The Philadelphia Eagles appear to be in remarkably great shape as they get set to embark on the offseason.
Most of the starters from a 10-6 division champion are already under contract and penciled in for next season, which means the front office can focus its efforts on building upon the foundation that’s already in place.
Yet as always, the Birds still face a number of difficult questions this offseason: What are their blueprints for free agency and the draft? Which of their own free agents will they re-sign? Who is holding out? Who will demand a trade? Is the franchise quarterback truly in place?
With a long winter setting in, we examined all of these issues and more as we found the seven biggest questions facing the Eagles right now. Most of the questions won’t surprise you—but the answers might.
The Eagles could be in the market for a veteran backup to Nick Foles this offseason, and who better than Michael Vick? He knows Chip Kelly’s offense, he’s still an incredibly gifted athlete and he’s great in the locker room.
Vick told reporters he would be open to returning to Philadelphia next season, but, an impending free agent, the four-time Pro Bowler has made it no secret that his first choice is to start. The question is will he be in another team’s sights?
At first blush, it may seem like a no-brainer, but Vick is way out of his prime. There aren’t going to be many teams out there interested in a 34-year-old quarterback with two career playoff wins.
And even teams that would want Vick as their starter are only interested for the short term at best. Is any starting job regardless of quality of team or situation better than a backup role with the Eagles?
Probably, if for no other reason than the money. No doubt, there will be some franchise that thinks Vick can be the bridge and even help groom its quarterback of the future, and perhaps sell a few extra tickets in the process. If the Eagles intend to sign a veteran backup, it sounds like they’ll need to look elsewhere.
The Eagles currently have a number of younger players who are either blocked by veterans, are not ideal fits for the current scheme or both.
One in particular could be moved this offseason.
Brandon Graham is coming up on the final year of his rookie contract, and he’s already expressed his desire for more playing time. Graham was stuck behind Trent Cole at outside linebacker, playing on roughly a quarter of the defense’s snaps season. He recorded only 3.5 sacks, but according to the metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription only), he was an exceptionally productive pass-rusher in his limited playing time.
Graham could probably be an every-down player for another team, though, particularly in a 4-3 alignment which suits his talents better. The former 13th overall pick is only 25 years old, so somebody may be willing to part with a late pick in 2014—let’s say a fifth-rounder—to take a flyer on a young, quality player.
Other players who are blocked on the depth chart right now are running back Bryce Brown and defensive end Vinny Curry.
Brown likely has more value as LeSean McCoy’s backup than the team would receive in a trade.
Curry played about 30 percent of the defensive snaps this season, although he got more consistent playing time at the end of the year. That playing time could continue to rise in year three; plus he’s still under contract for two more years, so the Eagles have time.
It would be wise to get something for Graham while they still can, however, because there’s no way he’s coming back a year from now.
DeSean Jackson caught some grief from fans as soon as the season was over after expressing his desire for a new contract. When pressed by reporters, the two-time Pro Bowler admitted he feels “deserving” of a new deal just two years in to a five-year pact.
Jackson is scheduled to earn $12.5 million in 2014, and over $30 million through the life of the contract. The average salary over the life of contract is the seventh-highest in the NFL.
However, in addition to a pay raise, Jackson mentioned security as one of the chief issues. None of the money on the back end of the deal is guaranteed, so the Eagles could theoretically cut him at any time with no penalty against the salary cap.
According to Jeff McLane for The Philadelphia Inquirer, sources say a reworking is “unlikely” at this current juncture, so the question is will Jackson become a distraction?
I wouldn’t count on it. While Jackson has a gripe to a small extent, at the end of the day he’s still owed $12.5 million next season, so it would be foolish to hold out. Plus, Jackson even said he didn’t intend to become a distraction and later backed off of his original comments somewhat.
We’ve seen Jackson sulk in a contract year before, but he was legitimately underpaid at the time. As much as he may want more money right now, he’s not really in any position to complain.
The 27-year-old’s newfound maturity and work ethic impressed the Eagles' front office this season. So it would be surprising to say the least if he did anything to tarnish his image.
With Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson all free agents, that leaves just Earl Wolff, Patrick Chung and Keelan Johnson signed through at least 2014 at safety. Chung was awful and will be on the roster bubble come this summer, while Johnson spent almost the entire season inactive or on the practice squad.
That leaves just Wolff as the only returning safety who looked competent in 2013. Clearly, this is something the Eagles will have to address.
Re-signing Allen is always an option. His season got off to a rocky start, but he was solid in the second half. If the Eagles are going to spend money though, and that was the fourth-year player’s ceiling, why not seek an upgrade?
This year’s crop of free agents is loaded with talent under 30 at the safety position, from Pro Bowlers such as the Bills’ Jairus Byrd and 49ers’ Donte Whitner to up-and-comers such as T.J. Ward of Cleveland and Mike Mitchell of the Panthers. If Allen is back, so be it, but on the surface, any of these seem like better options.
The Eagles could look to the draft as well, although, if we have 2012 fifth-round pick Wolff penciled in as a starter in his second season, he’s probably best paired with a veteran.
Exactly who will be playing safety for the Birds next season is a mystery. Luckily, there is no shortage of options.
Yes and no.
The only upset here would be if both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are allowed to get away. Signing both of them however might prove challenging, however, as there figures to be plenty of suitors on the open market. They’re 26 and among the top free-agent wide receivers available.
The going rate for a free-agent wide receiver these days seems to start around $5 million per year for 3-5 years and goes up from there. The Eagles already have $30 million invested in DeSean Jackson over the next three seasons, so if they signed both Maclin and Cooper, they would be tying up a lot of money in one position—especially considering one might be on the sidelines half the time.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription only), Jason Avant played roughly 70 percent of the snaps in 2013, but his playing time decreased in the second half of the season as rookie tight end Zach Ertz got on the field more. It’s no secret the Eagles would like to go two tight ends more and should continue to do so as Ertz develops.
So there really is no need to stress the club’s available cap space with three handsomely paid wide receivers. The likely move here is Philadelphia re-signs Maclin, the more talented of the two.
The fanbase has fallen in love with Cooper because of his size, but he doesn’t run particularly well and has trouble getting open. 25 percent of his production in 2013 came against the Oakland Raiders, and over the final seven games (including playoffs) he averaged 3.6 receptions, 49.7 yards and 0.3 touchdowns per game.
Those numbers are completely replaceable, especially with Maclin back in the lineup. Either way, expect the Eagles to keep only one then look to the draft for prospects.
Perhaps it would be more apt to ask “what” the Eagles will draft with the No. 22 selection in the first round of May’s draft. Narrowing the choice down to a handful of names this early in the process would be nearly impossible, but based on team needs, we can take a stab at which position.
Or can we? Birds general manager Howie Roseman has stated numerous times since the disastrous 2011 draft class that the Eagles are done selecting based on need. Of the 11 players chosen that year, it appears only sixth-rounder Jason Kelce is going to pan out.
Still, there are certain positions we can probably rule out, such as quarterback and running back. Almost anything else is probably on the table, though.
If we had to narrow it down, the three areas the Eagles are most likely to address in the first round are outside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver. Those are all places where there are starters penciled in through next season, but beyond 2014?
Why not safety, where Philadelphia needs help right now. The safety class isn’t thought to be very deep, particularly at the top. Plus, as mentioned in a previous slide, the front office may be able to fill this hole through free agency.
OLB, CB and WR are all places where a first-round pick could conceivably come in and contribute right away yet not necessarily be relied upon to start from day one. That seems like the best way to approach the draft with the No. 22 pick.
It’s hard to believe anybody could be left wondering about Nick Foles’ future after the historic season he just completed. His 119.2 passer rating was the third-highest mark of all time, while 27 touchdowns to two interceptions is one of the most incredible quarterback statistics I’ve ever heard of.
That said, reporters felt like the question must be asked of Chip Kelly at season’s end, so what did the head coach have to say about Foles’ status via PhiladelphiaEagles.com? “If the Eagles are a franchise, which we are, then Nick is our quarterback.”
There you have it...for now.
Foles will be the quarterback in 2014, that much is certain. It’s worth noting, however, that the organization doesn’t need to commit to anything beyond that. Under rules set in the collective bargaining agreement, Foles can’t receive an extension from the Eagles until after his third NFL season, which means the team has another year to evaluate the 2012 third-round pick.
While it will be difficult for Foles to duplicate his past season’s numbers, he’s shown more than enough to take the reins of the offense unopposed next season.
Whether or not he’s “the guy,” though, depends on what he does with them from here.