The news wasn’t all that surprising but it doesn’t make it any more palatable.
The Eagles are reportedly going to be without their top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for at least the first two games of the 2018 season (see story).
For obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, that’s a huge blow.
And the Eagles might be in trouble without him.
Even when Jeffery wasn’t putting up huge numbers last season, he was still clearly the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver. If Jeffery wasn’t making catches, he at least demanded attention. And despite tearing his rotator cuff — that’s what eventually needed the surgery that will keep him out to start this season — Jeffery managed to play all 19 games last season on the way to a parade down Broad Street.
Without their top receiver for a couple weeks, the Eagles are going to have to rely on a group of receivers that has suspect depth.
Sure, Mike Wallace and Nelson Agholor are now the starters — both are pretty good.
But Wallace is 32 and coming off a lackluster preseason in which he missed some time. He’s still an upgrade over Torrey Smith, but it’s fair to question just how good he’ll be, especially without Jeffery on the other side garnering his usual dose of attention.
Agholor is coming off a tremendous breakout season. While Jeffery was the team’s best receiver, Agholor was their most explosive. But he did the majority of that work in the slot. Without the Eagles' top WR, Agholor will probably have to play outside a little more — that’s a spot where he has never had the same level of success. That might take away a big dynamic of the offense.
And those are just the top two guys! It gets even sketchier from there.
Mack Hollins is seemingly the next guy up on the depth chart. At least, it was Hollins who had been the guy filling in with the starters for Jeffery early in training camp. But after a modest rookie season, Hollins has had a forgettable summer. He didn’t flash at all in training camp and didn’t have a catch in the preseason. Part of that might be because he reportedly had a sports hernia surgery this offseason. That might excuse his play, but it certainly doesn’t instill any confidence that he’ll be a contributor. He hasn’t even been able to practice recently thanks to a “lower-body” injury.
In Hollins’ absence, Shelton Gibson has really emerged. He’s been making plays all summer, including in the first three preseason games. Gibson looks like a different guy and the Eagles might actually have something there. But if you’re counting on a fifth-round pick from a year ago, a guy who has two career receptions, to fill in for a player who had 73 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, you need to rethink that.
With Jeffery on the shelf for a while, the Eagles are probably going to keep six receivers on their 53-man roster. But do you really expect DeAndre Carter or Rashard Davis or Greg Ward to contribute immediately?
Maybe this opens the door for Markus Wheaton or Kamar Aiken to make the team, but those two have been hurt this summer too and are seemingly past their best days in the NFL.
Or maybe the Eagles can try to scour the waiver wire after final cuts and find a player to plug in. The problem is that after winning the Super Bowl, the Eagles are 32nd in the waiver wire order. Hard to imagine getting a stud that no one else wanted.
The Eagles still have Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and Corey Clement and Darren Sproles, and it still seems likely Jay AJayi will be ready for the opener. So they still have weapons. But, depending on Carson Wentz’s health, we could have Nick Foles throwing to Shelton Gibson in Week 1. That’s not great.
Jeffery played the entire last season with that torn rotator cuff, so getting a Super Bowl ring is an easy trade-off for missing the first few weeks of the next season.
But, now that we’re here, it doesn’t make it any easier.