The 2016 offseason was eventful to say the very least. From an abundance of new signings, to shock trades and the drafting of a franchise quarterback, there was rarely a quiet day for the Eagles. This season could see much of the same, but as pressing as the needs at cornerback and wide receiver may be, the team won’t deviate from the road they set upon a year ago.
According to a source, the Eagles want to solidify the trenches and continue to build from the ball out. The source cited that the team feel confident in the direction they’re heading, but it’s important not to run before you can walk.
The Lane Johnson suspension left the Eagles in a rocky situation. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was thrust onto the battlefield and endured a trial by fire at the hands of Ryan Kerrigan. After that however, the Eagles newly found depth at the position emerged as a strength, just months after being widely noted as a weakness.
The acquisitions of Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks in the offseason proved to be vital to the offensive structure of the team, while rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai was able to flash more prominently as his seasons progressed. Seumalo’s impact wasn’t made until later on in the year, but the versatile lineman impressed in the majority of situations he was asked to perform.
According to a report from Jimmy Kempski, the Eagles are considering moving on from Jason Kelce. The 29-year old led all centers in penalties, accumulating 8 over the course of the season. Kelce led the position in the same category just one season ago, with seven total penalties.
Kelce can still do some phenomenal things and flashed his athleticism plenty of times throughout 2016 as the Eagles tried to adopt a zonal run game..but it’s the pass protection that spoke volumes.
Regardless of whether Kelce stays or goes, one point remains the same. The Eagles want and need to protect the future of their franchise. Going into week one, the Eagles had a total of eleven offensive linemen on the roster. Matt Tobin, Josh Andrews and Dillon Gordon being the three not yet mentioned. They also carried two on the practice squad, in the way of Darrell Greene and Aaron Neary. It’s clear that the team wanted to bolster the line and let Andrews and Gordon marinate.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have even more questions. Bennie Logan is a pending free agent after an impressive season and beyond Brandon Graham, the defensive ends struggled to create consistent pressure.
Connor Barwin is reportedly willing to take a pay-cut in order to stay in Philadelphia, but Vinny Curry’s production dropped massively, despite playing in a career high 43% of snaps. In that time, he had just 2.5 sacks and 26 tackles.
Beyond Barwin and Curry, Marcus Smith, Steven Means and Bryan Braman make up the remaining DE’s. Braman is regarded as an integral part of Fipp’s special teams unit, while Means continued to turn heads after an explosive preseason. Former first round pick Marcus Smith failed to make a sizable impact yet again..and his future is still uncertain.
Toward the end of the season, the Eagles started to give Beau Allen and undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao a lot more playing time. The two combined for a total of 66.3% of defensive snaps played, which is eyebrow raising considering how dominant the duo of Logan and Cox were predicted to be under Schwartz. Injuries did play a factor, but the depth was well and truly utilized in 2016.
The Eagles have plenty of questions surrounding the future of the defensive line and arguably even more on the other side of the ball. While depth is extensive, overall starting talent and production isn’t as easy to come by.
The Eagles made some big moves last season, signing Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox to long-term extensions, securing cornerstone players who play toward the center of the field.
There is still work to be done however and as enticing as a free agent wide receiver star or a number one cornerback may be, the Eagles want to ensure that the trenches are well and truly stacked before focusing on the outside. Oakland, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Carolina are just a few teams who have followed this progressive pattern in recent years.
That’s not to say that the Eagles aren’t going to draft a receiver in the first round, or a cornerback in the third. It’s not to say they won’t pursue some big name free agents. But expecting there to be another flurry of OL/DE/DT moves, be it through the draft or through trade and free agency would be a safe assumption to make.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports