The Eagles, like every other team, have needs. Free agency and the draft are ways to fix those needs. With the new league year less than a month away (March 13th), let’s take a look at the best fits for the Eagles and the way they run their offense and defense. *Players listed will be non-Eagles free agents. Note: Franchise and transition tags can be placed on players starting on February 19th, so some of the players that will be mentioned may not be available come the start of the new league year. Also note: We should all hope the NFL free agency period doesn’t mirror the MLB free agency period (looking at you Bryce Harper and Manny Machado).
Unless the Eagles and Brandon Graham find a way to make a reunion work, the 30 year old (31 in April) defensive end is likely in another uniform next season. With Chris Long contemplating retirement, Michael Bennett being 33 years old and a cut candidate, and Derek Barnett coming off a shoulder surgery in October that ended his season, the Eagles severely need depth at defensive end. The other players signed at that position are Josh Sweat, Daeshon Hall, and Joe Ostman. There are plenty of defensive ends on the market that can fit into defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme, but some may be a little too expensive. Here are some names to watch, with a little write up on a few (age in parenthesis).
Frank Clark (25)
Clark was a second round pick in the 2015 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks and has been a prominent fixture in the “Legion of Boom” since arriving. His rookie year was lackluster, playing 15 games and recording three sacks, but his sophomore season put his name on the map. Clark started five of 15 games played, recording ten sacks in that span. His third year saw his starting spot rise to 12 games with nine sacks, and last year was his full coming out party (in a contract year of course) with 13 sacks while starting all 16 games. The big knock on Clark, however, is how many tackles he misses. In 40 tackle attempts in 2018, Clark whiffed on 13, according to ProFootballFocus. The missed tackles ranked second among all edge defenders. Schwartz has shown the ability to coach up tackling, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Clark is looking at a big time payday, one that may be a little too steep for the Eagles, but he would give the team a great young player to pair with Barnett for years.
Dante Fowler Jr. (24)
Another young name thrown into free agency is Dante Fowler Jr. Drafted in the same draft as Frank Clark, Fowler’s pedigree comes much higher as a former third overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, Fowler’s production has not matched what’s expected of a player drafted so high. In his sophomore season, Fowler played in all 16 games coming off an ACL injury that cost him his rookie year, while notching four sacks. His third season came with another 16 games and eight sacks. This past season was just his fourth season, but he was traded mid-year from the Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams for a conditional 2019 third round selection. In between the two teams, Fowler played in 15 games and registered four sacks. In three playoff games this postseason, Fowler had a sack and a half and showed the ability to rush the passer effectively. Including this rush of Drew Brees that forced an interception in the NFC Championship game:
Fowler won’t come cheap, but he shouldn’t warrant a massive contract of more established edge defenders. He would also pair well with Derek Barnett for years on that Eagles defensive line.
Other names to watch:
- Ziggy Ansah (29)
- Trey Flowers (25)
- Alex Okafor (28)
- Dion Jordan (28)
- Cameron Wake (37 – could provide veteran leadership if Long decides to retire)
- Vinny Curry (30)
Staying with the defensive line theme, defensive tackle is just as much of a need as defensive end. Fletcher Cox played in 79.96% of snaps in 2018, a HUGE jump from his 58.93% in 2017. The discrepancy isn’t from a difference in games played, as Cox played in only two more games in 2018 than he did in 2017. The difference is from the depth behind him due to injury. The next highest percentage on the team is Haloti Ngata, who played 35.45% of the snaps. Tim Jernigan, another cut candidate, didn’t make his season debut until week 12 and only played in three regular season games. The Eagles severely need to address the depth, as Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector are the only other defensive tackles under contract for 2019. Who could come in and solidify the Robin position to Cox’s Batman?
Grady Jarrett (25)
Pass rushers from the defensive tackle position is a rare commodity in the NFL, unless your name is Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox. Jarrett is another one of those players that can disrupt the passer from the interior. According to ProFootballFocus, Jarrett had the second best pass rush grade on third down among defensive tackles in 2018. If you don’t know, third down is a big passing down. Adding a player of Jarrett’s caliber next to Fletcher Cox would create nightmares for opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines. Who would you double team? Would you really trust your center one-on-one with Cox or Jarrett? Jarrett would catapult this defensive line to new heights next to Cox, who is only 28. 5-6 years of Cox and Jarrett? Yes please. However, like Frank Clark, look for Jarrett to command a massive pay day the likes the Eagles may not be able to meet.
Muhammad Wilkerson (29)
There are other intriguing names on the free agency list for defensive tackles, but Wilkerson jumps out because of his suggested price tag. It’s not too long ago that Wilkerson was a force to be reckoned with along the New York Jets defensive line, being a second team All-Pro in 2013 and 2015 and Pro Bowler in 2015. His 2015 season, 12 sacks, earned him a shiny five year $85 million deal with the Jets. However, he went full “Albert Haynesworth” after he got his contract and totaled eight sacks within the next two seasons with the Jets and was ultimately cut last March. Just ten days later, Wilkerson signed a one year “prove it” deal with the Green Bay Packers. However, he only lasted three games before fracturing his ankle and ending his season. Another one year prove it deal could be on the horizon for Wilkerson, and how about that potential productivity next to Cox? Doing things like this?
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) November 3, 2017
Sign me up.
Other names to watch:
- Sheldon Richardson (28)
- David Irving (25 – one year prove it due to off the field concerns)
- Malcom Brown (25)
- Margus Hunt (31)
- Johnathan Hankins (26)
The Eagles ran 1,092 snaps on offense last season. The highest snap count for a running back out of all of those snaps belongs to Wendall Smallwood with 324, a mere 29.67%. Obviously this number is a product of the injury to Jay Ajayi after week four, but with Ajayi hitting free agency this off-season, the need for a bell-cow running back is glaring. Last season, the highest percentage was 31% of snaps played by LeGarrette Blount. The year before saw much more of a feature back in Darren Sproles, who played 45% of the snaps. There hasn’t been a running back on the Eagles with a percentage of snaps higher than 45% since Lesean McCoy in 2014, who played on 65.76% of the snaps. It’s time the Eagles invested in a running back who could stay on the field longer than 20 snaps a game. Spoiler: my first target is NOT Le’Veon Bell.
Tevin Coleman (25)
Tevin Coleman is the prototype running back for Doug Pederson. His high yards per carry average (4.8) and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield (32 receptions in 2018) fits what Pederson wants his offense to look like. Coleman has spent his entire four year career with the Atlanta Falcons being the complimentary back to Devonta Freeman. However, an injury to Freeman after two games in 2018 led Coleman to be the feature back for the first time in his career. Coleman rushed for 800 yards on only 167 rushes and caught 32 passes for 276 yards, surpassing 1,000 total yards for the first time in his career. His ProFootballFocus grade has dipped in each of the last three seasons, but his versatility could work wonders in this offense.
Also, he probably (definitely) won’t cost as much as Bell or Mark Ingram.
T.J. Yeldon (25)
Another back who is a Doug Pederson dream player is T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon’s 2018 featured a 4.0 yards per carry average and 55 receptions. Does that not scream Philadelphia Eagles? His rushing attempts were only at 7.4 per game in 2018, so one could question his durability for more carries, but the potential for production in this offense is high. Although he’s young, he would probably command a shorter term deal to prove he can stay healthy, as he has a history of knee and ankle issues, and productive.
Other names to watch:
- Spencer Ware (27)
- Ty Montgomery (26)
- Ameer Abdullah (25)
Deep Threat Wide Receiver
The Eagles have two wide receivers with over 70% of snaps played in 2018, Alshon Jeffery (70.51%) and Nelson Agholor (89.93%). Agholor is a restructure candidate of his contract, and maybe even a cut candidate if he decides not to restructure. That leaves Jeffery and Shelton Gibson as the only other receivers on the roster who saw any snaps in 2018 that aren’t free agents in 2019. Depth is needed here even if Agholor is on the team in 2019. They also need a deep threat to take the top off the defense, Torrey Smith played that role in 2017, Mike Wallace was supposed to play that role in 2018 but got hurt.
John Brown (28)
A name you may not have heard of if you’re not big on players outside of the Eagles, Brown has the speed and history of being a big time down the field receiver. In 2015, Brown had a little over 1,000 yards receiving for the Cardinals and had a 15.4 yards per reception average. His production dipped in 2016, but he rebounded in 2016 to have 715 yards on 17.0 yards per reception. This is the kind of deep ball threat the Eagles desperately need on their roster. He did have the seventh-worst drop rate among wide receivers in 2018, dropping seven of his 49 catchable targets, but working with Alshon Jeffery could work wonders for Brown.
Tyrell Williams (27)
Williams is a name that was thrown around the rumor mill back in October as the trade deadline approached. Williams is another threat down the field who has produced above average results. His 2016 season featured a 1000+ year, but his numbers have declined in each year since then. In 2017, he had 728 yards receiving, and only 653 last year. However, each of those years saw an above 15 yards per catch average (15.3, 16.9, and 15.9 respectively). He may not be another 1,000 yard receiver, but he has the ability to stretch the defense and open up space for the other receivers.
Other names to watch:
- Adam Humphries (26)
- Devin Funchess (24)
- De’Anthony Thomas (26)
- Robby Anderson (25 – Restricted Free Agent)
- Cole Beasley (29 – not a deep threat but would be fun to poach him from Dallas)
You might have read through each page and said to yourself “WE NEED OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH!” Well, you’re not wrong. But looking at the free agent class of offensive lineman, I think the cap space for free agents should be spent on the previous talked about needs and the offensive line depth should be addressed in the draft. One name to watch in the 2019 NFL Draft? John Leglue. Our own Liam Jenkins has more on him here.
As always, thanks for reading and let us know what you think!
NY born, NJ living
Elementary Phys Ed teacher living his dream of writing about the team he loves.
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