As things stand, 21 players from the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2019 roster are set to enter the free agency pool. Some will be offered new deals, while others will be allowed to walk gracefully out of the NovaCare Complex doors. But which players will cause Howie and company the most stress when it comes to deciding their future?
QB Nate Sudfeld
The Eagles are at a quarterbacking crossroads. They Sudfeld a one-year contract last year and at the time, it was the obvious decision. He’d come a long way since being poached by the Redskins at the start of the 2017 campaign, and the leap in mechanical improvement during the 2018 preseason was notable. Sudfeld completed 43/74 passes for 5 touchdowns, tossing 3 interceptions in the process. But more importantly, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to let it rip and take big shots downfield.
But a preseason injury forced the hand of Howie into signing an emergency backup QB. In stepped Josh McCown, who looked really good during the preseason considering he came out of retirement to resume a 17-year career. So good in fact, that he kept the QB2 role over Sudfeld.
He was called into action in week 2 against the Falcons during a brief scare for Carson Wentz, completing 3/5 passes for 24 yards. If we fast-forward to the postseason where McCown was again thrown into the deep end and kept the offense kicking and screaming against Seattle, it became abundantly clear that there was trust in him.
If we cast our minds back to 2018 when the Eagles played the Washington Redskins at the tail end of the season, Nick Foles left the game with a chest injury. Sudfeld was dropped into action with 11 minutes to go in the game and threw one pass…a dump to Agholor that went for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0.
One week beforehand against the Texans, Nick Foles went down with an injury in a key spot. Backed up inside their own 20, Nate Sudfeld stepped into the game, handed the ball off once and was taken back out in favor of the returning Foles.
It’s very fair to debate just how highly the Eagles regard Sudfeld. After three full seasons learning under Wentz and Pederson, there’s a chance that his development may have reached a ceiling. Knowing that McCown isn’t returning as a QB, the Eagles now have to put their money where their mouth is. If they truly believe that Sudfeld is ready to back up Carson Wentz and can perform in a pinch to a standard above just giving the ball to a running back, then lock him down. If not, it’s time to keep the conveyor belt moving, draft a QB3 and sign a veteran arm to backup Carson Wentz.
RB Jordan Howard
This is a really tough decision. Before getting injured, Jordan Howard was averaging a career-high in yards per carry, had a hat-trick against the Packers and was able to bowl his way through the middle like a freight train. He was the perfect fit for what the Eagles needed at running back. The keyword being ‘needed’.
After Howard went down, the Eagles had to lean on Miles Sanders, a rookie who struggled running north-south due to some room for growth when it came to patience and vision. But as time went on and the offense was remolded, Sanders proved to the world that he’s ready to become an RB1, posting historic numbers and electrifying a stagnating offense.
The Bears jumped ship early on Howard, drafting a back of a similar mold in order to keep riding the cheap contract years. The Eagles got the best out of him, but when healthy, he’s a top-10 rusher and it’s hard to see the Eagles paying up knowing fully well that his role will be reduced.
Howard should be able to get top-dollar and if he wants to stay in Philly, taking a lighter contract would be favorable. But if Howard seeks a long-term future and guaranteed money, the Eagles already have their long-term future, leaving Howard out in the cold.
S Rodney McLeod
If you’re Rodney McLeod and have watched Malcolm Jenkins play on 0 guaranteed money this year, featuring on every single defensive snap, you’d be apprehensive about a new deal, especially considering that the Eagles already restructured his deal after injury.
McLeod bounced back in a big way this season, tallying 76 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He wasn’t the most consistent and did give up a few big plays due to miscommunication, but overall, his role saw a big shift, with McLeod seeing plenty of snaps inside the box as a run-defender, where he thrived.
Malcolm Jenkins has already stated he won’t be back on the deal he’s on now, and McLeod’s a pending free agent. All it takes is one negotiation too tight and suddenly the position faces a full rebuild. The Eagles have to think very carefully about how they handle this, given that McLeod theoretically has some extra leverage.
CB Jalen Mills
He’s hardly been a lockdown corner since being drafted in the seventh round back in 2016, but he’s been a solid starter ever since that year. It took a while for Mills to develop into a corner who could hold his own to a standard where he won’t be bullied on comebacks and curls, and then even longer to play with enough discipline to handle sluggo’s without biting. But he did it.
Mills played some of his best football this year and while in most hypotheticals, he isn’t a starting CB, he has shown more than enough, grit, determination, and leadership to be kept around on a cheap deal as a rotational cornerback. But if the Eagles truly want to reinvent their secondary and end the scheme vs talent discussion, it may be time to say goodbye to the Green Goblin.
DT Timmy Jernigan
When healthy, Timmy Jernigan is a dominant defensive tackle. When healthy.
He’s had his fair share of injury setbacks and after signing a prove-it deal with the Eagles and acting as if he’d been hard done by due to losing his old deal (you know, after signing the new contract) it didn’t take long for injuries to plague him again. It was hoped that a reduced role would help with durability, but after Malik Jackson went down, it was back to square one.
The Eagles should have a very strong starting tandem in Cox and Jackson, and if they can keep Ridgeway around, there’s no real spot for Jernigan, who won’t play DT4. It comes down to Ridgeway vs Jernigan for the DT3 spot in a battle of value, production, youth, and durability. It’s going to be a tough one.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports