Ah, the NFL offseason. Often a time of complete chaos but never a period without excitement. For the reigning Super Bowl champions, it’s now become a period to find sustenance. There’s no longer a push to find the building blocks of a great team, Howie Roseman has already laid those and then some. But how can the Eagles sustain greatness? That’s a question we are already beginning to see the answer to.
There’s an old adage in the NFL, that defense wins championships. When you look at last year’s Eagles roster, it would be hard to argue with that statement. A secondary overhaul, a relentless pass-rush rotation and a linebacker corps that overcame every test possible, the Eagles defense dominated in their illustrious campaign and against the run, they were the best in the league. But that may be the tip of the iceberg.
Without a pick on day two of the draft and several holes to fill, every pick and every move ‘HAD’ to exude confidence and stability. Let’s take a look at the offseason needs at the beginning of the offseason. Before the free agency moves, emotional goodbyes and exciting new hello’s, where did the Birds’ really need to focus their very limited resources?
(In no particular order:)
Depth wide receiver
Then came free agency. Losing both Trey Burton and Brent Celek propelled finding replacements to the top of the offseason priority list, at least for a little while. Enter former Green Bay Packers pass-catcher, Richard Rodgers.
Although his receiving production has dropped over the last three years, Rodgers has proven to be a reliable target for Rodgers #1 during his time with Green Bay. The Eagles now have quite an interesting picture at tight end moving forward and this could drastically change the draft picture.
TE1: Zach Ertz
Rodgers is not Brent Celek. But, he may just provide enough reliability for the team to give Billy Brown a shot as they did with Burton a few seasons ago. At the very least, it silences the ringing alarm bells for the team to take a tight end in the first round. Zach Ertz will always be the star of the show and if the depth-chart stayed as it looks right now, is it really that much of a drop off?
Mike Wallace replaced Torrey Smith at wideout as a much cheaper option and while the team did lose LeGarrette Blount to free agency, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and even dark-horse Donnell Pumphrey provide enough explosiveness to keep defenses on their toes. However, if you look at where the Eagles pick up their running backs, the majority have been in round 5 or later and have included several UDFA’s. Corey Clement, Byron Marshall, Kenjon Barner, just to name a few. So do the Eagles really need to invest heavily in a rookie running back? Probably not.
That brings us to the defense. The team’s biggest move of the offseason was bringing back star linebacker, Nigel Bradham. The former fourth round pick actually leads all Eagles linebackers with 184 tackles, finishing third on defense in 2017 with 85.
In 2017, Bradham finished third on Philadelphia’s defense with 85 tackles and addedone sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and eight passes defensed in 15 regular-season games (all starts). During the team’s Super Bowl LII-winning postseason run, Bradham recorded 12 tackles, one sack and one pass defensed in three contests.
With the looming injury concerns over Jordan Hicks and a lack of depth across the board, bringing back the run-defenses most important cog was absolutely pivotal and again, alleviated a lot of strain. We can tick that box, for now. But linebacker remains a need on this list.
Then there’s the defensive line. It would be safe to say that the status of Michael Bennett is anything but certain, the move at least
gives gave the team some versatility. The interior duo of Cox and Jernigan are both signed through 2020 (we’ll touch on that later) and with Bennett’s ability to play both in and outside, it ticks two boxes at an elite level.
That leads me to Haloti Ngata. Before the recent signee’s 2017 injury, the Lions actually gave up an average of just 74.6 yards per game and boasted one of the best run defenses in the NFL. After his injury, the Lions gave up over 100 yards in seven of the final eight contests. It would be safe to say there’s a direct correlation between the Lions production with and without the 6’4, 340 lbs defensive tackle. Replacing Beau Allen with an esteemed run-stopper takes some much needed pressure off of the developmental talent and allows the pass-rush to reign supreme.
So, with that all cleared up, let’s go back to those pesky contracts. Here are the names on defense who will be wearing midnight green through at least 2021.
DT Fletcher Cox 2023
LB Nigel Bradham 2023
DT Timmy Jernigan 2022
DE Derek Barnett 2022
S Malcolm Jenkins 2021
S Rodney McLeod 2021
CB Sidney Jones 2021
CB Rasul Douglas 2021
Secondary? Ticked. Trenches? Ticked. Franchise Linebacker? Ticked. The Eagles have every foundation block planted so firmly after spending two offseason prioritizing the trenches, that even amidst a salary cap purgatory and a lack of draft picks, the team are still in a favorable position.
Building through the draft has been the plan since one year before the arrival of Joe Douglas, but the former Ravens wizard has cemented a new direction. With a core group of players contracted, it allows for free agent prove-it deals to patch over the minor holes, while allowing drafted talent to marinate and develop until they’re one day ready to take over the reigns?
So, where do the Eagles put their first round chips this year? My hedged bet would be on a safety. After speaking with 4 NFL Draft prospects who play the position, 3 have had contact with the Eagles and 1 an official visit. Without Corey Graham or Jaylen Watkins, the Eagles lose some of that finessed rotation that allowed McLeod to enjoy a variety of support while Jenkins could fly around the defense like the stinger he is. If the Eagles can find that in a let’s say ‘Ronnie Harrison’ type pick, is it really that hard to believe the team won’t have the top defense in the league?
Their run-defense remains unchanged and their pass rush will only get better. With a linebacker corps secured for 2018 at least with three returning starters and a cornerback corps that now could see Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones on the field at the same time, is it really that tough to see the team ticking the one remaining box?
Say what you want about Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles, but this has been a tremendous offseason of setting the team up for success even with an entire deck of cards stacked against them. Where have we heard that before?
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports