The Philadelphia Eagles have an offseason to build upon the 10-6 mark that Chip Kelly put up in his first year as head coach in the National Football League. The team set franchise records in points scored and total yards gained, and 10 of the 11 players on offense are signed through next season.
The organization will need to heavily address the defense this spring. Despite a unit that overachieved immensely under first-year coordinator Billy Davis, there is no bonafide star on the defense. The Eagles could conceivably use upgrades at a handful of positions.
Between free agency and the NFL draft, here’s a ranking of the positional groups, beginning with the ones the team needs to address the most and counting down to the most stable.
Every year, the Philadelphia Eagles need a safety. Most offseasons, the franchise makes a move to stabilize the unit, whether it be a half-hearted attempt such as Marlin Jackson or Macho Harris or a high investment such as second-rounder Nate Allen.
Regardless, the team has seen no improvement over the years. Patrick Chung will likely be released after a poor 2013 campaign. If he’s re-signed, Allen is best suited as a backup. Earl Wolff was a fifth-round pick and may be stretched as a starter.
The organization has a cautious philosophy in regards to paying top money to a single player, but safety is a position that warrants it. The free-agent class certainly isn’t lacking, either. Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd is the cream of the crop, but Philly would improve with T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner or Bernard Pollard as well.
GM Howie Roseman will have to weigh the financial implications to see if he can keep the team under the salary cap. Byrd will probably cost close to $10 million per season, while Ward may be obtained for closer to $7 million, and Whitner for about $5 million.
Even if the team signs a big-name free agent, drafting a safety in the top three rounds wouldn’t hurt either. It’s time the Eagles finally put forth a defensive backfield that boasts a talented safety.
The Philadelphia Eagles got pretty good results out of Trent Cole and Connor Barwin in 2013, yet the organization could still use an upgrade at this position. Cole transitioned to a 3-4 defense for the first time in his career, and registered nine sacks in his final eight games. Still, he’s entering his 10th NFL season and is due to make a $5 million base salary, which could make him a veteran release.
Barwin is a talented all-around player who can get to the quarterback and play in pass coverage. Still, he picked up just five sacks, and the Eagles need a linebacker who can get relentless pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Brian Orakpo is the top player available in free agency, but he will command a high figure in free agency. The best option would probably be to draft a pass-rusher in the first round such as Kony Ealy or Trent Murphy.
Like outside linebacker, cornerback was a position of strength in 2013. Cary Williams played well in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, and second-year nickel back Brandon Boykin looks like a future Pro Bowler after picking off six passes this past season.
There’s no depth though, and the secondary was exposed in the playoffs when Roc Carmichael had to go in for Williams for a play. The Eagles could use a shutdown corner, and they would have to spend a first-round pick for this player. Ideal options include Darqueze Dennard, Bradley Roby and Justin Gilbert.
This position can easily be addressed in free agency if the Philadelphia Eagles simply re-sign Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin. Each is a talented player and could be brought back at a reasonable price.
Cooper broke out in his contract year, demonstrating an unbelievable rapport with starting quarterback Nick Foles. Considering Cooper never had any success before Foles took over, Cooper may be retained at a deal around four years at $4 million per season.
Maclin is a former first-round pick who has managed to be productive despite never reaching 1,000 yards in a season. He tore his ACL and missed all of 2013, which means he may have to sign a one or two-year deal to prove he is still a playmaker.
If the Eagles bring back both of these players, it’s the ideal scenario. If Philadelphia is able to bring back only one of the two, Chip Kelly may draft a receiver (Kelvin Benjamin) in the first round.
The Philadelphia Eagles needed a nose tackle when they switched to a 3-4 formation, and they got one when they drafted Bennie Logan in the third round.
Logan is a slightly undersized player who filled in well when Isaac Sopoaga was traded to the New England Patriots. Logan isn’t quite the ideal 0-technique nose tackle, and the Eagles may look to upgrade this position in the offseason.
Should Chip Kelly get another nose tackle, he has solid depth in Logan. The best scenario would be that Notre Dame’s Louis Nix is there when the Eagles pick 22nd. He’s a monster of a man who can plug the middle and require double teams on nearly every play.
Alex Henery isn’t the worst kicker in the world, as many Philadelphia Eagles fans believe, but he’s nothing too special. He’s set to become a free agent after 2014, and he better play pretty well to come back to the team. In fact, he’s no guarantee to even make next season’s roster.
Henery has limited leg strength. He has made just two field goals in his career of over 50 yards. Last year, Pro Football Focus rated Henery 28th among kickers in average distance per kickoff (64.7). Down the stretch, Henery’s leg strength was so poor that the Eagles had to constantly alter their game plan to disguise his flaws.
Henery does have the sixth-best career field goal percentage, and he is pretty automatic under 45 yards. But the team may want to bring in an undrafted free agent at least for camp competition.
Chip Kelly used DeSean Jackson heavily as a punt returner in 2013, although Jackson didn’t break any for scores (except for one that was called back because of a penalty). Damaris Johnson handled the rest of the punt returning duties, and Johnson and Brandon Boykin split the kick returning responsibilities.
Jackson is a fine punt returner, but the Philadelphia Eagles could use an upgrade at kick returner. Boykin is valuable enough as a cornerback that he should focus primarily on that position. Ted Ginn is a free agent, and he would fit in well as a return man.
The Philadelphia Eagles have themselves a pretty impressive pair of defensive ends. Fletcher Cox was a 2012 first-round pick as a tackle, and he transitioned smoothly to 5-technique end. Cedric Thornton emerged as a quality run-stopping end in ’13 and will undoubtedly be back as he’s just a restricted free agent.
Behind those two players, the team has pass-rushing specialist Vinny Curry, a player who got to the quarterback with ease when he saw action. The Eagles could use another lineman adding depth, but it isn’t an urgent need.
For now, the Philadelphia Eagles are set at guard. Evan Mathis is an All-Pro and the unquestioned best guard in the business. Todd Herremans is a veteran who struggled for the first half of 2013 but regained his form as the season went on. And he was coming back from a devastating injury he suffered the previous season.
Unless Herremans becomes a veteran release this summer, the only upgrade the Eagles could use is a player to add depth to the position.
Mychal Kendricks was one of the better 3-4 inside linebackers in the NFL in 2013, especially down the stretch. He seemed to make a big play every game, and he became the first player in 15 seasons with at least four sacks, four fumble recoveries, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He still misses too many tackles and struggles in pass coverage, but he’s a future Pro Bowl player.
DeMeco Ryans is on the wrong side of 30 years old, but he’s still a productive player. He started all 16 games in 2013, led the team with 111 tackles, and recorded four sacks to go with two interceptions. He’s also a defensive captain and team leader. Unless he is released because of his high ’14 cap number ($6.8 million), this position is set for next season.
Re-signing Donnie Jones has to be a no-brainer. The veteran punter was one of the finest in the league in 2013, winning consecutive NFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards down the stretch.
Jones is just 33 years old, which means he has plenty of NFL life left given the position he plays. Jones set a franchise record for punts inside the 20 last season, and he warrants a long-term deal with the Philadelphia Eagles.
It will be interesting to see what the Philadelphia Eagles do with Jason Peters after the 2014 season. He’s set to become a free agent, but the 32-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down. He was just elected to his sixth Pro Bowl, and he’s a perfect fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, given his natural athleticism and success as both a run- and pass-blocker.
Last year’s first-round pick, Lane Johnson, saw expected growing pains as a rookie but also potential that he can become one of the best tackles in the business. Johnson has tight end speed, and he could move to left tackle in ’15 if Peters leaves. The Eagles could use a late draft pick to develop as future depth.
Chip Kelly actually has too many good tight ends on his team. Brent Celek is on the decline, but he’s still a valuable player who can catch passes and block very well. Zach Ertz is a blossoming star with Pro Bowl selections in his future. That meant James Casey didn’t see much action in 2013, and he won’t be back with the team given a $3.9 million salary in ’14.
Behind Celek and Ertz, the Philadelphia Eagles will need just a reserve tight end to play on special teams and in three-tight end sets.
All talk about the Philadelphia Eagles drafting a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft is not at all silly. In fact, they probably will do it.
But it will be a mid- or late-round player, one who can learn the offense for several years, a la Matt Barkley. Nick Foles is entrenched as next year’s starter, and he should be after a tremendous ’13 season that saw Foles put up the third-best passer rating in league history.
Michael Vick won’t be back, which means Matt Barkley has a chance to be the top backup in ’14. That means Chip Kelly will have to find his third quarterback through the NFL draft or free agency, and considering Kelly is a quarterback guru, he will probably want to draft one.
LeSean McCoy is the best player on the Philadelphia Eagles, and he’s coming off arguably the best season of his career. He’s the focal point of Chip Kelly’s offense, and McCoy could be even better in 2014 behind an offensive line that will all be back.
Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are a solid group of backups, with Polk actually pushing for the top role behind McCoy. Kelly may sign a low-profile running back in free agency to provide depth, and he may spend a seventh-round pick on a back with talent for the system. But running back should remain the least of Kelly’s worries entering next season.