At his year-end press conference, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman accepted blame for the Eagles’ disappointing 2019 season.
Now, it’s up to him to fix it.
Sure, the Eagles won the NFC East and nearly won a playoff game. But they weren’t good enough in 2019. As they enter the offseason, there are some pressing needs.
Here’s how I’d rank them:
1. Wide receiver
This one is pretty obvious to me. Carson Wentz this season became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000-plus yards without a receiver to hit 500. The receiver position needs a massive overhaul. Alshon Jeffery is dealing with a serious injury and the Eagles made the mistake of guaranteeing his 2020 salary last offseason.
“In terms of Alshon, we had a conversation with Alshon before the season, and he took a pay cut in exchange for guaranteeing,” Roseman said. “For us, we were trying to create as much flexibility going forward with our roster to create cap space to improve the football team.”
Oops. Now, they might be stuck with him. Although, I might try to find a way to trade him for less than nothing (send a draft pick with him) to get him off the roster.
And we already understand that Nelson Agholor isn’t going to return in free agency. DeSean Jackson is 33 and coming off a serious injury. And last year’s second-round pick, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, had a disastrous rookie season. Greg Ward played well, but he probably isn’t going to be a star.
The Eagles right now don’t have a single receiver they can count on to be a real playmaker. They desperately need to figure out a way to add talent at the position through free agency or the draft. Their recent history drafting receivers doesn’t instill confidence but at least this is a really good class for receivers.
I could have had corner at No. 1 just as easily as receiver. This has been a position of need for a while now for the Eagles. They haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl defensive back since 2003 and they have plenty of uncertainty at corner heading into this offseason.
Their top two starters, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, are both going to be free agents. And after that? There aren’t any other pieces the Eagles can really rely on. Sure, Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc might be nice pieces. But their second- and third-round picks from 2017 — Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas — couldn’t even get on the field in the playoff game.
The problem here is that while it’s been hard for the Eagles to find receivers in the draft, they’ve had even less luck with cornerbacks. They haven’t been able to draft or sign free agents who can help. Roseman realizes that.
“Well, I'd go to the stock answer of we've got to try to improve this team,” the GM said. “I know — again, I'm not trying to stick my head in the sand. I know there are a couple positions here that are a focal point, and I understand the reason for that.”
While the Eagles have struggled to find corners, they’ve been in a pretty good spot with their top two safeties for the last four years since they brought in Rodney McLeod to pair with Malcolm Jenkins in 2016. But now there are questions surrounding both.
McLeod is set to become a free agent in March and Jenkins has declared that he won’t play next season on his current contract. And the only other two safeties on the roster are Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford.
Perhaps Maddox could transition to play free safety, a position he played in 2018 when McLeod went down, but the solution might not be that simple. And based on how Jim Schwartz has played the last few years, the Eagles need more than their two starters — they use that third safety quite a bit. Think back to how much Corey Graham played in 2017 and 2018, to varying levels of success.
4. Defensive tackle
The Eagles are expecting to have Fletcher Cox and (finally) a healthy Malik Jackson back at defensive tackle in 2020. Getting Jackson back will be a big deal. He was lost after just 32 snaps so it probably got overlooked more than it should have.
After those two, though, there are more questions. Tim Jernigan and Hassan Ridgeway are both going to be free agents. So it’s possible the Eagles bring back one or both of them. Jernigan and Ridgeway are talented players but they have also struggled to stay on the field. Jernigan has played just 13 games over the last two years and Ridgeway has played just 12; so can they really rely on either of them?
The Eagles also have Anthony Rush, Bruce Hector and Albert Huggins under contract but after injuries decimated that position, they might think about reloading with some more talent. Remember, DT is the position Schwartz likened to Spinal Tap drummers during the 2019 season.
Based on their recent history, the Eagles probably wouldn’t rank the linebacker position this high, but this is my list, OK? And the Eagles are probably going to decline Nigel Bradham’s option, which means he’ll be a free agent along with Kamu Grugier-Hill. You ready for a linebacker group of Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley in 2020? Probably not.
Sure, the Eagles might find a way to work out a contact with Bradham that will be cheaper than the $8 million base salary he’d get if the Eagles picked up the option. And maybe Grugier-Hill gets a new deal, too. But if they can’t figure it out, the Eagles will be really thin at the position after already losing Jordan Hicks in free agency last offseason.
Honorable mentions: Interior offensive line, offensive tackle, backup quarterback, defensive end
As long as Jason Kelce returns, the Eagles will bring back their top three interior linemen but Kelce and Brooks are getting older and they might not have a great backup option just yet. At tackle, Jason Peters will probably walk, leaving Andre Dillard and Lane Johnson. That’s great but is Jordan Mailata ready to be the swing tackle if Halapoulivaati Vaitai leaves in free agency? Will Nate Sudfeld return as the backup QB? And Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett will return, but Vinny Curry will be a free agent and they might not have enough fastballs.
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