The Eagles are flying high. So high in fact, that they now share the best record in the NFL with the only team to beat them this season. Excitement is surging around the City of Brotherly Love and with good reason. The ceiling on this season knows no boundary and it doesn’t seem to matter how many times the odds are stacked against this team, they find a way to win. But there’s one underlying concern as the wins continue to pile up…and it’s one that could make or break the next few years. Free agency.
The Eagles are coming off of arguably their best offseason in recent memory. Building around a franchise quarterback is no easy task, but a slew of star free agents and infusion of young potential in the right places helped the team build a foundation for the future. In just a few months however, we may be looking at a very different scenario.
An estimated $8.3M in cap space doesn’t sound like a lot…because it isn’t. To make things worse, there are eighteen pending free agents who may well be seeking an extension…many of whom are very deserving of one at this stage. Then beyond that, there are players such as Brandon Graham who has waited patiently for his big payday. After six games, the big names signed through free agency earlier in the years are shining brightly, but who returns?
WR Alshon Jeffery
The biggest name on this list is the Eagles most prized offseason signing. The former Chicago Bear has helped elevate the Eagles offense to an entirely new level of production. Although he hasn’t dominated in ways that only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones can on a weekly basis, the presence of the 27-year old has helped take the top off the Defense and give Wentz a sense of confidence when slinging 50/50 balls. Jeffery has 317 yards and two touchdowns on the year so far, but it’s been Nelson Agholor who has stolen the spotlight in the early stages of the season. It should absolutely be a priority to bring Alshon back to Philadelphia after this season, and a successful season may actually give the Birds leverage. Jeffery’s play has often been deserving of post-season rewards, but Chicago wasn’t the place to provide that. A franchise quarterback and a surging franchise may give Howie Roseman a lifeline to bring Jeffery back on an incentive based deal.
LB Nigel Bradham
Bradham was one of the team’s most underrated acquisitions last year. The perfect Jim Schwartz prototype, Bradham’s pass-coverage was fantastic in his first season as an Eagle, but this season has only seen his production rise. A ten tackle game against the Panthers despite a stinger injury that forced him out of the game for a short stint saw Bradham really make a statement against a dangerous offense. The Eagles have one of the most talented linebacker cores in the league and bringing back a linebacker who leads the team in tackles so far should absolutely be at the top of Roseman’s to do list.
RB Darren Sproles
Darren Sproles was reportedly contemplating retirement at the end of this season before a swift change of heart when talking about the potential of the team. A heartbreaking injury may end more than just the season of the veteran running back. The Eagles need stability at running back, and the era of Darren Sproles may be unfortunately nearing an end. At best, Sproles may want one more shot at making it to the grandest stage of them all, but health has to be the focus.
DT Timmy Jernigan
What more can be said about the man with the golden grill? Jernigan has been a MONSTER in the trenches since joining the Eagles. His emphatic form as a Raven earned the approval of Joe Douglas who helped recruit him to the Eagles and with good reason. With 1.5 sacks this season and 14 tackles, Jernigan has put the DT load on his back in absence of Fletcher Cox and has been a true force in stopping the run. The question is, can the Eagles afford to pay him the money he absolutely deserves? This re-signing may well depend on how the Eagles decide to approach the offseason and who gets paid first. If Jernigan isn’t one of the first players brought into the office, or at least a player to receive an enticing offer, there will be a hefty market for the pass rusher.
TE Trey Burton
Once again, Trey Burton has been an asset to the Eagles Offense. Signed to a tender last season, Burton now faces another offseason of uncertainty. The Eagles NEED TE depth beyond Brent Celek who is at the backend of his career and are high on Shepherd product Billy Brown, but would it be cheaper to re-sign a player where they know what to expect as opposed to building the position behind Ertz through the draft?
DT Beau Allen
Despite missing all of the offseason due to a pectoral injury, Allen jumped right back into the deep end when the DT position was crying for help. 7 tackles and a sack don’t do Allen Justice. The Eagles value their depth at defensive tackle and were in contract talks with the former Badger prior to his injury. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Allen brought back on a short-term deal.
FS Corey Graham
The veteran who was signed to add some extra depth at Safety has uncharacteristically missed several games due to injury, ending an incredible streak of consecutive games played. The Eagles have their starting tandem and it will be unlikely to see them fortify that position given the abundance of versatile cornerbacks soon to be at their disposal.
Priority: Very low
RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount has been the surprise of the season for many. Averaging 5.6 yards per carry and racking up 390 yards this year already, it’s clear that the former Patriot hasn’t lost a step despite a slow start. The Eagles need running back sustenance and Blount is entering the backend of his career. He could receive an extension, but the team may want to get younger and more versatile at the position. It all comes down to production. As the rest of the dominos fall, Blount has been the last man standing so far and that may play a huge role.
CB Dexter McDougle
Signed extremely late in the offseason as depth in the slot, McDougle has high upside as a developmental corner…but the cornerback window is rapidly closing for the Eagles…and McDougle’s future may well depend on if they re-sign the other pending free agent at his position.
LS Rick Lovato
Lovato has been a reliable long-snapper in place of Jon Dorenbos and it will be a no brainer bringing him back on a cost efficient deal.
K Caleb Sturgis
Jake Elliott may have thrown a complete spanner in the works here, becoming one of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises. An injury partnered with the breakout of the former Bengals kicker has put plenty of nails in the coffin for Sturgis.
Priority: Very low
LB Najee Goode
The Eagles value linebacker depth and they also value special teamers. Goode has been consistent on both fronts, but linebacker has been a position of strength for the Eagles this season. With Joe Walker and Kamu Grugier-Hill filling the same roles, the Birds may not have enough room for Goode.
CB Patrick Robinson
And now things get interesting. There is no denying that Robinson has a case to be named defensive MVP thus far. The former Charger has been flat out incredible. HUGE passes defensed, two interceptions (although it feels like he should have had about 80 by now), and secure tackles, Robinson has been nothing short of outstanding in the slot this offseason. This is a no-brainer, the Eagles craved slot stability last year and if the nature of this deal was indeed to “prove it”, Robinson has gone above and beyond in doing so.
Priority: Very high
RB Kenjon Barner
Recently re-signed by the Eagles due to a severe lack of depth, it’s unlikely the Eagles hand Barner an extension based off of his current running back production. The Eagles may need a backfield overhaul and Barner’s services may be surplus to requirement.
S Jaylen Watkins
One of the big things Watkins brings to the table is versatility. His growth in consistency and reliability have only helped his case here, but missing several games due to injury don’t do him many favors. Watkins has battled the odds time and time again since arriving in Philadelphia, and this is a war he should win with the Eagles needing a reliable backup safety.
K Jake Elliott
How long has it been since the Eagles have had a prolific kicker? Too long. Jake Elliott has already become a staple in this city after his heroic 62-yard field goal and given that this is still his rookie season, the Eagles shouldn’t have to think too hard about handing an extension to a kicker who has been nothing but money in recent weeks.
Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports