Are the Eagles honing on a free agent running-mate for DeVonta Smith?

Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 03: Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Devonta Smith (6) sets up for a play in the first half during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles on October 03, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

The opening few days of free agency have been chaotic to say the least. The Eagles went all-in on Haasan Reddick, watched on as Christian Kirk signed a game-changing deal in Jacksonville, and made some subtle renovations regarding their restricted free agents.

Does DeVonta Smith need a new partner?

These moves may have not only told us about what the Eagles are planning to do this offseason, but more specifically about the direction they plan on going down when it comes to wide receiver.

It was assumed that the Eagles would go into free agency all guns blazing when it came to wideouts. There were so many big names hitting the open market that finding a running-mate for DeVonta Smith was almost too easy. However, finding the perfect fit was always going to be a little more difficult.

The Eagles first had to decide on the type of receiver they wanted, and that decision could only be made once they worked out where Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins factor into their plans. Reagor is traditionally a Z-receiver and has been horribly underwhelming through his opening two seasons, while Watkins has done nothing but flash raw speed and some surprising hops for a shorter slot receiver.

Would they want to push Watkins to the outside and look to move on from Reagor, or instead keep Watkins in the slot and try to find a taller, more physical, possession-based wideout to pair with DeVonta Smith?

PHILADELPHIA, PA – DECEMBER 26: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) celebrates a first down during the game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles on December 26, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

How the dominos fell

The first big domino to fall was Christian Kirk’s sizzling new deal in Jacksonville. Many deemed it an overpayment and Howie Roseman was likely in agreement. It was later reported by Clay Harbor that the Eagles were in on Christian Kirk but ultimately left the table empty-handed, leading to that huge contract with the Jaguars.

Why does this matter?

Kirk is namely a slot receiver. He played 49% of his snaps over the middle last year, but this number would’ve been had he not been thrown into the WR1 spotlight when injuries struck. This could hint at the fact that the Eagles were more than happy to pay a premium for a viable threat over the middle, which would logically correlate with a roster battle between Watkins and Reagor at the Z spot.

Other wideouts to have been poached from the free-agent market include names like D.J Chark and Cedrick Wilson. Wilson ran over 90% of his routes from the slot spot last year (Per Sharp analysis), and Chark’s lean frame may limit him to a slot role. With a lot of slot receivers off the board and the bigger-name boundary receivers receiving big-time money, this may have pushed the Eagles to look for that bigger wideout after all.

A subtle move that says a lot

This was then reinforced when the Eagles brought back Greg Ward Jr. by signing his tender. Yes, he’s cheap and cheerful, and shouldn’t be seen as a challenger to the starting spot anymore, but that in itself is important.

If the Eagles were still sold on finding a slot wideout, they would’ve likely let Ward walk, leaving Watkins as the backup at that position. Instead, they brought back a player who has not only been efficient for the Eagles in the past, but is absolutely a fringe starter and would put pressure on Watkins or Reagor if a positional battle was to occur. With two slot wideouts now on the roster, all signs would point to all eyes now looking at a Z-receiver.

There is, of course, the fact that the Eagles hold three first-round picks in this years’ upcoming NFL Draft. Would they draft a first-round wideout for the third year in a row? It’s possible, but I doubt it. It would make far more sense to look for a name like Allen Robinson at the Z-spot, knowing fully well that Jalen Reagor could still have some upside if he can spend a year away from the spotlight, and that the WR3 spot has now been solidified.

Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire

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