The Eagles have enjoyed a fruitful start to the 2020 offseason. From Darius Slay and Javon Hargrave, to Will Parks and Jatavis Brown, Howie Roseman wasted little time in rolling up his sleeves and bettering the roster. Well, at least defensively.
The big question mark hovering over this team heading into free agency was how Roseman would address the wide receiver position. Almost two weeks in and we’re still none the wiser. That was until the Eagles GM spoke to reporters about the story so far and addressed the ‘Elephant in the room’ – Alshon Jeffery.
2019 was a rollercoaster for Jeffery. From accusations of being the ‘anonymous source’ that continued to slander Carson Wentz, to suffering a worrying foot injury toward the end of the season that could well linger deep into 2020.
The 30-year-old who is coming off of a 43-catch, 490-yard season, is in a bizarre spot. The Eagles (confusingly, we’ll get to that) guaranteed his 2020 salary, meaning that if the team wish to move on by cutting him, it will cost them $26M in dead cap. A trade reduces it to $15.9M
I spent yesterday trying to work out what exactly the plan with Alshon Jeffery involves, to no avail.
But then…a light bulb went off. A JJ Arcega-Whiteside-related bulb.
Built like a clone of Alshon Jeffery and bringing a near-identical skillset to the table, JJAW was assumed to be the team’s future WR1…until the Eagles guaranteed Alshon’s 2020 salary and tried to redshirt Arcega-Whiteside under the guise of getting him to learn the playbook from every WR position. It’s ironic that Mike Groh attributed a slow season by Nelson Agholor to the fact ‘he’s wearing several hats’ and then forced their prized second-round pick into the same boat. Even when the team was crying out for receiving help, he was largely a non-factor.
By season’s end, this is how Arcega-Whiteside fared among his rookie peers across the NFL.
Player Rec Tgt Yds TDs Ctch% Snap Yds/ A.J. Brown* 48 76 927 7 63.2 646 1.43 Michael Thomas 92 121 1137 9 76.0 867 1.31 JuJu Smith-Schuster 58 79 917 7 73.4 758 1.21 Deebo Samuel* 52 76 700 3 68.4 690 1.02 Dante Pettis 27 45 467 5 60.0 469 1.00 Devin Funchess 31 63 473 5 49.2 493 0.96 Dorial Green-Beckham 32 67 549 4 47.8 580 0.95 D.K. Metcalf* 52 88 819 6 59.1 873 0.94 Mecole Hardman* 25 40 508 6 62.5 575 0.88 Andy Isabella* 9 13 189 1 69.2 223 0.85 Courtland Sutton 42 84 704 4 50.0 846 0.83 Tyler Boyd 54 81 603 1 66.7 739 0.82 Average 35 59 492 4 59.0 597 0.82 Anthony Miller 33 54 423 7 61.1 614 0.69 Sterling Shepard 65 105 683 8 61.9 1006 0.68 Parris Campbell* 18 24 127 1 75.0 222 0.57 Zay Jones 27 74 316 2 36.5 797 0.40 James Washington 16 38 217 1 42.1 537 0.40 D.J. Chark 14 32 174 0 43.8 456 0.38 Devin Smith 9 28 115 1 32.1 312 0.37 J.J. Arcega-Whiteside 10 22 169 1 45.4 489 0.35 Curtis Samuel 15 26 115 0 57.7 347 0.33
But what if the Eagles spotted something?
Howie Roseman seemed oddly confident that Alshon Jeffery would remain an Eagle when talking yesterday. I mean, sure. He’s not exactly going to throw Jeffery under the bus and you can’t expect him to say ‘yeah we’re shopping him’ because he’s of no intrinsic value…yet.
Just because Jeffery is still on the roster, it doesn’t mean that the Eagles are blissfully unaware of public perception, his drop in production, or the fact they handcuffed themselves to him in the first week of September. This window was pre ‘Josina Anderson’ but post ‘THAT article that trashed Carson Wentz in the offseason’. Surely if there was any doubt in Jeffery’s character, the Eagles wouldn’t have pulled the trigger…right?
The X-Factor here is Arcega-Whiteside. As we know (CC: Andre Dillard), the Eagles want to build through the draft. What this traditionally means is filling gaps with free agents/cheap trades, and allowing draft picks to grow into those shoes so that the time the starters begin to drop off or pick up and demand more money, the Eagles have a cheaper, long-term option in place.
JJAW’s rookie year, as we can see, wasn’t great. 19 targets in a season where the Eagles were crying out for help wasn’t great. His route-running wasn’t great. That one catch may have been, but the rest of it was beyond concerning.
It’s likely that the Eagles, who see this player every single day and watched him rack up 147 preseason yards, saw this coming. The redshirt season where he had to learn the playbook from every spot seemed stupid on the surface, but it could be correlated to Jeffery’s payday. Perhaps Jeffery, who is clearly the prototype that JJAW was cloned from, was guaranteed a spot because the Eagles saw a player that needed more work than perhaps originally anticipated.
If that’s the case, it gives Jeffery a shot at redemption in 2020 – which is very important considering everything we’ve witnessed over the past 12 months or so. But while his trade value is basically non-existent now, imagine if he is able to put up another 800+ yard season, which he seems to be averaging anyway.
The offset value in a trade at this point next offseason is a hit of $3M. Much better. If they cut him after 6/1 next year, they actually save $3M. This gives JJAW another 12-month window, with a new WR coach, to build himself up to a level that can replace Jeffery as the X receiver.
Worst case scenario: The Eagles keep Jeffery but watch as all of that guaranteed money rides the bench due to a JJAW Summer breakout. Oh no, what a shame. AJ is cut the following year.
Best case scenario: Alshon Jeffery was the anonymous source who has been presumably been torn down by his teammates and wants to redeem himself, giving JJAW breathing room and allowing Howie flexibility to focus on adding speed to the offense with a similar plan at pick 21 – CC Henry Ruggs behind DeSean Jackson. Jeffery is traded the following year after a resurgence.
Is the idea of Alshon sticking on the roster really that bleak?
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports