By Ryan Waterman
A devastating season-ending loss has left a bitter taste in the mouth of many Eagles fans around the Delaware Valley, and beyond. As is the case with most tough season-endings, some have opted to play the blame game, and point fingers. Seemingly unbothered by the public's perception of how their championship-defending campaign unfolded, the Birds have remained focused on the road ahead, in what's sure to be one of the most important off-seasons in recent memory. Multiple key players with expiring contracts, a potential mega-extension on the horizon, and a plethora of questions from the fan base all pose compelling storylines, as we enter the spring ahead.
With Free Agency set to begin, in theory, in just about 24 hours, it's time that we take an in-depth, detailed look at what this off-season could hold for the Philadelphia Eagles.
As of Today: $19 million
At the onset of the off-season, the Eagles sat nearly $20 million over the salary cap. Fast-forward to today, the Birds currently sit around $20 million under. It's been a fascinating display of salary cap manipulation by Howie Roseman, as he's freed up such a large amount of cap room, without sacrificing a large portion of the roster that won a Super Bowl only two years ago. With some key holes to fill, there may still be more moves to come. Having said that, let's take a peek at some possible names that could help free up additional cap space for Philadelphia.
Jason Peters- Saves $8 Million
This seems like a no-brainer, no? Nobody's denying that Peters is a future Hall of Famer, but it's become painfully obvious that Jason Peters has lost a step, and is heading towards the end of his career. It's entirely possible that he decides to hang up his cleats, but in the event that he opts to return for another year, Peters will likely find himself in a new city.
Nelson Agholor- Saves $9.4 Million
This one may be a little more difficult to envision, especially if they opt to let Golden Tate leave, as well. It took some time for Agholor to hit his stride, and he may have taken a step back this season, but we've seen what Nelly is all about. Are the Eagles really content with giving up on his explosive play-making abilities? Three picks within the first 60 of April's draft says it's entirely possible. A potential depth chart of just Alshon Jeffery after this move says otherwise.
At the very least, it appears the Eagles will find themselves with some spending money this off-season. Given the figures provided above, that magic number of $19 million could balloon to a cool $37 million. Of course, additional restructuring could further inflate that number. Regardless, that money could become accounted for, rather quickly.
Offense: Nick Foles, Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Golden Tate, Mike Wallace, Jordan Matthews, Richard Rodgers, Rick Lovato, Chance Warmack
Defense: Ronald Darby, Jordan Hicks, Haloti Ngata, Chris Maragos, Corey Graham, D.J. Alexander, LaRoy Reynolds
Yikes, that is a terrifying number of free agents. Fear not, though -- I'm here to break it all down for ya. As I eluded to in the prior section, the free agency market for the Eagles relies heavily on their ability to create cap space, and manipulate already existing deals. Ultimately, though, the Eagles will find a way to bring back players that will make a difference. So, what players fit that description? That's where the difficult part comes in.
Now that Brandon Graham's already ensured that his career will likely end in Midnight Green, there's not true "must keep" name on this list. One particular name that appears likely to stay, as long as he's open to returning next season, is Darren Sproles. He electrifies the offense, any time he touches the ball. If he feels comfortable still taking the field, there's little reason to not bring him back. Rick Lovato appears to be the safest bet to return as the team's long-snapper last season, as he's seamlessly handled the transition from Jon Dorenbos. I'd also say it's a safe bet that we see the return of Jordan Matthews, given the chemistry and level of comfort he displayed in the Eagles offense last season. At a deal that'll carry a low cap-hit, it's a risk the Eagles can clearly afford.
On the flip-side, Nick Foles looks like he's a goner. Last week, it appeared that Foles was destined for Jacksonville. However, recent reports have surfaced that indicated Jacksonville was no longer sold on Foles. Should a market not develop for Foles, is a possible return to the Eagles in the cards? Maybe so, but it'd have to come at a far smaller price tag than he may reportedly be seeking.
Additionally, Corey Graham, Richard Rodgers, Chance Warmack, Mike Wallace and LaRoy Reynolds appear likely to not return in 2019, having not really contributed much to the team outside of depth. With the returns of Rodney McLeod, Mack Hollins, and Joe Walker, coupled with the emergence of Jordan Mailata and Cre'Von LeBlanc, there's not a whole lot of room for any of those five.
That, ultimately leaves us with Ronald Darby, D.J. Alexander, Golden Tate, Jay Ajayi, Chris Maragos, and Haloti Ngata as the true wild-cards. As eluded to earlier, with the development of Cre'Von LeBlanc, and return of Jalen Mills, the Eagles can comfortably move on from Darby, knowing their secondary is in good hands with Mills, LeBlanc, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Avonte Maddox. Focusing on Golden Tate, his status primarily depends on two things -- the status of Nelson Agholor, and the Eagles' confidence in finding a replacement in the draft. Both of those appear to work against Tate returning to Philadelphia. At least he'll be remembered for that game-winning TD against Chicago, right? Two guys primed to return on low-risk/high-reward deals are both Jay Ajayi, and Chris Maragos, who are returning from injury. Barring a completely inflated market, I expect one-year "prove it" deals to help regain some of their value. Alexander should settle in as a fairly cost-efficient signing, providing quality depth on special teams. Finally, that leaves us with Ngata, who many expect to retire following the season. He still performed decently in 2018, but it's clear that his level of play is slipping -- and fast.
Needs- Running Back, Edge Rusher, Inside Linebacker, Deep Threat, Veteran Backup QB
Potential Targets: Le'Veon Bell, Ziggy Ansah, Anthony Barr, Tevin Coleman, Kwon Alexander, C.J. Mosley, Danny Shelton, John Brown, Bruce Irvin, Vinny Curry, Malik Jackson, Mark Barron, Preston Brown
This year's class of Free Agents could be a slightly challenging one for the Eagles, primarily due to potential cap issues. That said, if Howie Roseman is good at anything, it's finding value on the open market.
With a lack of quality offensive lineman on the market, I fully expect the Eagles to circle that area for their draft prep. Shifting back to free agency, however, with no offensive lineman to focus on, Howie Roseman's likely to put work into finding defensive bargains. Among those potential bargains could be a pair of former top-15 picks in Ziggy Ansah, and Danny Shelton. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the 344-lb Shelton hits the market as an intriguing option for teams looking to beef up their defensive line. As the threat of both Timmy Jernigan and Haloti Ngata not being Eagles in 2019 looms large, Shelton could be that cheap source of production that helps lead the Eagles back to the promised land.
Ansah, 29, also presents an intriguing buy-low option, as he's fresh off an injury-marred campaign that limited him to seven games. The only downfall is that he's also got a track record that consists of four seasons with at least 7.5 sacks, and a pair of double-digit sacks. In what equivalates to five-and-a-half seasons, Ansah has racked up 48 sacks, 110 QB hits, 10 forced fumbles, and 218 tackles. A move that may not seem incredibly likely with the return of Brandon Graham, if the market for Ansah is slow to develop, expect the Eagles to pounce on the opportunity to land an elite edge-rusher at a discounted value.
A pair of veteran names to watch if the Eagles don't plan on spending a sizable portion of money would be Vinny Curry and Bruce Irvin. Curry, recently released after two years in Tampa Bay, would be the most logical, given his familiarity with both the organization, and defensive scheme. It's fair to argue that Curry simply wasn't built to be a three-down edge-rusher, and is better suited as a rotation-specialist, a role he excelled in as an Eagle. Irvin, 31, is perhaps the more intriguing of the two, compiling 43.5 sacks over his seven-year career. As a hybrid DE/LB, Irvin has only seen one season of fewer than 5.5 sacks. He won't necessarily produce numbers that would blow you away, but it's fair to believe he can produce numbers similar to the recently departed Michael Bennett at a fraction of the cost.
Mosley's primed to be the marquee inside linebacker on the market, next to Jordan Hicks. It might come at a price bump, but if the Eagles decide to move on from Hicks, in favor of a more durable option, Mosley's their best option. Over a 77 game career, Mosley's stockpiled 597 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 32 QB Hits, nine interceptions, and six forced fumbles. The 26-year old is widely-regarded as one of the best, safest tacklers in the league -- perhaps a trait that may find him attractive to an Eagles defense that struggled with tackling at times in 2018. Brown and Alexander could be characterized as "fall-back" options, but make not mistake, they would not be consolation prizes. All three are talented linebackers, and each one has their individual area of strength. The Eagles would fare well by securing any of the trio. Barron would provide more versatility of the four, given his experience at safety. He's seen his share of struggles, but in the right situation, could be a serviceable option at a low-cost.
Anthony Barr presents an intriguing option, as he projects as more of a natural edge-rusher, rather than a complete linebacker. Given that they've already got Nigel Bradham on one-end, it'll be interesting to see if the Eagles see value in the idea of a true pass-rush linebacker -- something they've lacked since Connor Barwin.
Offensively, there's a trio of names I'd circle on the open market -- Le'Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman, and John Brown. Brown's an intriguing option, as he's known for being a field-stretcher, and is clearly the best deep-threat on the market. However, his durability does raise some concerns. It's fairly obvious why Bell is not only on this list, but most likely the list of 95% of the teams out there. He's arguably the league's best back, he'll be hitting the market having just turned 27, and he'd fill the Eagles most-glaring need. Adding an electrifying back to the offense would not only provide Carson Wentz with another weapon, but would take some of the attention away from Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor with a home-run hitter in the backfield. While there are a plethora of pros, the only con worth concerning ourselves with is money. Bell's reportedly seeking between $14-17 million per season. Would Howie give that type of money to a running back? That much remains to be seen, especially with a more than serviceable option sitting there in Tevin Coleman. His name and numbers might not be as flashy as Bell's, however, Coleman would serve as an excellent complimentary piece in an offense that could return Jay Ajayi should they strike out on Bell.
The Eagles might not be big-time spenders in free agency, but there's plenty of value on the market.
Trade Targets- Jordan Howard (Chicago), DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay), LeSean McCoy (Buffalo)
Howard's arguably the most-talented name on this list, but both McCoy & Jackson are the most recognizable. The illustrious careers as Eagles came to an end, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of all parties. Although, with both of their respective teams facing some personnel changes, could one or both find their way back to being in Midnight Green? Shady, the Eagles leading rusher, is coming off of his least-productive season as a pro, and could be had at a significantly lower price than many expect. Given his love for Philly, it's fair to wonder if McCoy wouldn't restructure his deal to be a little more team-friendly. Jackson, meanwhile, has publicly expressed a desire to return to Philly. As a free agent two years ago, the reunion wasn't in the cards. This past season, Philly reportedly pursued a reunion before landing Golden Tate. With Jackson likely to a cap casualty in Tampa Bay, the third time might be the charm for the explosive field-stretcher to find his way home. That brings us back to Howard, a name that the Eagles have been heavily-linked to over the past few weeks. Should Chicago opt to move-on from him, it's not expected to come at a hefty price-tag. Bringing in Howard to pair with a returning Jay Ajayi, it would give Eagles fans some serious deja vu of the 2017 Championship pairing of Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount.
Given Howie's tendency to scour the trade market, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of these three in an Eagles uniform by September.
Draft Picks- 25th Overall, 53rd Overall (via Baltimore), 57th Overall, 127th Overall, 138th Overall, 163rd Overall, 197th Overall, 208th Overall
Here's where things could potentially get interesting. The Eagles currently have a luxury, in three picks within the top-60 of April's NFL Draft. Typically, a large number of impact players are often found in within that 60-pick window. Given the Eagles potential shortcomings due to salary cap issues, it's more important than ever before that they strike gold on these picks. The Eagles received 138th overall, and 208th overall as compensatory selections for losing free agents last Spring.
Names to Watch: Josh Jacobs (RB/Alabama), Greedy Williams (CB/LSU), DeAndre Baker (CB/Georgia), Dexter Lawrence (DT/Clemson), Marquise Brown (WR/Oklahoma), Justice Hill (RB/Oklahoma State), Devin Bush (LB/Michigan), David Sills (WR/West Virginia), Bryce Love (RB/Stanford), Elijah Holyfield (RB/Georgia), Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
So, let's just begin with the obvious "elephant in the room," and that's the position of running back. It's no secret that Philadelphia will continue their pursuit of it's long-term solution at running back this off-season, although how they'll approach that pursuit remains a mystery. They could opt for a marquee name along the lines of Le'Veon Bell or Tevin Coleman, as I eluded to earlier. However, the possibility strongly exists that the Eagles really like a back in this year's class (which, to me, is rather underrated in both quality, and quantity). Among their potential targets could be Josh Jacobs out of Alabama, Justice Hill from Oklahoma State, Bryce Love of Stanford, or the newcomer -- Georgia's Elijah Holyfield.
To me, Jacobs is the clear-cut top dog of this year's class. He's not only entering with the highest level of talent, but also as the freshest back, due to Nick Saban's pro-style committee-backfield approach. At 5'10", 216 lbs, Jacobs comes in to the league with solid size for his position. His 40-time projects at around a late 4.4, showing he's got some nice speed to him. He's got a lot of what scouts like in a running back -- athleticism, hands, quick feet -- and that's allowing him to propel up draft boards. Hill projects as more of a Gio Bernard-type of rotational back, although his speed and quickness has left some thinking he could be more. Much like Jacobs, he's got solid hands, which in today's league works in any back's favor. Love comes with a major question mark, as he's fresh off of a torn ACL. That said, he's also only a season removed from 2118 yards and 19 touchdowns. It's a risk to see which Love you'll be getting, but a risk that could pay major dividends. Holyfield's a fairly new name to the scene, having spent a lot of time behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Take those two out of Athens, and we finally got to see just what Elijah brings to the table. Built well, Holyfield's a physical runner. This could be a name to watch, as his combine performance could allow for him to slide into the later mid-rounds, providing a potential steal.
Both Williams and Baker project as later first-round picks, although some scouts have given Williams, considered by many to be one of the nation's best corners, a second-round grade. The first-round could veer in a number of directions for Philadelphia, as there are a number of positions they could address in theory. If they don't have full confidence in their current group of corners, we could see one of these two be the pick at #25. Williams has a lot of positives to his game, excelling in coverage, and using his length and speed to highlight his physicality when the ball's in play. One of his downsides, however, is that he has a tendency to get a little too chippy at times, which could be a problem in the NFL. There's also the fact that he's a borderline liability in run coverage. Much like his LSU counterpart, Baker struggled as a run defender at Georiga. He's not at successful in zone coverage as Williams, and often loses the inside position. However, he's as good of a man defender as you'll see. He's gritty, displays excellent recovery ability, and has some of the best ball instincts of the DBs in this year's class.
Should they opt to sit out on the defensive line market in free agency, there are a pair of Clemson Tigers that could fill that need for the Eagles, in Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. Awarded the title of nation's top defensive end, Ferrell had a productive redshirt junior season, compiling 11.5 sacks en route to another National Championship. Ferrell won't physically dominate blockers, instead opting to use his skill and finesse to get at the QB. Lawrence has been widely-regarded as one of the nation's top interior lineman, although his draft stock took a hit when he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug that led to him sitting out the National Championship game against Alabama. Still, at 6-4", 342 lbs, Lawrence projects a late first-round pick. With Clemson's pro-day upcoming, the idea of him being a late first-rounder could become nothing more than a dream.
Lastly, that brings us to the case of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, who had an outstanding season at Oklahoma with Kyler Murray under center. That said, there are concerns regarding Brown's size, as well as the foot injury that he suffered in the Big 12 championship, which hampered him in Oklahoma's playoff game against Alabama. An explosive play-maker, he could serve as the field-stretcher the Eagles have been seeking.
In what should be an interesting off-season for the Eagles, there are a number of avenues they could explore to fill holes left behind by departing players. Ultimately, I'd expect a multi-faceted attack strategy by Howie Roseman and Co, as they exhaust every possible option to improve this football team, and bring another Lombardi Trophy back to Philadelphia. The first step in that plan begins in less than 24 hours, where we'll get some clarity on what Philadelphia's plan is.