Projecting Philadelphia Eagles' Depth Chart After Peak of Free Agency
The Philadelphia Eagles could put forth a very similar roster in 2014 as the one that won the division in 2013. Aside from Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson (released) and safety Patrick Chung (released as well), the team could have 20 returning starters come next September.
The free-agency period was a mild one for Philadelphia, as general manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles focused largely on retaining their own players. He re-signed his free-agent wide receivers, Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, while extending offensive linemen Jason Peters and Jason Kelce with long-term deals.
But, as for other teams' free agents, all he did was add a starting safety (Malcolm Jenkins), depth at cornerback (Nolan Carroll) and a pair of special teams players (Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos). And the surprising release of Jackson changes up the wide receiver outlook for certain.
The NFL draft will still give the Eagles an opportunity to improve their defense, but for now, here’s a glimpse at what the depth chart looks like after the early part of free agency. This factors in what position the Eagles will likely pick in the draft, so fringe players now may not be projected to make the team due to incoming draft picks.
There shouldn't be much of a dilemma about the quarterback depth chart heading into 2014.
Nick Foles is back as the unquestioned starter, following a Pro Bowl season that saw him throw an unheard-of 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Foles led the NFL in yards per attempt (9.1) and finished with the third-best single-season passer rating (119.2) in league history. Should Foles come close to duplicating his 2013 performance, he's due for a lengthy contract extension that should make him paid among the game's elite quarterbacks.
Mark Sanchez was a surprise offseason addition. When Michael Vick signed with the New York Jets, Sanchez was released and subsequently signed with the Eagles. Sanchez is a former first-round pick with playoff experience; he's actually won four road playoff games with the Jets (and played well in most of them). If Foles goes down, he should be a solid fill-in option.
Matt Barkley looks to be the third quarterback once again; he’s now one of two USC quarterbacks on the roster with a shoulder issue. Barkley had his rough spots as a rookie in 2013, but Chip Kelly has proven wonders with every quarterback he’s ever worked with, and Barkley could learn the offense for a few seasons.
G.J. Kinne is likely to be an afterthought who could again find himself on the practice squad.
Projected Depth Chart: Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, G.J. Kinne
This looks to be the strongest positional unit on the Philadelphia Eagles.
LeSean McCoy may now be the NFL’s most talented all-around running back, and he’s coming off a season in which he led the league in rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146).
Bryce Brown and Chris Polk filled the role as McCoy’s backups, averaging 4.79 yards per carry while rushing for five touchdowns in 86 attempts. They’re a solid pair, but the group got a whole lot stronger when GM Howie Roseman traded for New Orleans Saints’ multipurpose back, Darren Sproles.
Sproles looks to be a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense; he’s an undersized back who excels in the passing game, and his speed out of the backfield will make him a weapon in Kelly’s system. Sproles has caught at least 70 passes in each of the last three seasons. He’s one of just three halfbacks in history who can make that claim.
Projected Depth Chart: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk
This positional group just got a whole lot more interesting when the Philadelphia Eagles released three-time Pro Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson; this relegates former first-round pick Jeremy Maclin to the lead role despite coming off a torn ACL.
Maclin could be primed for a big season, seeing as Jackson and Riley Cooper each went through breakout campaigns in year one under Chip Kelly. Cooper is back in 2014 on a new five-year deal, except now he will have to work under greater expectations than 2013.
The depth at this unit is lacking, as Arrelious Benn, Brad Smith, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl are looking to compete for the final spots on the 53-man roster. Expect the Eagles to add a receiver in the NFL draft, likely one in the higher rounds.
Projected Depth Chart: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn, Jeff Maehl, Damaris Johnson, B.J. Cunningham, Will Murphy, Ifeanyi Momah
The Philadelphia Eagles enter 2014 with one of the league’s finer two-tight end sets. Brent Celek is an eight-year veteran who can catch passes and block well. Last year, he led all tight ends in average yards after the catch (9.0) per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Zach Ertz is poised to be a star in Chip Kelly’s offense. He will take on an increased role now that DeSean Jackson has been released. Ertz is a 2013 second-round pick who totaled 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, finishing sixth among all tight ends (minimum 30 catches) with a 13.0 yards-per-catch average, per PFF.
The team's free agent tight end from a year ago, James Casey, played very sparingly, and it seemed likely he would be an offseason release. After all, Casey is slotted to make nearly $4 million in 2014, and he saw action in just 157 snaps. That’s not a reasonable amount to pay for a player who sees fewer than 10 snaps per game.
Projected Depth Chart: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Emil Igwenagu
The Philadelphia Eagles look to enter 2014 with the exact same offensive line that was so remarkably successful a year ago. From left to right, Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Lane Johnson performed as one of the finest units in the National Football League.
The quintet started 80 of a possible 80 games together. Peters and Mathis earned AP first-team All-Pro selections. Kelce was rated by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) as the top player at his position, and he was rewarded with a six-year contract extension. Herremans performed much better in the second half of the season after he was fully healed from his 2012 injury, and Johnson looks to be a similar player to Peters.
All five players are signed through at least the 2016 campaign, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be better this coming season.
Projected Depth Chart: LT Jason Peters, LG Evan Mathis, C Jason Kelce, RG Todd Herremans, RT Lane Johnson; backups: Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, Michael Bamiro, David Molk
For now, the Philadelphia Eagles should field the same three-man front that played fairly well a year ago in defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme.
Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton were an impressive defensive end duo. Cox is the better pass-rusher of the two, and a former first-round pick with Pro Bowl potential. Thornton is a terrific run-stopper who gives way on passing downs to Vinny Curry.
Clifton Geathers has departed via free agency, and the depth on the defensive line currently consists of Damion Square, an undrafted rookie from a year ago. Look for the Eagles to add a lineman in the middle rounds of the draft, preferably one versatile enough to play both tackle and end.
Projected Depth Chart: DE Fletcher Cox, NT Bennie Logan, DE Cedric Thornton; backups: Vinny Curry, Damion Square, Brandon Bair
The Philadelphia Eagles look to employ the same starting quartet of linebackers in 2014 that they did in 2013.
Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are the outside ‘backers. Cole led the team in sacks a year ago, while Barwin was the leader on defense whose versatility allowed him to play a big role in Billy Davis’ 3-4 defense.
In the inside, Mychal Kendricks is entering his third season as a starter. He possesses 4.47 speed and made big plays down the stretch in 2013. Kendricks has the ability to be a Pro Bowl player one day. DeMeco Ryans is the other inside linebacker. His high salary ($6.8 million base salary) in 2014 is a lot to pay for an aging player who doesn’t cover as well as he used to, but for now, he’s penciled in as the team’s other starter inside.
Brandon Graham is the top backup; he may be miscast as a standing-up edge rusher but he is a strong pass-rusher who makes an impact on situational downs. Casey Matthews has been a four-year player at linebacker, mostly as a backup and special teams contributor.
While the starting four are an above-average group, there's a good chance the Eagles will target a pass-rushing linebacker in the first round of the draft.
Projected Depth Chart: Trent Cole, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Connor Barwin; backups: Brandon Graham, Jake Knott, Jason Phillips, Emmanuel Acho, Najee Goode, Travis Long, Josh Kaddu, Bryan Braman, Phillip Hunt, Joe Kruger
It seems unlikely that the 2014 Philadelphia Eagles will put forth the same group of cornerbacks that the 2013 squad did, but the top three are the same for now.
Cary Williams enters his second season as the team’s starter, but his $6.4 million base salary suggests he may be on his last year with the team. Bradley Fletcher is back as the other starter, but he’s slated to make $3.6 million. There’s no cap penalty if he’s cut, so there's still a chance he'll be released.
Brandon Boykin played extremely well as a nickel cornerback in 2013, recording six interceptions. Nolan Carroll was signed from the Miami Dolphins, and he is coming off a season in which Pro Football Focus rated him as the ninth-best corner in the NFL (subscription required). He should be the team’s dime cornerback.
Projected Depth Chart: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Roc Carmichael, Curtis Marsh
The Philadelphia Eagles’ worst unit from 2013 hasn’t gotten much better via free agency.
Malcolm Jenkins is definitely an upgrade over Patrick Chung, but he’s not an ideal long-term answer simply because he’s not that good. Per Pro Football Focus, Jenkins rated as just the 65th-best safety in the NFL a year ago (subscription required).
Earl Wolff will have a chance to compete with Nate Allen for the other starting job opposite Jenkins; Wolff should be the favorite because he played well in limited stretches last year, and Allen was re-signed to just a one-year contract.
Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson are free agents who have yet to be re-signed to new deals.
Projected Depth Chart: Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Wolff; backups: Nate Allen, Chris Maragos, Keelan Johnson
Alex Henery may see some kicking competition next training camp.
Henery's kicking fell off last year, and he doesn’t seem to possess the ideal leg strength for deep kickoffs. He’s also entering the final season of his rookie contract, so it may make sense for the Eagles to bring in a kicker to push him come August.
Donnie Jones was re-signed to a three-year deal after a top-notch 2013 season, and he’s a Pro Bowl-level punter.
Returning punts and kicks could be done by the newly acquired Darren Sproles, although Brandon Boykin and Damaris Johnson may have a chance to beat out Sproles if he struggles as a returner. The long snapper once again will be ace Jon Dorenbos.
Projected Depth Chart: K Alex Henery, P Donnie Jones, KR/PR Darren Sproles, LS Jon Dorenbos