The first season under Nick Sirianni has to be considered a success but there are still major holes to fill.
Now that we’re into the offseason, it’s time for the Eagles to figure out how to fill them.
Here’s my ranking of Eagles positional needs -- from most to least pressing -- coming out of the 2021 season:
1. Edge rusher
The Eagles during the season locked up Josh Sweat, who would have become a free agent this offseason, to a long-term deal. Sweat didn’t have the breakout, double-digit sack season some predicted but he played well and came on strong. After him, though, the Eagles need more help at that position. Brandon Graham will return for the 2022 season but he’s 34 and coming off an Achilles injury. Meanwhile, Derek Barnett is going to hit the open market as a free agent and it’s probably time to move on from him. Tarron Jackson has proven he can be a part of the rotation, but the Eagles still need more here. Not only is this an obvious need but it’s also an extremely important position and the Eagles view it as such. This is a good year to use a high draft pick on a defensive end and there might be a couple good ones in their range in the first round.
Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are set to become free agents in March, which means the Eagles might need to replace both of their starters. Marcus Epps earned a role as a third rotational safety in 2021, but it’s unclear if the Eagles view him as a possible starter next season. After him, former fourth-rounder K’Von Wallace has shown promise on special teams but we haven’t seen him much on defense. The Eagles have never drafted a safety in the first round of the draft, so perhaps they look toward free agency to fill this void. That’s how they’ve done it in the past with Harris, McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins before them.
It looks like the Eagles nailed their pick of DeVonta Smith. As a rookie, Smith didn’t reach 1,000 yards but he showed why the Eagles feel confident going into the future with him as their No. 1 receiver. But they need more than Smith. Quez Watkins had a very good season, especially for a former sixth-round pick, but having Smith and Watkins alone isn’t enough. And Jalen Reagor just isn’t cutting it. Sirianni this week said Smith is their 1, Watkins their 2 and Reagor their 3. That’s what it was in 2021 but that’s not good enough moving forward. This is a position where adding a veteran makes a lot of sense. They could really benefit from having a proven player in a really young position room to complement Smith. They’re one player away from this being a pretty strong group.
The Eagles’ linebackers weren’t their weakest position in 2021 and that was a pretty good sign. Eventually, T.J. Edwards really helped solidify this group and he’ll be the top returning player at this position entering 2022. But then there’s Alex Singleton, who had an up and down season and will be a restricted free agent. And Davion Taylor, who showed promise in Year 2 but ended his season on IR. Genard Avery will also be an unrestricted free agent. The Eagles haven’t drafted an off-ball linebacker in the first round since 1979, but with three first-rounders in April, maybe the Eagles feel more willing to make a luxury pick.
Darius Slay is back in 2022 and after a Pro Bowl season there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat that success. But Slay is 31 and even though he has two years left on his deal, won’t be around forever. The Eagles also made a nice move in the middle of the season to lock in nickel corner Avonte Maddox with an extension. But Steven Nelson is set to be a free agent and we all know how important that CB2 job is. Because not only does it keep Maddox at his natural position inside but if Slay is going to travel with top receivers — and he should — then the other corner has to be able to play both sides too. Having a veteran like Nelson in that role in 2021 helped. The Eagles’ top backup is fourth-rounder Zech McPhearson, who had some good moments as a rookie, but might not be ready to assume that role full-time.
Last offseason, the Eagles wanted to re-sign veteran Cameron Johnston but then the Texans signed him to a three-year, $8 million contract and the Eagles passed. Instead, they went with the unproven Arryn Siposs, who had plenty of success earlier this season but really struggled down the stretch. A couple shanks in the playoff game were costly. Overall, he was 24th in the NFL in punt average (43.9), 23rd in net average (38.7) and 25th in punts downed inside the 20 (17).
This one obviously depends on what you think about Jalen Hurts. I’m still skeptical about his long-term future with the organization but agree with the idea that the Eagles are better off bringing him back in 2022 and trying to build up the team around him. Hurts did some good things in his first full year as a starter but needs to continue to improve. After Hurts, the Eagles are in a good spot with Gardner Minshew as a cheap and good backup. Could they trade Minshew? Sure, if the return is worthwhile, they could. But then they’d need to find another backup QB.
8. Interior OL
The Eagles appear to be pretty set at the guard position. Even if Brandon Brooks isn’t back in 2022 (and it feels like that’s going to be the case) they still have Landon Dickerson, Isaac Seumalo, Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta. Now, Seumalo and Driscoll are coming off injuries, so there are some questions there. And Herbig is a restricted free agent; but they should be able to get him back if they choose. Really, the interior OL positions come down to Jason Kelce. If he’s back in 2022, they’re looking pretty good. If he decides to retire, then this become a huge need before the 2022 season.
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9. Defensive tackle
Fletcher Cox isn’t the dominant player he once was during his run of six straight Pro Bowls but he’s still a solid starter in the NFL. Is he overpaid now? Yeah. But not much the Eagles can do about that at this point. And having him and Javon Hargrave as the starters and Milton Williams as the third option off the bench isn’t bad at all. Hassan Ridgeway is set to become a free agent so they’ll need to find a way to replace him but they’re not in a bad spot at DT.
10. Tight end
After the Eagles traded Zach Ertz in October, Dallas Goedert began to show why the Eagles paid him like one of the top tight ends in the league. With a full season as the unquestioned No. 1 tight end, he has a legitimate chance for a 1,000-yard season in 2022 if he stays healthy. The Eagles will also bring back Jack Stoll after a pretty decent rookie season. No, Stoll didn’t catch many passes but his blocking as the Eagles turned to a run-heavy style was very important. And we’ll see what the future holds for Tyree Jackson coming off an unfortunate ACL tear in the regular season finale. Could the Eagles bring in another TE? Sure, but this isn’t a desperate need.
11. Running back
While he dealt with more injuries in Year 3, Miles Sanders played very well when he was healthy. In fact, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry in 2021. That’s the highest average for an Eagles running back with at least 100 rushing attempts since Steve Van Buren in 1945. So, yeah, he was pretty good in 2021. But it’s really about staying healthy. If he does, then maybe the Eagles lock him up with an extension early in the season. After Sanders, they still have Kenny Gainwell and maybe Boston Scott, who will be a restricted free agent. Jordan Howard is set to be a free agent but the Eagles are still pretty well stocked.
12. Offensive tackle
With Jordan Mailata at left tackle and with Lane Johnson at right tackle, the Eagles have one of the best tackle combinations in the NFL. Mailata will still be just 25 by the start of next season, is already playing at a near-Pro Bowl level and should continue to get better. Johnson missed three games this season for mental health issues but his surgically repaired left ankle held up. He’s 31 now but if he gives the Eagles a couple more high-level seasons, they’re in good shape. And maybe they trade Andre Dillard but if not, they’ll be set with backups too. They will have Dillard, Le’Raven Clark and Driscoll coming off the bench. Offensive tackle is always a position the Eagles could use draft picks on but if they do it this year it won’t be out of necessity.
13. Other specialists
Jake Elliott ended up having a terrific seasoning 2021 and really bounced back from a down year in 2020. He hit 30 of 33 attempts (90.9%) and made all 44 of his PATs. And if you haven’t thought about Rick Lovato in a while, that’s a good thing. That means the long snapper is doing his job.