The Eagles offense has endured quite the rollercoaster this year, but the slot receiver position has been especially turbulent. An injury to Mike Wallace in the opening weeks forced Nelson Agholor outside to the WR2 spot where he flourished in week 2, recording 88 yards against the Buccaneers. After that however, the waters started to mist.
The Eagles decided to bring back former WR Jordan Matthews, which gave a depleted receiving group who had only just seen the return of Alshon Jeffery, some much needed depth. Matthews would feature heavily inside, while Agholor saw his role change on a near-weekly basis. Sometimes, the former USC product appeared to be nothing more than a gadget player and other times, he’d be punishing the Giants by showing off his deep speed once more. The duo really came alive in the road win over Jacksonville, a game that saw Matthews record his best outing of the season…but then, things became even weirder.
With the trade deadline approaching and a desperate need to find a reliable WR2 speed option, the Eagles were apparently in pursuit of Jets playmaker Robby Anderson before New York closed the doors on the deal. Instead, Howie Roseman pulled the trigger on a trade that would land them Golden Tate. The controversial move has seen just about every reaction possible by now, but the fact is, it’s left the Eagles in a strange position.
Jordan Matthews is a free agent at the end of the season, as is Golden Tate. Both players possess contrasting skillsets and it’s fair to say that it took a little longer than hoped for the Eagles to find a way to productively use Tate in the offense instead of just forcing him the ball. Slowly but surely, that concern has lifted, but the Eagles started to see value a little too late in the proceedings to look back positively on the move. The real wildcard however is that Nelson Agholor is due to make $9M next season, which would be his final contracted year. It’s a number that the cap-stricken Eagles really can’t afford, but that does mean that there is a possibility all three of their slot receivers could be moving on come season’s end.
Agholor isn’t making it easy for the Eagles though. An explosive 83-yard touchdown against the Texans came just two weeks after another deep reception against the Cowboys, with the young receiver showcasing the deep-speed that the team have craved since Pederson’s arrival. Not only that, but Agholor’s strange year has been oddly productive, even if the stats don’t back that up.
“Like we talk about in a lot of weeks, sometimes the ball finds you whether you’re first in the progression or fourth in the progression. It’s hard to determine.” Mike Groh said earlier this week when asked about Agholor. “You call a play based on the coverage that you expect to get, and often it doesn’t work that way, so you have to find answers, and that’s why there are progressions and that’s why we spend so much time practicing.
It’s a credit to him, again, as a guy who is completely committed to this team and to whatever it takes to win. He stepped up for us big, and that touchdown was huge in the game.”
#Eagles skill players' role, across the last three games (# of snaps):
Zach Ertz: 118
Alshon Jeffery: 112
Nelson Agholor: 105
*BLOCK (run + pass)
Nelson Agholor: 68
Alshon Jeffery: 63
Zach Ertz: 58
Zach Ertz is a WR.
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) December 26, 2018
Ben Solak did a great job of making a valid Zach Ertz argument, but he also opened up the fact that Nelson Agholor is effectively being used as a tight end at times, as is Jordan Matthews. Statistics, YAC ability and production aside for the moment, the Eagles have been missing blocking wide receivers since the departure of Riley Cooper…and with a re-emphasized run-first offense, it’s encouraging to see both Agholor and Jordan Matthews being used consistently in blocking looks and doing extremely well.
It’s highly unlikely that the Eagles will keep all three slot receivers on the roster next year. But stunningly, the $9M man leads the WR group in snap percentage, having played in 90.2% of snaps this year. Jordan Matthews has played in 31.8%, while Golden Tate has seen 16% of offensive looks. It’s a really interesting scenario and we could sit here for hours debating yards, receptions and targets, but the point is simple.
The Eagles have three very different types of slot receiver on their team. A former first-round pick who has a crisp-route tree, a ‘possession’ receiver who has really added another element to his game this year and a YAC machine who still hasn’t been fully utilized. The cheapest option would be to bring back Matthews, but could the Eagles survive without Golden Tate or more importantly, a man playing in nearly every offensive snap?
Week 17 could be the final time that one or even all three of these names see the field in Midnight Green…but will any stand out from the crowd ahead of such an important offseason?
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports