The offseason is officially underway for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means we’re going to spend a lot time talking about free agents and the draft until training camp finally gets here in July. But when we’re playing fantasy GM, seldom do we think about how the club should go about building out the back end of the roster.
Every year, there are a number of veteran players who will head into the training camp on the roster bubble. For some, the future is a foregone conclusion. Others may have one final opportunity to change their destiny and stick in Philadelphia or the NFL a bit longer.
We know already which ones will have a battle on their hands come the opening of another camp at the NovaCare Complex. Whether it’s because they’re aging, their contracts will soon be up or they’re just not cutting it, the following eight players will have to show head coach Chip Kelly something this summer in order to stick around for another season.
In terms of production, Jason Avant is coming off of his worst season since 2008. For somebody who played on roughly 70 percent of the offensive snaps according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), 38 receptions, 447 yards and two touchdowns are fairly disappointing totals.
Avant will be 31 next season, and it’s safe to say he’s slowing down. He only has one year remaining on his contract, so after eight seasons, it’s time the organization begins thinking about life without him.
His playing time was already on the decline by the end of the season with the emergence of tight end Zach Ertz. If the Eagles re-sign both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper—perhaps unlikely, but possible—Avant would almost never see the field. The team could look to the draft to find another receiver as well.
Avant is still a competent receiver and blocker out of the slot, but he’s replaceable. It will actually be a minor upset if the Birds don’t at least look at somebody else to take over his role.
Perhaps Jason Avant’s replacement is already on the roster.
A lot of fans have probably long since forgotten about Arrelious Benn, who missed the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL suffered at training camp. The Eagles sent a sixth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Bucs during the offseason to acquire Benn, which means they were at least interested in giving the 25-year-old wide receiver a look.
Benn’s biggest problem has always been staying healthy though. Various injuries marred his time in Tampa Bay, and the 2010 second-round pick has just four receptions over the past two seasons.
Philadelphia quickly signed Benn to a short extension upon his arrival, and he has one year remaining on his deal. The team likes his size (6’2”) and speed (4.4 40-time), but his first test will be making it through camp without coming down with a stubbed toe or contracting polio.
Even if Benn manages to stay healthy, he’s not somebody the Eagles will be relying on. There will be competition for those fourth and fifth wide receiver spots, and it’s hard to imagine him winning at the moment.
Damaris Johnson played just 53 snaps at wide receiver this season. To put that number in perspective, Jeff Maehl played 129.
Johnson also lost his job as the club’s primary kick and punt returner midway through the year. He flashed potential, but was an adventure back there to say the least.
Given that he’s no longer a viable option in the return game, and the coaching staff already didn’t have any use for him in the offense, Johnson is less on the roster bubble and more camp body. He can provide competition, but that’s likely all.
An undrafted player out of Alabama, Square kind of came from nowhere to make the 53-man roster last summer. He was mostly inactive until Isaac Sopoaga was traded, then played sparingly behind nose tackle Bennie Logan.
Square was largely invisible, registering four tackles and a batted pass in 10 games.
Obviously, there must be something the team likes about him to make the roster out of camp and stick the entire season. He’ll have a chance to stay on next season as a developmental prospect/reserve lineman.
Nose tackle is one of those areas the Eagles might try to upgrade over the offseason though, if they’re able to. Even Logan is a bit undersized, so at 293 pounds, Square is downright small for the job. At the very least, some competition might be wise.
There were numerous complaints lodged by fans when Casey Matthews made the roster out of training camp. The convenient excuse was Chip Kelly showing favoritism towards a fellow Oregon guy, but the reality is the third-year linebacker was able to contribute on special teams.
Matthews was once again useless in defensive packages though, and by the second half of the year, the team stopped trying. When Mychal Kendricks missed time with an injury this season though, Najee Goode was the first guy off the bench.
Matthews may be expendable on the third unit as well. One of Philadelphia’s forgotten offseason signings was Jason Phillips, who was signed from the Carolina Panthers largely as a special teams ace. Philips tore his ACL in training camp, but figures to be back in the mix in 2014.
On the final year of his deal, Matthews seems like a lost cause defensively, and with Goode, Phillips, Jake Knott and Emmanuel Acho all on the roster, the Birds seem to have the market cornered on developmental prospects at interior linebacker—and that’s if they don’t draft somebody. It’s going to be an uphill battle for the 2011 fourth-round pick.
With Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin, the Eagles appear to be doing just fine at cornerback right now. The only problem is Roc Carmichael is the first guy up if one of them gets injured.
Acquired from the Houston Texans practice squad midseason, Carmichael performed admirably in two starts and several reserve appearances this season. It wasn’t long before opposing quarterbacks realized they could attack the third-year veteran.
A 2011 fourth-round pick, Carmichael is still developing some of the fundamentals of the position, such as turning your head around to find the ball. Despite limited playing time, he managed to get flagged twice this year for interference penalties.
The Birds will undoubtedly be looking to bolster their depth at corner in their offseason, likely fairly early in the draft. Carmichael could maybe make the roster as a fifth cornerback, but that depends entirely on just how much competition the front office brings in.
The Eagles have just two safeties under contract right now for 2014 (excluding Keelan Johnson, who spent most of this season on the practice squad or inactive), which under normal circumstances might lead a casual observer to believe their jobs are safe. In Patrick Chung’s case, it’s far from certainty.
Signed to a free-agent deal last March, Chung was penciled in as a starter from day one, but predictably a shoulder injury derailed his season in the third week. When he finally returned full-time, the fifth-year veteran was sieve-like.
Chung was directly responsible on touchdown passes of 32 yards or more in four of the Eagles’ final six regular-season games, and although he may fancy himself a big hitter, missed tackles ran rampant. His only redeeming quality was versatility, but being ineffective as a nickel corner or blitzer doesn’t do much for me.
The issue is whether the Eagles can find enough quality safeties between now and the start of next season to fill out the roster without Chung. They need to carry at least four, which means they would need to find three more to even consider moving on.
The front office will try their hardest though. Rest assured, Chung will be fighting tooth and nail for his spot at training camp this summer.
Chip Kelly wouldn’t outright say Alex Henery’s job was in jeopardy, but the head coach didn’t exactly give his kicker a vote of confidence, either. When pressed about Henery’s job security following the Eagles’ 26-24 first-round playoff exit—a loss in which he missed 48-yard field goal badly—Chip told reporters, “We’ll address that moving forward.”
2013 was just a continuation of Henery’s disappointing pro career. He hit a career-low 82 percent of his field-goal attempts, which is just awful for a kicker who is seldom trusted to try one from beyond 50 yards. He doesn’t make up for it by booming his kickoffs for touchbacks, coming in below league average in that category as well.
About the only thing Henery has going for him is the front office invested a fourth-round draft pick on David Akers’ replacement in 2010. With one year remaining on his rookie contract though, Henery’s time is running out.
At the very least, the Eagles will bring in competition for Henery this summer, and unless he’s drastically improved, it’s difficult to see him winning. There may not be a worse place kicker employed by an NFL team at this moment.