DALLAS won the NFC East this season by sweeping us. The giants added firepower in 2018 and figure to pad their defense in 2019. This division isn’t going to roll over and let us just walk away with it like we did in 2017. We need to be able to take it from them.
That however, will take some serious work, because with 20 players becoming Free Agents this March, we’re a hair trigger away from being as big a mess as the Redskins. This locker room is about to undergo a significant change, and it’s going to be of supreme importance that the right players are either brought back, or brought in.
So what are the priorities? Let’s start at the top.
QB: Carson Wentz is and should be, the future here. It’d be great to keep Nick Foles too, but he’d be too expensive. We’re projected to be 13 million over the salary cap, and he’s due to make 20 million. (Cap Savings!). This is simple math. By trading him to say…Jacksonville, we get him out of the conference, and can move up from 25th to 7th in the Draft. (Plus whatever else we can get out of them.) Nate Sudfeld has looked capable. He’s a (FA) Free Agent, but if he’s smart, he comes back here in 2019.
RB: Jay Ajayi suffered an ACL tear to his left knee in 2012. He also has osteoarthritis and now this ACL tear, in his right knee. No need to re-up for all those future missed and partial games. Darren Sproles is mulling retirement, so plans should be made like he’s not in the picture. (But if he’ll stay for 2M$ or so, we should find the cash.)
Otherwise, this position needs a complete overhaul. Not just of players, but of our philosophical approach to the kind of players we have here. We need more guys on the roster who want to be “The Guy” and work towards that. No more players who are happy being one-trick, role-players, just glad to have a roster spot.
Installing Corey Clement as our third down/change of pace back, would be very smart. Also drafting a 225 pounder who actually runs like a big back, would give us the balance we had when we were putting up 30 points per game in 2017. It also wouldn’t hurt to sign a FA like Latavius Murray, or Spencer Ware as an insurance policy.
Were we to forgo drafting a back, adding Kareem Hunt (not Le’Veon Bell) is the smart move. Adding Hunt to this system would immediately lessen the aggressiveness of opposing pass rushers, and give our QB more room to operate. Besides, he’s 23 and has no rookie deal, so he can be inked for 4 or 5 years, and not at the top end of today’s RB market, due to his recent baggage.
WR: Alshon Jeffery is the big dog here, so he needs to see 10 or more targets (not 7), per game from Wentz. Nelson Agholor is due 9M$ on a fifth year option, which he really isn’t worth. (Cap Savings!) If he can find a team (Redskins maybe) to give him 9 mil, good on him. But it shouldn’t be us. Jordan Matthews made his meager opportunities count, so he should be brought back based on that, and his prowess as a blocker. Jeffery, Matthews and the returning Mack Hollins would make life hell on opposing secondaries, especially if a young speedster is drafted. Golden Tate thank you, and good luck on your next team.
TE: Zach Ertz is a receiver. He’s improved as a blocker, but he’s really a big WR. Dallas Goedert helps give us what might be the most formidable 1-2 punch at this position, in the league. Still, we could use a guy who’s calling card is blocking. Not a puppy, but a veteran presence. Someone like FA’s Tyler Kroft or Geoff Swaim.
OT: I’d like to see Jason Peters retire now. (Cap Savings!) He’s our best at the position, even when injured. However, these constantly occurring injuries make it clear that he should walk away, now. Before his body betrays him, and reduces him to just “some guy”. True, 10M is a lot to walk away from, but his body and his legacy should be worth more.
Moving Lane Johnson from the right to the left beginning in OTA’s, seems like the smartest move. Halapoulivaati Vaitai simply can’t be trusted to man the blindside. During the 2017 playoffs, our coaching staff got away with giving him help on some downs, and rolling everything else to the right. However, during the moments he played the left in 2018, opponents showed that they were wise to us with that.
Jordan Mailata says that we can expect big things from him in 2019. If he plays a single down in 2019, it would be a vast improvement over how much he played in 2018. So the bar there is really low, right now. Matt Pryor is huge, but like Vaitai, his feet are way too slow, so he’s likely better suited to Guard.
A high draft pick, possibly our first rounder, needs to be spent here. No Free Agent patch. This guy should be homegrown, and allowed to get old with the QB.
G: Brandon Brooks should be back from Achilles tendon surgery, but there is no guarantee that he’ll be ready by Week 1. (Note: I initially had this written as an ACL tear, but alert reader Bobby, stepped up, and got me on the right path. If you talk I will listen!) Stefen Wisniewski and Issac Seumalo give the Eagles stability in terms knowing the scheme, but neither is the blocker that Brooks is. Chance Warmack is a FA, but he’s not liable to attract many suitors, and the Eagles could use an inexpensive insurance policy. That being said, there is also no reason why Pryor can’t be kicked inside, where he’s actually a better fit.
C: Jason Kelce has publicly acknowledged that he is mulling retirement, and that he doesn’t know if he’ll be back in 2019. That means we need to add a player. Not just a body. A player. There are no prizes to be had in scheduled Free Agency, so unless someone gets cut, it’s best to save that cap space. Wisniewski has extensive experience playing the pivot in the NFL. Seumalo has also logged downs at the spot, so we’re by no means in dire straits. However, it would be smart to draft kid. (Hopefully 320 pounder, with a nasty streak.) Until he’s gone however, Kelce has to be counted here.
DE: Brandon Graham is going to be a FA, and Chris Long is mulling retirement. This leaves us with Derek Barnett (returning from injury), Michael Bennett who is a beast, and Josh Sweat. Sweat is more of an edge setter than a pass rusher, so he may not be a good fit in this scheme. If Graham is willing to come back for 5.5M, then we should ink him. Otherwise, see if (former Eagle) FA Steven Means wants to come back to Philly.
DT: Fletcher Cox is the heart and soul of this defense, and one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL. The Eagles may attempt to free up 5M in (Cap Savings!), by cutting Timmy Jernigan and just eating 6M in dead money, instead of paying him 11M. Space-eating, run-stuffers like Free Agents Johnathon Hankins or Jordan Phillips would look really really good next to Cox, and wouldn’t break the bank to get here. Treyvon Hester should make the roster again in 2019, but everything about him says “role-player”.
OLB: Nigel Bradham put up solid numbers, but most of what he does (plays through injury, adds an air of toughness, finishes his tackles, doesn’t blow assignments), doesn’t show up on a stat sheet. Still, it would be nice if he were turned loose more as a pass rusher. Kamu Grugier-Hill looked like a work in progress this year, but not getting to start until your third year will put a layer of rust on any player’s instincts. He has the speed and motor to be a diamond in the rough, the only question is whether or not he’ll get the opportunity in 2019. Depth here is a real issue, and has been for years now. Adding a Free Agent like Gerald Hodges should be easy and inexpensive. Aside from that, we should be able to grab a couple of Special Teamers after the Draft.
MLB: When Jordan Hicks is healthy, he’s a very good player. Problem is, his track record for being healthy is shabby and now he’s coming off his rookie deal, and will want big boy numbers on his checks. Given the thin FA market though, the Eagles would be wise to sign him to a 3 year deal, and get an actual back-up in here. That’s not a shot at Nate Gerry, who filled in for Hicks this season. Gerry is a Safety/Outside Linebacker tweener, so he isn’t really suited for the MIKE position. If we’re spending on Hicks, we won’t have the money to blow on a FA. That means we’ll need to draft a back-up/possible replacement.
SS: Malcolm Jenkins is the only player at this position and that’s a problem for a couple of reasons. First, he’s up there in years, and we’ve got no one behind him learning to do what he does. Second, we been really lucky that he’s been healthy enough to play every snap, seemingly since he got here. It’s tempting fate to act as if we can ignore these things. We need to draft a kid to groom. A leader type.
FS: Rodney McLeod is coming back from injury, but he should be full-go in 2019. Corey Graham frequently forgets to bring his arms to a tackle. (That’s when he isn’t diving at ankles.) Graham is a FA and so no lock to return. Tre Sullivan didn’t see a lot of action during the season, but he was an unsung hero of the Wild Card win at Chicago.
CB: Rasul Douglas is tall, competitive, sticky fingered, and a solid tackler. If we’re smart, he opens 2019 as a starter. Avonte Maddox can be baited because he’ll chase the big play. While he’s been beaten a few times because of that, he’s also made a few plays because of it. After all, nothing ventured is nothing gained. Cre’Von LeBlanc is credited with nothing less than saving the Secondary, so um, expect him to be here in 2019. Jalen Mills was having an up and down year ((cough cough) struggling) before he hurt his foot. It remains to be seen if he’ll get to start on the outside or in the Nickle spot. Sidney Jones excelled in college playing man-press. The Eagles (regrettably) don’t use such a scheme, and so there is a real chance that the Front Office may have wasted a second round pick, on first round talent, that our coaching staff simply can’t find a use for. There’s talk of the Eagles drafting a player early at this position, but that seems almost like a massive overreach here, and robbing another position of needed talent.
K: Jake Elliott is a FA, but he’s restricted. There is no chance the Eagles let him walk.
P: Cameron Johnston still needs to work on his directional kicking, but he’ll be here.