Before the Eagles can target a star receiver at pick 21, they need to solve this problem

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The hype surrounding this year’s NFL Draft is snowballing and for Eagles fans, there’s one position in particular that continues to flood newsfeeds, timelines, and dreams on a nightly basis.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a wide receiver class this deep. The names that could gracefully fall into the laps of Howie Roseman, who currently holds the 21st selection in the first round, could all very well be bound for stardom. The names beyond that may hold just as much potential and the same can be said for the next round and a half or so. But before the Eagles can even think of drafting a wide receiver, they have a very important question to answer – ‘What exactly are we looking for?’

A gamechanger? A speedster? A WR1? A slot guy? It’s not as easy as looking at a talent like Henry Ruggs and saying ‘yep, that’s magically fixed everything’. But to fully understand why we need to examine the broader picture.

The Eagles may be a very fluid offense, but they still have a rigid structure, at least to the naked eye. Each receiver role within the offense has desired traits.

Without diving into too much detail, Pederson’s group has been built on the same premise since his arrival 2016:

WR1: Size
WR2: Speed
WR3: YAC, and a crispy route-running attack

Current depth chart

WR1: Alshon Jeffery
WR2: DeSean Jackson
WR3: Nelson Agholor
WR4: JJ Arcega-Whiteside
WR5: Greg Ward Jr

Alshon Jeffery

This is where the problem really begins. The Eagles guaranteed Alshon Jeffery’s 2020 during the heart of their 2019 campaign, meaning that as of right now, ‘Alshonymous’ is on the books for a cap hit of $15M, making him the 7th most expensive receiver in the league.

While his presence on the offense helped other members of the offense thrive due to the attention he commands, a receiver costing $15M should be bringing a little more to the table than 850 yards per season, something he’s not reached since joining the Eagles.

So what should the Eagles do with a receiver who has underwhelmed and been constantly linked with the ‘anonymous source’ situation?

It’s at least understandable to see why Jeffery would be frustrated. A WR1 being overshadowed by a TE is one thing, but watching DeSean Jackson come in and build such a strong bond over the Summer with your quarterback is going to sting a little. He’s nearing 30-years-old and has been battered and bruised in each of his last few years. Time is running out.

Regardless, if the Eagles trade Alshon this offseason, they only swallow a cap hit of around $16M, per spotrac. If they cut ties with him due to no team wanting any part of such an extortionate salary, that leaves them with a $26M cap penalty.

Handcuffed.

If getting rid of him is the motive here however, it’s not as simple as dump the salary and go running to the podium to pick up a sparkly new receiver…

Remember me?

A little under a year ago, the Eagles drafted a receiver by the name of JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

The Stanford product is built in a near-identical mold to Alshon Jeffery, which naturally led everyone to believe he would be his eventual replacement. Not only are their frames only a few pounds apart, but JJAW became renowned for his prowess in contested-catch situations and the ability to box out defenders.

He finished his final collegiate year with a grade of 95.5 on targets that went beyond 10+ yards, and a grade of 90.6 on 3rd/4th down which was number one in the nation according to PFF.

It’s absolutely dumbfounding then, that they made him learn the entire playbook from every WR position, essentially making him redshirt his rookie season. 169 yards and a single touchdown don’t exactly scream a tremendous success given how desperately the Eagles craved any kind of receiving production last year – one where Mack Hollins was taking snaps over the rookie for a large chunk of it.

Whatever the reason is behind JJAW’s bizarre rookie year, the Alshon Jeffery decision may hinge on just how confident the newly remolded coaching staff and front office really are on him. If they get rid of Jeffery and then draft a name like Denzel Mims, it’s not exactly the biggest vote of support to JJ Arcega-Whiteside. We surely have to assume that if Jeffery exits the picture, JJAW is the natural WR1…at least to begin with. If not, that’s one terrible draft selection, a waste of a guaranteed salary that’s dug a very deep hole, and a huge cause for concern moving forward…unless…

Maybe he can play in the slot, unlike Agholor

It seems inevitable that the Nelson Agholor experiment is over, in Philadelphia at least. After taking a punt on his fifth-year option went about as successfully as the AAF, unless it’s a massively cheap deal, bringing him back would make little sense.

There would be some logic in pushing JJAW in the slot. He played 11% of his snaps there as a rookie and he’d fit the ‘big-slot’ mold the Eagles have toyed with in recent years. And realistically, if he can’t fill that hole, it’ll be hard for him to have a role at all.

So, where are we now?

No WR1 if Alshon departs, and no WR3, with a huge cloud of doubt over JJAW.

At WR2, things don’t exactly brighten up. DeSean Jackson is going to cost the Eagles $8.6M next year, which is fine, but it’s not ideal considering his age and ever-concerning durability. Drafting his heir to the throne does make a lot of sense here, but if it gets to pick 21…which box is being ticked? A potential starter WR1/3, or the speedy WR2?

Oh, we haven’t even mentioned free agency. Robby Anderson exists and has apparently been a love interest of the Eagles for quite some time now. His skill set would match up perfectly with DeSean Jackson and you could easily see him lining up in the slot for a year until Jackson maybe considers moving on or sees a reduced role. But if that happens, then how many of the WR’s available at 21 will realistically fit the rigid ‘Alshon’ mold?

So, what now?

It’s confusing. On the surface, the Eagles need for a wide receiver is simple. But after looking at it for longer than a split-second, it’s a situation that can easily cause a migraine or 12. The Eagles have to go through a flow chart that looks like this:

Do they believe in JJAW?

What happens to Alshon Jeffery?

Do they need a starting slot receiver or a backup WR2?

Are they taking a receiver at pick 21, and if yes, which role will he play?

To put it bluntly, if there is ever a time for the Eagles to flush their receiving corps and start building in a new direction, there’s no better time. It just so happens that the stakes could not be any higher, regardless of whether they choose to or not.

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