7 Philadelphia Eagles Players Entering a Make-or-Break Year

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 3, 2013

Jun 4, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and quarterback Michael Vick (7) pass the ball during minicamp at the NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's the beginning of a new era for Philadelphia Eagles football, with a new coaching staff, new schemes and a new-look roster taking a hold of the only NFC East team that's never won a Super Bowl. If that's going to change in 2013, it would help if these make-or-break players could come through with big performances.


1. QB Michael Vick

The Eagles have already guaranteed the 33-year-old quarterback $3.5 million in 2013, but they can save $4 million by cutting him prior to the season. Thus, this is actually probably a make-or-break training camp for Vick, who has turned the ball over 33 times in 23 games since the start of 2011.

Even if he does win the starting quarterback job, Vick will be playing for his NFL future. Another injury-plagued, turnover-filled season means he'll likely never land another long-term deal and will be a backup at best in 2014, so this is his final chance to prove that his MVP-caliber 2010 campaign wasn't a fluke. 


2. QB Nick Foles

The 2012 third-round pick actually put up better numbers than Vick with less support in a relief role later in his rookie season, but Foles still failed to stand out to enough of a degree to earn the full-time starting job. And nowadays, young quarterbacks aren't given a lot of time to adjust. So if Foles can't emerge in 2013, he'll probably never have a chance to become a franchise quarterback in Philly. 

Is Foles a solid backup or a potential franchise leader? We'll probably have an answer to that question by the end of October.


3. OLB Brandon Graham

Graham had a superb third season, but now the Eagles have completely changed their defensive scheme and the pass-rushing specialist is battling with Trent Cole and Connor Barwin for a chance to start in a 3-4 outside linebacker role. 

His trajectory is pointing upwards after the former first-round pick was Pro Football Focus's second-highest rated 4-3 defensive end in 2012, but new circumstances could stunt Graham's growth in 2013. He's only 25 years old and will have one more year on his rookie contract to recover if he slips up this season, but we'll likely find out this year if Graham's going to become a star.


4. OLB Connor Barwin

Barwin signed a six-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, despite the fact his sack total dropped from 11.5 in 2011 to three in his final season with the Texans. That might have had to do with the way he was utilized, but he'll still have to pick up his game to maintain a starting role ahead of either Graham or Trent Cole and to live up to that contract.

Graham was a first-round pick of Howie Roseman's and Cole is getting huge bucks, so it won't be an easy battle. Throw in that only $8 million of his deal is guaranteed and this really is a prove-it season for the 26-year-old former second-round pick.


5. OLB Trent Cole

Was last year a fluke or is Cole declining? With a four-year, $55.25 million contract extension in toe and his 31st birthday on the horizon, Cole had arguably his worst season since coming into the league in 2005. 

The pressure increases this year, because Mr. Consistent now has to adjust to a brand-new role in Philly's hybrid 3-4 scheme while fending off Graham and Barwin. Cole might make a lot of money, but he can be cut for a relatively cheap price next spring. So if the veteran can't increase his sack total from three to the double-digit range in 2013, don't expect the Eagles to keep him around. 


6. S Kenny Phillips

Phillips' case is frustrating because the guy is so damn talented and should only be entering his prime at the age of 26, but knee injuries derailed two of his five season with the Giants, who didn't feel the risk was worth the potential reward when the former first-round pick became a free agent this past spring.

The Eagles rolled the dice, but it's only a one-year, $2 million deal, giving Phillips a chance to prove that his knee isn't going to plague him for the remainder of his career. If it isn't a factor in 2013 and he can stay on the field, the previously putrid Philly secondary will receive a huge boost and Phillips will be in for a nice payday next offseason.


7. WR DeSean Jackson

Jackson is also coming off a down season. He missed five games due to injury and scored only twice in 11 outings. Now, the 26-year-old will either recover or continue to fade in Chip Kelly's new offense. 

As PhillyMag.com's Tim McManus points out, the five-year deal Jackson signed a year ago doesn't call for him to receive any guaranteed money beyond this upcoming season, which means Jackson is—for all intents and purposes—entering a contract year.