The Philadelphia Eagles went into the 2020 offseason with big question marks at the wide receiver and cornerback position, have they made enough moves to solidify themselves as favourites to maintain the NFC East crown?
The Eagles persevered through some serious injury troubles and managed to make it into the playoffs last year. The team had some strong foundations but lacked serious depth in certain positions. In this article I have looked at the different positions that the Eagles needed to improve in and what they have done so far to improve the team.
The Eagles secondary has been a big weakness for the team since the Super Bowl win in the 2017 season. In the 2018 season the Eagles defence gave up the 3rd most passing yardage in the league. In the 2019 season the Birds defence gave up the 14th most passing yards. An improvement but certainly not the dominating defence the fans expect to see. It comes as no surprise that the biggest changes this offseason have been in the secondary.
The main loss will be the absence of Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins has been an ever-present since joining the Eagles in 2014, he has been on the field for 6754 of 6845 snaps, he has also not missed a single snap in the past two season, he is a beast on the field and is used as a swiss army knife in a multitude of positions. Jenkins has signed with New Orleans on a new 4 year contract as the Eagles Front Office could not come to terms on a new deal. General Manager Howie Roseman has said he wants the team to ‘get younger’ and this looks like the first step towards that ideology in not wanting to commit long term to a 32 year old player.
The other loss from the defensive backfield is Ronald Darby. I will always be thankful for Darby’s input into bringing a Super Bowl to the city of Philadelphia, his block on the Patrick Robinson interception return against the Minnesota Vikings was heroic, but his play has been so inconsistent since joining the team. So many times Eagles fans have had to watch Darby give receivers an 8 yard cushion and then still get burned on a double move or miss a tackle on a key 3rd down stop. Change was needed and Roseman made sure this happened.
The Eagles for the 1st time since Asante Samuel was on the team have a true corner that can lock down one side of the field. The Eagles traded for Darius Slay from the Detroit Lions giving up a 3rd and a 5th round pick from this year’s draft. Slay is the real deal, he follows the oppositions top receiver and really forces the quarterbacks hand in where they can distribute the ball too. Another new face is Nickell Robey-Coleman, a great option at slot cornerback allowing Avonte Maddox to move to the outside to compete with Sidney Jones for the CB2 position. Jalen Mills has also been resigned to a 1 year contract, and has been given the mammoth task of filling Jenkins’s role. The Eagles are hoping Mills can elevate his game whilst making the transition to safety. He will be competing with Philly local Will Parks who has been signed from the Denver Broncos. Rodney Mcleod has also signed a contract extension and I am sure that the Eagles are going to expect him to be the commanding presence Jenkins was during his tenure.
One of the biggest mistakes last offseason was letting Jordan Hicks leave in free agency. The Eagles have really lacked quality in depth at the linebacker position. Even during the Super Bowl run this was an area of weakness due to injuries. This year the Eagles have said bye to Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill. The latter I was really sad to see leave as he has been an important contributor on Special Teams and had really settled in to the outside linebacker role. This is another Captain that the Eagles will have to replace.
The additions have been pretty sparse in just the one new face in Jatavis Brown. Brown is a former 5th round pick from the Los Angeles Chargers. He has started 23 games over his last 4 seasons along with playing in 50% of the Chargers special teams snaps. Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz will be hoping Brown will compete for playing time in both areas. The Eagles are known not to invest heavily at the backer position as they normally play a safety in the box or close to the line of scrimmage so they will be hoping Brown and Nathan Gerry or Duke Riley can solidify this position this year. I would not be surprised to see the Eagles select a LB in the Draft.
Arguably the biggest area of need on the entire team. Last year Carson Wentz put the entire offence on his back. The whole passing offence relied on two tight end sets and then an array of misfits and practice squad players with little to no experience playing in the NFL. At the beginning of the season fans were incredibly excited by the supporting cast the Eagles had assembled. Alshon Jeffery is your typical big bodied receiver, and to match that up with the slot presence of a resurgent Nelson Agholor and the pure speed that Desean Jackson brought to the squad, the possibilities for this offence were endless, right?
The injury bug hit, and Wentz had to play without his top 3 weapons for the majority of the season. Players such as former college quarterback Greg Ward and Rookie 2nd round pick JJ Arcega- Whiteside were now Wentz’s number 1 options. In 2019 the Eagles 9 wide receivers combined for 1647 yards. In comparison Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined for 1523 yards just between the 2 of them. Wentz needs outside help to really push the Eagles offence to the next level.
So… what has Howie Roseman done to improve this position? The answer really is not very much. The upcoming Draft is absolutely loaded with receiver talent, but fans were expecting a veteran presence to also be signed this offseason and a slightly bitter taste was left in all fans mouths when they saw Houston Texans wideout Deandre Hopkins, one of the best pass catchers in the league, get traded to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd Round pick and an aging running back.
One move the Eagles have made is letting Agholor hit free agency. He has recently signed a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders. I think most people have forgotten the level of play Agholor played at during the playoffs in 2017 and are all mostly happy that even with a glaring need at wideout that he was allowed to leave. His biggest area of weakness over his career has been tracking the deep ball and having drops at the worst possible times (re-watch the Atlanta Falcons game and you can see why Eagles fans are happy).
Roseman explained in a conference call last week that he was confident in the receivers that are on the team, and from the talent in the draft. Fans were especially shocked by the return of Jeffrey, who has been at the forefront of rumours involving disputes in the locker room, specifically comments an ‘anonymous’ player had about Carson Wentz.
“Obviously, the elephant in the room is Alshon,” Roseman said. “Alshon’s got to get healthy. That’s the No. 1 priority, for us and for him. He understands, he knows what’s being said about him. He understands that he’s got a lot to prove and he’s anxious to do that. So he’s not living in a bubble, he understands that.”
Roseman went even further in backing up Alshon in the interview on the Eagles website:
“This guy wants to win world championships in Philly. He has told me recently how much he wants to win, for our fans and for our city. He has had those same conversations with other people in the building. It is important for him to be a Philadelphia Eagle. He understands [how] people feel about him right now, and he’s not sitting there feeling sorry for himself. … Alshon’s a good player. I think that we lose sight of that a little bit.”
So all of the Eagles eggs are in one basket, the Draft. At position 21 I do not think any of the top 3 receivers are still going to be there, as there are lots of needy teams lower in the draft. I would love Justin Jefferson as the pick if the Eagles do not trade up for one of the top 3 (Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb). I also think KJ Hamler in the 2nd round would be a great option with his friendship with 2nd year running back Miles Sanders.
I have given my opinion in grade form for how I think the Eagles have fared over the off season. I believe that Roseman and his staff overall have had a good offseason. Key additions in the secondary could finally be giving DC Jim Schwartz a passing defence he can rely on. Along with adding a big piece to the Defensive Line in Javon Hargrave, there are not many offences that will fancy their chances running against a combination of Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson, and now they may fear airing the ball out as well with Darius Slay manning one side of the field.
My only worry is at the receiver position. Will Alshon Jeffrey continue to create a rift in the offensive locker room? Can Desean Jackson stay healthy and give the Eagles some much needed vertical offence? Can Arcega-Whiteside take the big leap forward and get over his rookie struggles? Will the Eagles first round pick be able to contribute straight away?
A lot of questions for the offensive side of the ball, but also a lot of positives to take from this offseason. I truly believe if the Eagles can pick a couple of the offensive playmakers that are available in this loaded draft they will be set up for great success this year.