A closer look at the Eagles biggest needs as NFL Trade deadline nears

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The NFL Trade deadline is approaching, but just how likely are the Eagles to make a move? After Thursday Night’s win, the ship is moving in the right direction once again, but there are several holes that remain prominent on this roster. Will Howie pull the trigger? Here’s why he may or may not seek to invest in the team’s biggest areas of need.

 

Running back: 
The position on everyone’s lips is running back and with good reason. Jay Ajayi is out for the season with a torn ACL, Darren Sproles is yet to play a snap in what is his final NFL season and the committee of Clement, Smallwood and Adams has had a bumpy ride so far, filled with highs and lows. I wrote an article recently diving much deeper into this, so if you have the time, it’s worth a read.

Do the Eagles really need to bring in another running back?

If not, here’s a short summary:

If I was to tell you that (game in hand argument considered) through 6 games that the Eagles have the league’s sixth best rushing attack based off of total yards, you may sound shocked. It’s true. The Birds’ have totaled 662 yards on the ground and even if you subtract Jay Ajayi’s 184 yards prior to his torn ACL, that would still rank the team 22nd. Sure, that’s a massive downgrade, but one would assume that the backfield would be catastrophically unproductive without Ajayi and even if you rip away his actual production, there are still 8 offenses who are struggling even more to find momentum.

The other aspect of trading for or signing a running back is the time it would take them to get acquainted with their new surroundings. When Ajayi was signed last year, it took him four games to have double-digit carries and even less time for frustrations to show. The Eagles committee front is a very different vibe to many different backfields in the NFL and if they seek to bring in a workhorse, the fact it could well take weeks that include a road game across the pond for instance, only add to part of the problem. By the time the cylinders are firing smoothly, the pinch could be tighter than ever and by then, the rest of the backs may have figured out how to carry the load.

Do the Eagles really need to bring in an extra running back? It’s entirely subjective, but you can certainly make an argument that the Eagles have enough firepower to get by now that their offense is rekindling one of the league’s most explosive fires.

Running back is always one of the most glamorous positions to examine. The big names and big plays give fans chills, but the truth of the matter is that Doug Pederson has always favored a committee effort and this can be seen as far back as his time with the Kansas City Chiefs, where Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West helped take the load off of Jamaal Charles. Roseman  would be extremely reluctant to splash $4M+ (McCoy or Bell) on a position where the salaries of all active backs combine to less than half of that. The Birds are cash strapped and while backloading has got them this far, it will come back to bite them sooner than fans anticipate if they continue to move around the pieces to accommodate a more urgent need.

CONCLUSION: Neutral.
The Eagles may well trade for a running back, but I highly doubt it’s going to be Bell or McCoy. The expense for a short-term rental is just too high and it’s not as if the Birds’ hold all the cards. By walking into trade discussions, they’re immediately on the back foot as every team in the league knows the implied importance of an acquisition, depriving the Eagles of any leverage. A free agent pickup could be much more likely here.

 

Defensive back: 
The Eagles haven’t just lost Rodney McLeod, but they will now be without their starting nickel cornerback, Sidney Jones for the foreseeable future. Corey Graham missed Thursday’s win with an injury and all of a sudden, the plethora of Eagles defensive backs are going to be feeling the strain.

“It’s something I know [Defensive coordinator] Jim [Schwartz] and myself, [Defensive backs coach] Cory [Undlin], [Safeties coach] Tim [Hauck], we’re going to take a look at it obviously now over the course of the next couple days, and Rasul is capable, obviously, we’ve seen that.” Pederson said. “But we also have guys that now with Tre being active and Deiondre’ Hall and guys that we can begin to really coach up with the amount of time we have before we go back on the practice field.”

The Eagles may be comfortable at Safety, but who’s going to fill in for Jones? Jim Schwartz may be able to provide some more insight in today’s press conference, but if he moves Avonte Maddox, the recently named sixth-captain on the team, back to his natural position, your safety tandem could include Douglas, Sulivan or Hall, both of whom have very little in the way of recent experience. If they keep Maddox over the top, where he’s been extremely impressive all things considered, they’re going to have to move Rasul Douglas inside or look elsewhere…

Defensive backs aren’t overly expensive on trade blocks, or even better, free agency. The thing with DB’s is that scheme is everything and finding a player who can be plugged straight into a live-game situation and make an impact is far more difficult than you think.

The Eagles could potentially look at players who have been on their roster before to fill this need. Maybe it’s offseason standout DeVante Bausby, or Edmonton Eskimos corner, Aaron Grymes, who oh-so nearly won that role just one year ago.

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Conclusion: unlikely
Trading for cornerback/safety help seems unlikely, but there’s every chance that the Eagles bring in a free agent or a familiar face.

 

Offensive tackle: 
Jason Peters suffered a torn-bicep and it’s not like his form was overly promising prior to the setback. The issue is that Halapoulivaati Vaitai didn’t look to great when filling in. Jordan Mailata isn’t quite ready for the rigors of an NFL regular season, despite an impressive preseason, which could push the Eagles to potentially evaluate emergency free agents in case a second domino falls.

As of right now, if Lane Johnson were to go down, the Eagles could be rolling out a TCU tandem of the versatile Matt Pryor and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The duo would certainly be serviceable, but the drop-off in execution could be damaging.

There are several free agents available, but trading for an offensive lineman is always tricky because of the same ‘plug-n-play’ aspect. You would more than likely be trading for the services of a backup, which means they generally wouldn’t have seen much in the way of game action prior to the move.

 

Conclusion: Unlikely
Surprisingly, the Eagles don’t have a tackle on the practice squad. Mailata and Pryor would be the two names called upon in an emergency and the Birds may feel that Vaitai can hold the fort and why wouldn’t they? Big V flashed brilliance during the Eagles’ historic Super Bowl run and was a key part in a physically imposing run-game. There are of course going to be flaws, but even with Peters struggling and now injured, I hate to say it but Vaitai may actually be the more consistent option.

 

Defensive tackle:
The run-stuffing ability of Timmy Jernigan was thought to be a huge loss for this defense, but one of the league’s most lethal run-defenses continues to dominate in his wake. Haloti Ngata has been a pleasant addition, but his durability concerns are beginning to show. Elsewhere, Fletcher Cox has played 86% of defensive snaps this season, which is astonishingly high for a key piece in what’s become a pass-rush by committee. The reason for that is because he literally cannot come off the field.

Ngata does a great job of sucking up double teams and closing holes, but if he’s absent, the Eagles are left with Destiny Vaeao (who combined with Beau Allen last season to play in over 60% of snaps), or the recently signed Treyvon Hester, who has already flashed more production than Vaeao in his short time with the team. The date for Jernigan’s return is still up in the air and if Ngata continues to wear down, the Eagles interior pass-rush is going to struggle.

Luckily for Schwartz, he has an arsenal of linebackers and DB’s who can come down inside the box on blitz packages or clean up the run, but with offenses already getting the ball out scarily fast against this front four, the need for someone to support Fletcher Cox is probably higher than ever.

 

Conclusion: Unlikely
The impending return of Timmy Jernigan may be enough to silence the hounds…for now. But expect the interior pass-rush to be a key focus during the offseason to take some weight off the back of Fletcher Cox.

 

Wide receiver:
The loss of Mike Wallace really stung the Eagles offense and depth was so scarce that names like DeAndre Carter started seeing plenty of offensive snaps. A few weeks later and the return of Alshon Jeffery, accompanied by the re-signing of Jordan Matthews certainly seems to have sparked life into a unit that was lacking any kind of explosiveness.  But let’s not forget the impact Alshon has on the offense. 

Jeffery’s presence alone opens up the Eagles offense massively and when you factor in Wentz taking time to get re-acquainted with those around him and the receivers having to adjust to a very different quarterback in comparison to the one who carried them through the postseason, teething problems were inevitable. Against the G-Men however, the Eagles played like the Eagles again.

Four wide receivers caught passes in Thursday Night’s win, that’s the second consecutive week that’s happened. As Wentz continues to spread the ball around, Ertz and Jeffery become more dangerous. Once they draw attention, the coaching staff can unleash Shelton Gibson down deep as they did against the Vikings.

 

Conclusion: Unlikely
The Eagles are just starting to gel and having Jeffery and Ertz at their best takes a massive weight off of the group’s shoulders. The need for a receiver is nowhere near as immediate as it was a few weeks ago and that’s largely because two key pieces (Jeffery and Wentz) have entered the fray and been able to slowly build up to the level of play they established last season.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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