If you’re an all year Eagles fan like most Eagles fans tend to be, it’s never too early to take a look ahead at the offseason. After the trade deadline deal that brought Jay Ajayi to Philly, you can drop running back to a lower priority on the list. There are several areas on this team that the Eagles need to address in order to ensure sustained success. Certain positions can be addressed in free agency while others would be better off being taken care of in the draft. Now that the roster is pretty much set for this season, let’s turn our eye to the future.
1. Offensive Tackle
This has got to be the number 1 priority for the team this offseason. Jason Peters is 35 years old and just tore his ACL and MCL. There are portions of his contract that are guaranteed but he will likely be let go after the season if he doesn’t retire. High level offensive lineman don’t usually make it to free agency so the likely answer will come from the draft. Most likely a high draft pick as well.
The luxury here is that Lane Johnson can play both sides. He’s staying on the right side for now to not disrupt the continuity of the line mid-season, but during the offseason he can certainly shift over to the left if needed. Having his versatility means that the Eagles don’t have to find a specific right or left tackle, they can just find the best lineman and have Lane play the opposite side.
Quality right tackles can be found late in the first round. The wild card here is Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has currently taken over for Peters on the left side. He may be the young prospect that we are looking for and he’ll have every chance to prove it the rest of the season. If “Big V” shows growth from his year one performance, he could be the guy going into next year. We would likely see Lane go to the left side with Vaitai going back to the right in the off-season if that were the case. Protecting Carson Wentz is so vital to the success of this franchise. The team surrounded him with weapons this past offseason. Now is the time to find him a new bodyguard.
2. Middle Linebacker
Incumbent MLB Jordan Hicks just went down 2 weeks ago with a torn achilles and teams are going to attack the Eagles down the seem heavily through the rest of the season. Joe Walker was the guy who replaced Hicks and it’s easy to see his limitations in coverage. You have to wonder about Hicks’ long term future with the team however.
He has now ended 2 of his 3 seasons in injury after being injury plagued throughout college. I know Hicks is thought of very highly in the organization but I would consider Hicks a little overrated. He is excellent in coverage, sure. He is always around the ball, absolutely, but he’s not a presence in the middle. He is not a tackle machine or someone that would be considered a thumper. This defense would be so much more intimidating if there was a physical presence in the middle who could hit like a truck and also cover. This is likely an area for the draft. Who’s to say his movement skills are even going to be the same after an achilles tear? Not to mention, there is only 1 year left on his contract. Bringing in some fresh competition will be good for everyone.
3. Wide Receiver
This is a position that is still up in the air a bit. Alshon Jeffery is a free agent after the year and the Eagles can void the last 2 years of Torrey Smith’s contract. Smith may not be back but the team may find his $5M per year contract affordable enough to keep him for his veteran presence and his role as a deep threat in the offense. While he doesn’t have gaudy numbers, Smith serves a purpose here and is very well liked and respected. At this point, I would think the Eagles and Jeffery would be able to work something out. However, if Alshon feels it’s his time to cash in and he gets an excellent deal from a competing team he may just walk. I don’t believe he would be a franchise tag candidate. If things go south with Alshon and Torrey this position is very much in flux again.
4. Defensive Tackle
This has really been a position of strength for the Eagles. This group is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage on a weekly basis. They stuff the run and push the pocket in the passing game. Both Timmy Jernigan and Beau Allen are free agents after the season however. The Eagles have previously had negotiations with Allen about a contract extension. It’s hard to tell what either would command on the open market. Because of their versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense, (Jernigan played end in Baltimore and Allen played nose here) there will not be a lack of suitors. The Eagles would be very wise to keep this position a strength on this team and retain both 25 year olds who fit the mold of this franchise.
5. Outside Linebacker
Bradham is a free agent and Kendricks, despite having a bounce back season, has been on the outs with this franchise for a couple of years now. The Eagles may see Kendricks’ success as a sign that he has finally learned the defense and gotten comfortable in it.
Bradham brought stability to a position that was a bother around here since the days of Carlos Emmons. Still only 28 years old, the team should try to resign Bradham to a modest 2-3 year deal. There are no high level prospects in the pipeline here either. Nate Gerry would be the only one on the roster who could potentially take Kendricks’ spot next year. Hicks could be moved outside as well if they find and upgrade in the middle.
Th Eagles are going to have very limited resources in free agency. They are currently already over the cap next year. “Cap master” Howie will have his work cut out for himself trying to keep the key pieces of this team together. Without 2nd and 3rd round draft picks I would also imagine a trade out of day 1 of the draft in order to acquire more picks and resources. Sustained success is the model to strive for. It was Andy Reid’s model and it’s the model the Eagles are currently trying to recreate.
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