years/$56.2 mil | 2022), Halapoulivaati Vaitai (4 years/$2.5 mil | 2020)
Peters is on his way out, and I’m all for cutting him this offseason to give this organization some much needed financial flexibility. Still, if you cut JP, you damn well better have a good replacement lined up, because the last thing I need is Wentz getting smoked by someone because one of his tackles missed an assignment. I like Vaitai, but I don’t see him as the answer at one of the two tackle positions, but rather as solid depth in case anyone goes down with an injury.
I really think the Eagles might end up taking an offensive lineman in the first or second round. I know they have much bigger needs than a left (or right, if Lane does end up moving to the other side) tackle, but an exceptional offensive line is so crucial to a team’s success. Look at the Cowboys and Titans and compare them to a team like the Seahawks or Broncos. Picking a tackle might not be as sexy as picking that stud CB or WR, but damn if it wouldn’t be a better investment in the long run, especially if Peters isn’t on the team in 2017.
5 – Linebacker
LB’s currently on the roster: Jordan Hicks (4 years/$2.9 mil | 2019), Nigel Bradham (2 years/$7 mil | 2018), Mychal Kendricks (4 years/$29 mil | 2020), Najee Goode (FA), Stephen Tulloch (FA), Joe Walker (4 years/$2.4 mil | 2020), Kamu Grugier-Hill (4 years/$2.4 mil | 2020), Bryan Braman (FA), Don Cherry
Hicks is a stud, and it’s clear that he was a steal in the third round. His run defense could use a little work, but he excels in coverage, where he earned a grade of 91.7, good for second behin Jerrell Freeman’s 94.9 grade. His knack for forcing turnovers doesn’t hurt, either. Bradham also graded out very well: 80.9 in the run game (11th), 83.7 in coverage (10th), and 86.5 overall (9th). Hicks and Bradham aren’t exceptional when it comes to rushing the passer, but both could be a great tandem at LB for years to come. That’ll depend on whether or not the Eagles opt to retain the 27-year-old Bradham when his contract expires next year, but it’s too early to worry about that.
The Eagles desperately need another outside linebacker, though, to form a potent trio. Kendricks hasn’t lived up to that big contract extension, and you can’t exactly plug any of the depth guys listed above into a starting spot and feel comfortable about it. Some have suggesting moving Barwin to OLB, but he’s not really a fit there in Jim Schwartz’s defense, so that’s not the best idea. You could probably make it work with Kendricks for one more year, but you need to find his replacement sooner rather than later.
4 – Halfback
HB’s currently on the roster: Ryan Mathews (3 years/$11 mil | 2018), Darren Sproles (1 year/$4.5 mil | 2018), Wendell Smallwood (4 years/$2.5 mil | 2020), Kenjon Barner (RFA), Byron Marshall (2 years/$990,000 | 2018), Terrell Watson (ERFA)
It’s not a good thing when your best playmaker is a 33-year old, 5’6 HB. Alas, Darren Sproles has played that role the past couple seasons. Mathews is talented when healthy, and I wouldn’t necessarily be against keeping him one more year, but I’d also be for releasing him to free up a little cap space. I don’t agree with taking a HB like Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette in the first round like many mocks seem to, but I’d be fine going after someone in the second or third round if Joe Douglas and Co. thinks he could be a difference maker. 2016 was the year of the HB, with guys like Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott all showing what a top-tier HB can do for an offense.
3 – EDGE Rusher
EDGE’s currently on the roster: Brandon Graham (4 years/$26 million | 2019), Connor Barwin (6 years/$36 million | 2019), Vinny Curry (5 years/$47.2 mil | 2021), Marcus Smith (4 years/$7.7 million | 2019), Alex McCalister (4 years/$2.4 mil | 2020), Steven Means (3 years/$1.8 mil | 2018)
It can’t be understated how valuable Brandon Graham is to this team. He’s great against the run and he’s the only edge rusher they have the can consistently rush the passer. Graham graded out as the second-best edge defender in 2016 behind Khalil Mack. Over the past five years, Graham has performed at least above-average in all but one season: 2013. He’s in line for a huge payday in two years.
Curry and Barwin were supposed to compliment each other as two solid pass rushers, but both under-performed this season. Curry won’t be going anywhere–he just got that big extension–but Barwin might end up being a cap casualty, which I wouldn’t mind. Barwin has been a great figure for this organization both on and off the field (he’s even said that he’ll restructure his contract to stay in Philadelphia), but he doesn’t fit in Schwartz’s system. I guess I wouldn’t hate it if Barwin was still here in 2017, but if there’s a young edge rusher available when the Eagles pick in the first round, I think they have to at least consider taking him. The benefit of a great EDGE can’t be understated.
2 – Wide Receiver
WR’s currently on the roster: Jordan Matthews (4 years/$4.9 mil | 2018), Nelson Agholor (4 years/$9.3 mil | 2020), Dorial Green-Beckham (4 years/$5.6 mil | 2019), Bryce Treggs (3 years/$1.6 mil | 2019), Paul Turner (2 years/$990,000 | 2018), Rasheed Bailey, Marcus Johnson (FA), David Watford, Dom Williams
The Eagles had a nice WR duo in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin at one point. Hell, even Maclin and Matthews was a solid pairing. Matthews and Agholor doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. I’m still of the belief that Agholor can become a good #2 for the Eagles, but the Eagles need to either sign or draft at least one receiver this offseason. You can talk about youth and development all you want, but you can’t go into the 2017 season with the same trio of WR’s that you had in 2016. This topic has been beaten to death, but you need to give your young, potential franchise QB a talented playmaker to throw the ball to for the next several years. Whether that’s DJax, Kenny Stills, or Corey Davis, you need to make an upgrade at this position ASAP.
1 – Cornerback
CB’s currently on the roster: Leodis McKelvin (2 years/$6.2 mil | 2018), Ron Brooks (3 years/$5.5 mil | 2019), Nolan Carroll II (FA), Dwayne Gratz (FA), C.J. Smith (ERFA), Jalen Mills (4 years/$2.4 mil | 2020), Aaron Grymes
The Eagles haven’t had a good CB since Asante. The Nnamdi/DRC experiment didn’t work out, the Cary Williams/Bradley Fletcher duo was laughable, and this year’s group was horrendous. Here is a mind-blowing quote from PFF:
“All three of the team’s top corners ranked in the top eight for total receiving yards allowed among all defenders in the league. It really wasn’t skewed by a seeing a higher volume of as passes, either, as Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills ranked first and third, respectively, in yards allowed per snap in coverage. Ron Brooks wasn’t much better before he suffered a season-ending injury. Had he played enough snaps to qualify, his overall grade would have also been among the bottom dozen cornerbacks (out of 120 players).”
The team is lucky, because the 2017 draft class has a good amount of talented CB’s that could come in and be the Eagles best option at the position on day one. Mills showed some promise, so he stays. I don’t know if I throw him out there as the #2 CB, but that’s a discussion for a different day. I’m also fine with keeping guys like McKelvin, Brooks, and/or Carroll as depth, but none of them should ever see the field as much as they did in 2016.