Winners and Losers of the Philadelphia Eagles Offseason so Far
With a three-day mandatory minicamp this week, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason is coming to a close. The next time we hear from them, they will be reporting for training camp in July.
So as the offseason comes to a close, it’s time to examine the winners and losers on this year’s roster. This isn’t so much related to what’s happened during practices and OTAs, which are more about teaching and training than roster battles, but instead how the moves the team made—or didn’t make—affected various players.
The winners are the players who saw their profile with the team rise in some form or another. The losers are typically the guys who lost job stability. Based on that system, which players do you think deserve to be added to either list?
Winner: Nick Foles
In the grand scheme of things, Nick Foles has been relatively idle this offseason. He exited 2013 as the unquestioned starter at quarterback and enters training camp entrenched in the same role. Yet along the way, plenty of little things worked out in the 25-year-old signal-caller’s favor.
The Eagles passed up an opportunity to select Johnny Manziel out of Texas A&M in May’s draft—seemingly a no-brainer, but head coach Chip Kelly professing his love for the rookie QB may have suggested otherwise. Then San Francisco 49ers passer Colin Kaepernick agreed to a six-year, $126 million contract, which could be a sign of things to come for Foles if he posts another season even close to what he did in ’13. He even got married in the offseason.
He is coming off a historic campaign. He led the league with a 119.2 passer rating, which was the third-highest in NFL history. He set a record that may never be touched by throwing 27 touchdowns to two interceptions. He tied an NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes in a game. He broke numerous franchise records as well, including consecutive passes without an interception. Finally, he topped it all off by being named Most Valuable Player at the Pro Bowl.
Why anybody thought the Eagles might even consider replacing Foles right now is beyond me. Not surprisingly, the organization stood behind him, which after having to battle Mike Vick for the job last year means he’s already a winner this time around.
Loser: Matt Barkley
You had to figure the Eagles were going to bring in veteran competition for the backup quarterback job. They weren’t just going to hand the reins over to Matt Barkley or another rookie quarterback.
Enter Mark Sanchez, who arrived in Philadelphia to little fanfare but plenty of press. He was once the fifth overall pick by the New York Jets, and it was widely assumed he was signed to assume the role of Foles’ understudy.
Chip Kelly has since nixed that idea, telling reporters nothing has been decided. Expect an open training camp this summer to determine the best option in the event the starter must be relieved.
That being said, it’s hard to argue the situation looks favorable for Barkley. As Don Banks of Sports Illustrated noted in May, Sanchez is clearly ahead of the second-year quarterback on the depth chart at the moment. And as far as veteran competition is concerned, the organization put a pretty enormous roadblock in front of Barkley in the form of Sanchez, who has 68 starts in the NFL including playoffs.
Granted, Sanchez stunk it up with the Jets, which is why he was on the market in the first place. A fresh start could revitalize the 27-year-old’s career, though.
Barkley should have every opportunity to prove his worth during training camp and preseason this year. For the time being, however, the 2013 fourth-round pick is being pushed down the depth chart. We’ll find out whether he can make it back up for air.
Winner: Jason Kelce
Jason Kelce didn’t feel the love from Pro Bowl voters in 2013. He wasn’t even chosen as an alternate. The Eagles certainly took notice of his performance, though, rewarding the center in a big way.
He became one of the offseason’s big winners when he agreed to a six-year extension that will pay him $37.5 million, including $13 million guaranteed. That’s an average of $6.25 million per season, which currently ranks seventh among all NFL centers, according to Spotrac.
Seventh might be a steal for Kelce. While he doesn’t have a resume loaded with Pro Bowls or All-Pros, he’s only been in the league three seasons—one of which was erased almost completely by injury. If you look at what analytics sites are saying though, Kelce is already one of the best interior linemen in the league.
At least, that’s what Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) numbers would seem to suggest. Based on the site's cumulative grades, Kelce was the No. 1 center overall in the NFL in ’13.
One might go so far as to suggest Kelce is actually a loser, because he’s going to vastly outperform this contract and the Eagles are winners for locking him up on such a team-friendly deal. He got paid, though, getting compensated rather nicely for what amounts to two years in the league.
That sounds like a win to me.
Loser: Evan Mathis
It was starting to sound like this could be a tumultuous offseason for the Eagles. Right around the time word was first coming out that the team was looking to dump DeSean Jackson (which eventually happened), news broke that starting left guard Evan Mathis was on the trade block as well.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com initially broke the story that Mathis was on the block, citing a contract dispute as the reason. In retrospect, the Eagles got a huge bargain when they signed him to an extension following the 2011 season. At that point, he was a journeyman offensive lineman with one excellent season under his belt.
Since then, he has been rated as the best offensive guard in pro football by far the last two seasons by Pro Football Focus. Finally, the rest of the NFL caught up in ’13, as Mathis was invited to his first Pro Bowl and was also named first-team All-Pro.
He was neither traded nor rewarded with a renegotiated contract, though. Apparently, he didn’t have the leverage.
Why? As Jimmy Kempski of Philly.com pointed out at the time, while Mathis may be the best, he’s also the oldest guard in the league. He turns 33 this year, so you’re not going to find a lot of teams that are (1) willing to pony up a big-money extension or (2) send much back to the Eagles in a trade.
So he remains in Philly, and while he’s handled his business like a true professional, ultimately it looks like he lost his fight for a new deal. The NFL is often a tough business like that.
Winner: Bennie Logan
While many fans were clamoring for a massive space-eater at nose tackle in the draft or through free agency this offseason, the Eagles stood their ground. Instead, they opted to double down on Bennie Logan, last year’s third-round pick.
He took over for Isaac Sopoaga on the nose last year and acquitted himself nicely. Yet there was still a feeling outside the organization that the LSU product wasn’t big enough to play the position.
Two notes. First, Logan bulked up over the offseason, getting up to nearly 320 pounds—not exactly a small man. Second, as he explained to Zach Berman of The Philadelphia Inquirer, there is a point in the Birds’ defensive scheme where the nose tackle could be too big.
Most people, when they picture a nose tackle, they picture a 330-plus guy, just clogging up the middle," Logan said. "But the way we play our defense, you've got to be able to run. And I don't feel I'd be able to run or do the things our coaches, in our scheme, require us to do. That's why I'm not 330, or put on that much weight.
The Eagles seemed to back Logan by not attempting to actively replace him during the offseason. They did use a seventh-round pick on Beau Allen out of Wisconsin, but that was more due to lack of depth behind Logan than anything else.
The fact that the front office and coaching staff are behind Logan should come as no surprise, either. After all, not only did he play well in his rookie season, but a third-round pick was already invested. That’s not exactly throwaway material.
Something tells me a bulked-up Logan in his second season in the defense is going to be just fine—or better. At least, the Eagles seem to think so.
Losers: Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher
Last offseason, the Eagles had to overhaul the cornerback positions. In came Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, both of whom wound up being far more effective than the so-called Pro Bowlers they replaced, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Despite the immediate improvement though, it would seem the team is not finished rebuilding. Both Williams and Fletcher appear to be stopgaps, particularly if the moves made this offseason were any indication.
First, Philadelphia signed Nolan Carroll to a free-agent contract. His two-year, $5.2 million contract seems to indicate he’s mostly here to provide depth, but he did start 22 games over the past two seasons for the Miami Dolphins, so perhaps he is actual competition.
Plus, the Birds went out and selected Jaylen Watkins in the fourth round of the draft. He is a highly versatile defensive back who could wind up playing safety down the road, but for now, the coaches are looking at him as a corner.
Between Carroll and Watkins, the team suddenly has options if Williams and Fletcher struggle, or if the Eagles decide to move on a year from now.
According to Spotrac, Williams’ salary-cap figure is set to jump to north of $8 million in ’15, the final year of his deal—that' pricey for a middling starting corner who will turn 30. Furthermore, Fletcher is scheduled to become a free agent next year and thus far has been overlooked as the franchise has handed out numerous extensions this offseason.
I’d say the writing is on the wall for them, as both could easily be embarking on their final season in Philly. The lack of stability regarding their future alone makes them losers early on in this offseason.
Winner: Nate Allen
This time one year ago, Nate Allen was carrying the label of a second-round bust. He was battling a fifth-round rookie for a starting job, and it was at least a mild surprise he was still on the team.
But lo and behold, after another rocky start, he actually demonstrated gradual improvement last season. By the end of 2013, he could have been considered competent, if not downright solid. Now he’s getting another shot in Philly.
His one-year deal doesn’t offer much in the way of guarantees. After starting all 16 games for the Birds last season, he wasn’t even promised his job back—he’ll battle Earl Wolff for the second straight summer. Yet that’s more than it appeared Allen would ever get from the Eagles last June.
Now, for the first time in his NFL career, he is going to get the opportunity to work under the same defensive coordinator for two full seasons. That would be Bill Davis, who probably wasn’t as surprised as the rest of us when the defensive back began to turn things around. As Davis explained to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com last year during OTAs, the previous regime’s scheme was hard on safeties.
It's a completely different scheme with some of the same players," Davis said. "We're trying to maximize the part of what they do best. In the secondary, any time you ask the secondary to be primary B or A-gap run defenders, you're asking for trouble on play-action and deep balls.
The Eagles secondary gave up far fewer deep balls, and Allen became a surer tackler as well. That seemed to come with the confidence of knowing where he and his teammates were supposed to be.
Allen recorded 82 tackles to go with one sack, one interception and one forced fumble. If that’s his ceiling, that may not be good enough. However, don’t be shocked if we see more out of him in Year 2 under Davis—just as long as he can hold off Wolff for the job.
Loser: Alex Henery
What does it tell you when a front office believes an undrafted free agent could be a better option than a veteran at a key position? Because that is exactly the situation the Eagles have put Alex Henery in by signing Carey Spear to compete for the job at place-kicker.
To Henery’s credit, he’s taking the roster battle in stride. The 2011 fourth-round pick told Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer that he has no problem with the team adding Spear: "Competition can always make you better, but it's not like I'm worried about it. I'm here to do my thing and do it the best I can...I'm a perfectionist. That's what drives me."
However, the reality of life as a specialist in the NFL is teams typically don’t add competition at those spots unless they are genuinely considering a change—the roster spots are too valuable. And in Henery’s case, the front office is definitely considering it.
The biggest knock on him since his arrival is leg strength. His kickoffs annually rank toward the bottom of the league in touchback percentage, which has allowed for some big returns against the Birds the past few seasons. Plus, two separate coaching staffs have entrusted him to attempt a total of five field goals of 50 yards or more in three seasons—17 kickers attempted at least that many in 2013 alone.
Henery’s field-goal accuracy dipped in ’13 as well, down to 82 percent. And the memory that stands out the most in everybody’s mind right now is the 48-yard field goal he missed badly in the 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs.
Spear’s very existence on the Eagles roster is an indictment against Henery, which makes him one of the club’s offseason losers. Don’t be surprised if a few months from now, he is also losing the battle for his job.