There’s never a quiet day in the City of Brotherly Love, not when it comes to sports. As attention turns to a crucial offseason for the Eagles, it’s time to take a closer look at the roster and work out what the biggest questions facing the Super Bowl 52 champions are.
Who will be the starting slot receiver?
The Eagles have an interesting dilemma right now. ‘Comeback kid’ Nelson Agholor carries a $9M cap hit going into 2019, while both Golden Tate and Jordan Matthews are pending free agents. This deserves a far more in-depth look than a brief summary (and that will be posted in the coming weeks) but for Howie Roseman, you have three very different hands to choose from.
Pros: is young, productive, and has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years. Even in what could be considered a ‘down year’ following the confusing Tate implementation, he still put up 736 yards and scored 4 touchdowns.
Cons: Because of that enticing little bundle, Agholor’s price tag is going to be high. Can the Eagles really afford to pay him $9M? The potential for a restructure is there, but the USC product will know his worth and may well want to test the free agent market to secure a very well-deserved bag.
Pros: Proving he’s still one of the most dominant YAC threats in the NFL, Tate sprung into life when the Eagles needed him most. His work ethic and attitude can’t be questioned at all and after a turbulent few weeks, the fact he was targeted an average of just over 3 times per game is very impressive. It’s safe to say that in the long run, the trade worked out…somehow.
Cons: Tate will be looking for one last big-time payday and although he seems to have settled into Philadelphia quickly, can the Eagles afford to give that to him? Tate may be willing to take a cheaper deal to remain in familiar surroundings, giving him leverage over Agholor, but the Eagles need to ensure that they utilize Tate properly…and that could be a risk in itself.
Pros: Had his most productive year as a receiver. perhaps not statistically, but in terms of the skill set that was displayed on the field, Matthews looked the most complete he ever has. He would also likely be a much cheaper option than the two names above and the Eagles know what they’re getting.
Cons: The only thing I can think of right now is that if the Eagles want to get Wentz spreading the ball around more, having Ertz and Matthews over the middle once more may not be the best decision, with both names proving to be the ultimate security blanket.
Again, we’ll dive into this much deeper in the coming weeks so stay tuned.
What happens at cornerback?
2018 was the year that completely decimated the Eagles secondary, but amidst all the problems, the team found a stunning amount of depth that improved rapidly when it came to tackling form, an area at least one starter lacked. With Ronald Darby set to hit the free agent market, what do the Eagles do? As of right now, Mills, Jones and Maddox would be the probably starting trio, with Douglas and LeBlanc serving as the depth options…unless Maddox moves up to the Safety spot.
There are a lot of questions to answer here and most of them follow on from the last. If the Eagles move on from Darby, it will be open season at corner once more. But do the Eagles have enough depth to roll into 2019 with their current crop of defensive backs, or will they look to draft another? That may hinge on who stays closer to the line of scrimmage and if anyone moves to Safety.
Is it time for a new-look backfield?
I dove a little deeper into this recently (below) but the streamlined version is simple.
The Eagles backfield hasn’t really changed since Pederson’s arrival. Aside from a 2017 season where there was a clear rotation (and even then, Blount ended up sidelined and frustrated for a period and then Ajayi was injected into the picture which caused even more instability for a short time), it’s been a committee effort hampered by injury and a complete imbalance until a late panic suddenly fixes half a season of frustration and finally takes the weight off the quarterback’s shoulders.
If Darren Sproles calls it a day and Jay Ajayi hits free agency, the Eagles are left with Smallwood, Adams, and Clement. It’s not the most convincing committee effort ever and there has to be at least one more back added to the mix. But is it time for a complete change of heart? Only Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson know that answer, but come Draft night, we may do too.
What about those big contracts?
Will Jason Peters return? What about Timmy Jernigan’s cap hit? The Eagles worked wonders to restructure Rodney McLeod’s contract, but they’re still in a tricky spot when it comes to managing the salary cap. If Nick Foles walks away untagged, that certainly makes life easier, but the Eagles have a lot of work to do. Will the Birds allow Jason Peters to play one more season? If not, can they trust Big V to step up as a full-time starter? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the $7M question.
As for Jernigan, the injury that forced him to miss the bulk of last season is going to hang heavy over the NovaCare Complex. Signed to be the running-mate to Fletcher Cox, Roseman did well to quickly restructure his contract post-injury, but he’s still set to make a whopping $11M in 2019…and the Eagles need to justify whether or not that’s worth it.
Are the trenches really as strong as we think?
If Jason Peters retires, do the Eagles have enough depth to move into 2019 comfortably? That question may yield a simple answer, but let’s take into account the fact that Brandon Brooks could miss a large portion of Training Camp, Jason Kelce has reportedly debated retirement and Lane Johnson also suffered an injury last year. The Eagles are going to need some kind of offensive line reinforcement at the very least.
On the defensive side of the ball, losing Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao really hurt, especially with Jernigan out. Cox was forced to do all of the heavy lifting by himself and play in the majority of defensive snaps. Adding depth defensive tackles is one thing, but the Jernigan saga could have a direct impact on this.
On the outside, both Chris Long and Brandon Graham are pending free agents. That would leave Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett and Josh Sweat as your DE core…which does raise some natural question marks. The Eagles are going to have to be active in adding depth to the trenches, but just how much is viable? A new starter, or simply a rotational piece? Only time will tell…
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports