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Predicting Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Lineup After 1st Wave of Free Agency

Andrew KulpContributor IMarch 19, 2014

Predicting Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Lineup After 1st Wave of Free Agency

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    What does the Philadelphia Eagles’ projected starting lineup look like in 2014 after the first week of free agency? As it turns out, probably not a whole lot different than it did at the end of last season.

    The Eagles’ big moves during the NFL’s spending period were limited to safety, where the club went out and added Malcolm Jenkins. Otherwise, the front office focused on re-signing and extending most of its own players, which means other than the draft picks and trades, it will be status quo in Philly.

    Not that that’s a bad thing entirely. After all, head coach Chip Kelly guided this roster to a 10-6 record in 2013, his first season on the sidelines. With another draft, a few notable free-agent additions and the quarterback situation seemingly settled, this roster certainly stands to be improved.

    Just don’t expect anything wildly different. There will be competition at a few spots for sure, but as you’ll see, what you saw at the end of last season is largely what you’re going to get.

Quarterback

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Nick Foles

    This time last year, there weren’t many people willing to give Foles a fighting chance to be Kelly’s starting quarterback. Now, he enters 2014 as the unquestioned leader of the offense.

    Perhaps it’s unrealistic for Foles to sustain last season’s 29-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio or unfair to expect him to lead the league in passer rating again. However, anything even approaching that production likely cements the 25-year-old’s status as Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future.

    While it’s not wholly untrue the Eagles have left themselves some wiggle room with regard to Foles as their franchise QB, he would have to take a massive step back in ’14 for the organization to consider a different direction. I don’t see that happening.

Running Back

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    LeSean McCoy

    Few backs were even in a class with the NFL’s leading rusher in ’13. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson may be the best pure runner in the league, while Jamaal Charles for Kansas City and Matt Forte for Chicago rival McCoy for the distinction of top do-it-all back.

    If we go strictly by the numbers, McCoy stood alone. His 1,607 yards on the ground were 268 more than the runner-up, and he led the league in yards from scrimmage as well.

    Want to know the really crazy part? The two-time All-Pro is only 1,065 yards away from becoming the franchise’s all-time leading rusher—and he only turns 26 in July. All hail LeSean McCoy!

Wide Receiver

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    Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

    DeSean Jackson

    Trade rumors are intensifying around the three-time Pro Bowler coming off of a career year. CSNPhilly.com’s Derrick Gunn is now reporting the Eagles could unload Jackson for as little as a third-round pick this offseason.

    However, until he is officially traded, I am forecasting Jackson will be in the starting lineup. While Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com raised concerns over the receiver’s fit in the locker room and disputes with position coaches, it’s hard to see the team parting with his 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns from ’13 for so little in return.

    If management is as fed up with Jackson’s antics as is believed, his departure this offseason remains a possibility. That being said, trading him now would turn a position of strength into a rather large question mark.

     

    Riley Cooper

    Cooper is coming off of a decent season while filling in for an injured Jeremy Maclin as the offense’s No. 2 receiver. The 2010 fifth-round pick was not a high-volume target, hauling in just 47 passes. However, his 17.8 yards per catch was good for third in the NFL.

    The fact is it’s highly unlikely Cooper can sustain such a high average—a number that fluctuates from year to year for most receivers—so it remains to be seen whether he will be an effective of a deep threat going forward. As long as both Jackson and Maclin are around, though, he should have little trouble drawing favorable matchups.

     

    Jeremy Maclin

    If Jackson is dealt, Maclin would slide into the role of No. 1 receiver. Although he’s never posted a 1,000-yard campaign before, he certainly possesses the talent. A first-round pick in 2009, the 26-year-old pulled down 70 receptions for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in his second season.

    Maclin is coming off of a torn ACL, but that’s not the career death sentence it once was. Assuming Jackson does return, Maclin might be best-suited for the role of the primary slot receiver, but all three of the Birds’ pass-catchers should have opportunities to line up outside the numbers.

Tight End

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Brent Celek

    Some might mistake Celek’s decrease in production in ’13 as a sign the tight end is on the decline. While there was less volume in terms of yards and receptions, the seven-year veteran’s 15.7 yards-per-catch average was three full yards higher than his career average.

    Most of all, Celek distinguished himself as a blocker last season. Kelly once referred to him as a sixth member of the offensive line after a game. For that reason, Celek will continue to play a huge role in the offense.

     

    Zach Ertz

    Expect the Eagles to use a lot more two-tight end sets in ’14 with Ertz’s rapid development. The second-round pick out of Stanford had a monster December, posting 15 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. With his size (6’5”, 249 lbs) and route-running ability, Ertz figures to become a key cog in the offense moving forward.

Offensive Line

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Jason Peters

    Peters signed a four-year contract extension that runs through 2018, ensuring the All-Pro isn’t going anywhere for awhile. Although he wasn’t quite as dominant as pre-Achilles-rupture Peters, he was still considered the best left tackle in the league last year.

     

    Evan Mathis

    Mathis was finally recognized for his phenomenal work at left guard in ’13, earning All-Pro honors. The nine-year veteran turns 33 this year, but because he’s such a flawless technician, he could continue to remain effective for a long time to come.

     

    Jason Kelce

    Without a doubt, one of the smartest moves the Eagles made this offseason was extending Kelce through 2020. He earned the highest cumulative score among all centers from metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription only) in ‘13 in just his third season in the league. Kelce is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets right now and a perfect fit for the offense.

     

    Todd Herremans

    Herremans struggled early last season but had built-in excuses playing right guard for the first time and alongside a rookie right tackle to boot. He settled in nicely as the year went along, though, and should remain a solid option for the Birds for at least a little while longer.

     

    Lane Johnson

    Johnson experienced his share of “welcome to the NFL” moments in ’13, but by the end of the season, it was easy to forget the Eagles were playing a rookie at right tackle. Needless to say, the future is very bright for last year’s fourth overall draft pick.

Defensive Line

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Fletcher Cox

    Any fears that Cox would be wasted at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme should’ve been eased somewhat last season. The 12th overall pick from 2012 is probably still better-suited in a 4-3 alignment that allows him to get up the field on every play, but he still registered 3.0 sacks learning a new defense.

    Whether Cox can take the next step and become a truly dominant force at his new position will be seen in year two. At the very least, he’s an effective defender who can anchor Philadelphia’s defensive line for years to come.

     

    Bennie Logan

    A lot of people have been quick to dismiss Logan as the Eagles’ nose tackle of the future, but he performed quite capably in his rookie season. General manager Howie Roseman explained to Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com that the team believes Logan can get up to 320 pounds.

    Are there bigger nose tackles? Obviously, but there are plenty of examples of effective centerpieces at that weight. Don’t rule out Logan as developing into exactly what the Birds need in the middle of their defense.

     

    Cedric Thornton

    Thornton came from nowhere to become one of the league’s best run-stuffers in ’13. Unfortunately, that’s about all he was good for. Formerly an undrafted free agent, the second-year vet offers next to nothing in the way of a pass rush at defensive end.

    Luckily, the Birds have the perfect situational player in Vinny Curry to provide that.

Linebacker

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Trent Cole

    You couldn’t describe Cole’s transition to outside linebacker as anything less than a success. The two-time Pro Bowler was effective against the run, not a complete liability, and by the end of the season, the pass rush came around. Cole registered 8.0 sacks, all over the Eagles’ final eight games.

    Cole turns 32 this year, so it’s definitely time to start seeking a replacement. The defense should be able to squeeze one last quality year out of him, though, before his cap hit increases to in excess of $10 million in 2015, according to EaglesCap.com.

     

    DeMeco Ryans

    Ryans arrived in Philadelphia in 2012 under the cloud that he was no longer a three-down interior linebacker. Granted, he may no longer be ideal in that role as he is on the verge of turning 30, but the two-time Pro Bowler’s veteran savvy allows him to be effective in all situations.

    The former Houston Texan actually set career highs in ’13 with 4.0 sacks and two interceptions, and matched another with seven pass breakups. It’s definitely time the Eagles start seeking a replacement, but they can easily get by with Ryans for another season.

     

    Mychal Kendricks

    The second-year interior linebacker has his faults. His tackling needs work, and at 5’11”, he can get lost in coverage against bigger tight ends. That being said, Kendricks flashed the ability to become a dynamic playmaker in ’13. Achieving 4.0 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles is a strong line for a second-year player in a new scheme. Could bigger things be on the horizon?

     

    Connor Barwin

    Barwin turned out to be a great fit for the Eagles’ scheme. The five-year vet was a beast against the run and had no problem dropping into coverage with regularity—more than any other 3-4 outside linebacker in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only).

    Gone are the days when Barwin would rack up double-digit sacks, as he did for the Houston Texans in 2011. He’s still an effective pass-rusher, though, getting to the quarterback for 5.0 last season. The man can do it all, which is what made him such a fantastic free-agent signing last offseason in the first place.

Cornerback

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Cary Williams

    Williams is far from a shutdown corner, but he was serviceable last season. The seven-year veteran made up for his lack of speed by conceding some underneath routes. Hey, it’s less-than-ideal, but it's still better than getting beat for big plays down the field.

    Signed from the Baltimore Ravens to a three-year deal last offseason, Williams’ base salary of $4.75 million recently became guaranteed, according to EaglesCap.com. That would seem to indicate his role in the defense is locked up for at least one more season.

     

    Bradley Fletcher

    The “other” free-agent addition at cornerback from last offseason, Fletcher turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in ‘13. The St. Louis Rams exile demonstrated consistently tight coverage in all areas of the field, finishing the year tied for 17th with 15 pass breakups in 13 games played. The 27-year-old is arguably the defense’s best outside cover man at this point.

     

    Brandon Boykin

    General manager Howie Roseman informed Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com that the organization views Boykin as a “slot specialist.” While the third-year player certainly possesses the skill set to be effective on the perimeter, you can’t argue with what he’s done on the inside in two seasons as a pro.

    In ’13, Boykin finished tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions, despite playing roughly 50 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. That’s incredible when you stop to think about it. Boykin is an awesome weapon to have, although you worry he might not be satisfied in such a limited role.

Safety

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Malcolm Jenkins

    A free-agent contract worth $8.5 million guaranteed ensures the former New Orleans Saint will hold down one of the safety spots in Philadelphia in ’14. While it wasn’t the glamorous signing fans were hoping for, Jenkins’ versatility made for a great fit.

    The Eagles use their safeties in a number of different roles, one of which is man-to-man coverage. A converted cornerback, Jenkins is comfortable matching up against a wide receiver or tight end, yet can play close to the line of scrimmage as well.

     

    Nate Allen

    This is without a doubt the most wide-open spot on the team. It could easily go to Earl Wolff, who performed well in six starts as a rookie in ’13. Another possibility is a high draft pick could come in and win the job in training camp.

    For now, my money is on Allen, who was re-signed to a one-year deal on Monday. The team made him no promises, but he already has a leg up on the competition, having started every game at safety for the Eagles last season and doing satisfactory albeit unremarkable work.

    There’s even a chance he improves. Allen has played under four different defensive coordinators through four NFL seasons, so there’s something to be said for how lack of continuity may have stunted his development. We’ll see.

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