Whether the Philadelphia Eagles make the playoffs in 2013 or not, the organization made the right choice when it brought Chip Kelly on board.
The first-year head coach has defied his doubters, proving that his high-tempo collegiate offense really can work in the National Football League. Kelly’s Eagles have won five consecutive games, and they have a very good chance at coming away with the NFC East title. That’s a remarkable turnaround from a 4-12 team that really didn’t overhaul too many positions from last year.
Kelly seems to have found his franchise quarterback in Nick Foles, as it’s difficult to argue with a player who is 7-1 in games this season in which he’s seen significant action. The running game is thriving along with the offensive line, and first-year defensive coordinator Billy Davis is simply doing a phenomenal job with a young group of players that doesn’t have any superstars.
The Eagles have the talent to turn into a powerhouse within the division, especially since the bulk of the team is under financial control for the next several seasons. Philadelphia can still stand to upgrade at a few key positions, and making the right offseason moves can really set the franchise up for success in 2014 and beyond.
The Philadelphia Eagles have themselves a strong group of wide receivers. DeSean Jackson is no longer a one-trick pony but more of a complete wide receiver capable of making an impact even when he’s not beating defensive backs deep. He’s on pace for career bests in catches (81), receiving yards (1,361) and touchdowns (nine).
It’s vital that the Eagles bring back Jeremy Maclin to complement Jackson. Maclin has underachieved during his five seasons with the franchise, as he’s never hauled in 1,000 yards or fulfilled his status as a first-round pick. And he’s currently rehabbing from a torn ACL he suffered during the team’s preseason.
But Maclin is a playmaker, and the Chip Kelly offense seems to bring out the best in everyone. Just ask Jackson. Giving Maclin the franchise tag would allow the Eagles to verify that he is fully healthy after such a devastating injury. Should Maclin underachieve again, Philly can allow him to walk. But that’s not likely to happen.
He’s too young (25), too talented and too vital to the offense. Imagine a Nick Foles-led offense with Jackson, Maclin, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and LeSean McCoy behind that offensive line. That’s almost an unstoppable group of players. Assuming Maclin produces next season, he’s worth a long-term extension.
Before the season, no Philadelphia Eagles fan could have possibly expected the kind of numbers Riley Cooper is putting up. The fourth-year receiver has tremendous chemistry with Nick Foles, and he’s a difficult weapon for cornerbacks to defend.
Cooper is 6’4” with good speed and leaping ability, and he runs a pretty impressive fly pattern. After Week 5, Cooper ranked dead-last among starting wide receivers with eight catches.
Since then, he’s put up a 29/621/6 stat line. Project that over a full season and Cooper is a 1,200-yard receiver with 12 touchdowns. Cooper is one of the most effective in the league at gaining yards after the catch, and his chemistry with Foles is almost unmatched between any QB-WR combo.
The fact that Cooper has only excelled with Foles means he shouldn’t be worth too much on the open market. Philly should be able to re-sign him fairly cheap. A three-year deal worth $12-15 million might be enough to lock up Cooper, and if the Eagles can’t bring back Maclin, it’s even more important that Cooper returns.
I’m never a big advocator of signing a high-profile free-agent player. The Philadelphia Eagles tried that in 2011, and it backfired. Safety, in particular, is a position that can easily be overpaid in the open market; after all, look at the decline in Dashon Goldson’s production now that he’s playing behind the Tampa Bay front seven rather than the All-Pro group in San Francisco.
But several factors indicate Jairus Byrd would be a good fit in Philadelphia. First of all, it doesn’t seem likely that he returns to Buffalo. He was unable to get a long-term deal with the franchise, and it looked like the team might even shop him around.
Byrd is still just 27 years old, and he’s Pro Football Focus’s fourth-rated safety (subscription required) despite missing a handful of games due to injury. He is a fantastic cover safety, and he’s picked off three passes and limited opposing QBs to just a 46.2 completion percentage and 14.1 passer rating in 2013.
The Eagles haven’t had a quality safety since they let Brian Dawkins and then Quintin Mikell go in free agency. They’ve tried and failed with a handful of players like Nate Allen, Patrick Chung, Marlin Jackson, Kenny Phillips and Kurt Coleman. Earl Wolff may develop into a good player, but he was drafted in the fifth round, so those odds aren’t too high.
It’s time to sign a player who brings unbelievable talent with him. Philly has a developing front seven that will take the pressure off Byrd to produce. The Eagles may need to dish out close to $50 million over five seasons, but Billy Davis needs an elite defensive back to add to his players.
A case could be made that the Philadelphia Eagles have one of the worst defensive backfields in the National Football League. After all, the team entered Monday dead-last in passing yards allowed, on pace to finish among the worst teams ever in that statistic.
Then again, teams have thrown 31 more times against Philly than any other team, and the Eagles are respectable in average yards allowed per passing attempt (7.2) and touchdowns (20). Cary Williams has played surprisingly well, and Brandon Boykin may be a future Pro Bowler.
But a team can never have too many cornerbacks, and there’s no shutdown corner out of the lot. Adding a player from the first round of the NFL draft would give Philly a top talent to match up with the division’s best receivers in Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz and Pierre Garcon.
Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the logical fit, given the obvious ties to Chip Kelly’s alma mater, although players like Jason Verrett or Justin Gilbert would also be worth a late first-round pick.
If the Philadelphia Eagles are unable to sign Jairus Byrd—certainly understandable given that he will command a high-priced figure in free agency—it’s worth drafting a safety in the upper rounds. In fact, even if the organization does work out a deal for Byrd, it’s not a bad move to still pick a safety.
Nate Allen is a free agent and may be back considering he’s played fairly well as of late. But he and Earl Wolff are best suited as backups, and the ideal scenario is a young draft pick paired with a top player like Byrd.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers tried a similar methodology this past offseason with Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson and Johnthan Banks, and saw their team go from the 32nd-rated passing defense a year ago to No. 1 in interceptions this year,
Drafting a wide receiver in the third round would create quite a logjam of players at the position, given that DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jason Avant and even Arrelious Benn are all in the mix.
But Benn may have been a brief failed experiment, and there’s no guarantee that Maclin will be back. Even Jackson has a contract ($12.5 million next season) that suggests he may be a year-to-year rental for that price.
Adding a young talent via the NFL draft will give Nick Foles a receiver with whom to build chemistry from the start of his career. It’s probably best that the Philadelphia Eagles don’t take a smaller receiver, given that they already have two in Jackson and Maclin. But a handful of players that would fit are Rutgers’ Brandon Coleman (6’5”, 220), Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin (6’5”, 235), and Washington’s Kasen Williams (6’2”, 212).
Nick Foles has played well enough to be the starting quarterback in 2014. He’s 6-1 as a starter, 7-1 in games in which he’s seen significant action, and he’s compiled an unbelievable 23 total touchdowns to just one interception.
The chemistry he’s displayed with Riley Cooper is unforeseen and invaluable to the offense. Foles makes tremendous decisions with the football, and he seems to display the mentality that he doesn’t dwell on previous mistakes. And he’s even proven to be a decent threat running the football—he’s 11th among quarterbacks with 168 rushing yards.
Finding a solid backup for Foles will be key though. If the team can work out a deal to bring Michael Vick back as the No. 2 quarterback, that would be ideal. He knows the offense and actually ran it with a lot of success pre-injury. But Vick will likely want to start somewhere, as he should.
Matt Barkley has shown nothing suggesting he can play at the NFL level, and Chip Kelly can’t possibly feel comfortable inserting Barkley into the game should Foles get hurt.
Tarvaris Jackson is a mobile veteran quarterback who may appeal to Kelly, seeing as he’s going to be a free agent. Josh Freeman is another option, and given the success Kelly has had with every quarterback he’s ever coached, a player with Freeman’s skill set has to be appealing. And there’s Baltimore’s Tyrod Taylor, who is an athletic player who would need to be acquired via trade should Kelly be interested.
Regardless, backup quarterback is too important of a position to be an afterthought. Just look at the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears as examples of teams that are still in the playoff hunt despite losing their starting quarterback to injury.