What Will the Philadelphia Eagles Look Like in 3 Years?
It's safe to say no Eagles fans are looking three years ahead as the team comes off a bye week with the league's best record at 8-1 and in firm control of the NFC East. All of the forward thinking in Philly is toward a certain game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on the first Sunday of February.
However, front offices across the league are constantly weighing aggressive, win-now decisions with patient and responsible choices that will give their teams the best chance for continued success. General manager Howie Roseman has done both since he regained control of the front office, and it gives Philadelphia a high ceiling for the seasons to come.
The Eagles are sitting pretty in 2017, but let's take a trip inside the time machine and look forward to how well-suited the team is for success three years into the future.
Where else can you begin?
The historic ascension of quarterback Carson Wentz in his second season not only has the Eagles flying high atop the NFL this season, but it also puts the franchise in position to contend for championships for the next decade or more. In a league that's long been built on star quarterbacks and increasingly dominated by emerging young gunslingers, Wentz is already one of the best.
The North Dakota State product is arguably the league's MVP front-runner through 10 weeks of the season, and his 25th birthday doesn't come until the final weeks of the regular season. He's cleaned up the turnover proficiency from his rookie season, and it's scary to think of how efficient he could be with a few more years of experience under his belt.
Wentz isn't on the books for the 2020 season, but it's inevitable the Eagles will make him one of the league's highest-paid players before that time comes. Even with the team-first ethos he exudes that could allow him to leave money on the table for the team to lock down other players, the franchise basically has to hand him a blank check and give him whatever he wants from a dollars standpoint.
To make the position even more positive for the Eagles, they have backup Nick Foles locked down through 2021 on a team-friendly deal. But it's no secret the incredible hype surrounding Philly's future starts and ends with No. 11.
A handful of tough decisions are on the horizon for the front office in regard to skill-position players on the offense, but a commitment to drafting talented young receivers and running backs has the future looking bright regardless.
No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery is a free agent after the 2017 season. After sputtering to start his Eagles career, the former Chicago Bear has made some dominating plays in recent games. If he continues to perform, it may be difficult for the team to lock him up long term, especially considering the amount of success they have had in games wherein Jeffery has been a virtual nonfactor.
Torrey Smith has been a disappointment, and the Eagles can sever ties with him as quickly as this offseason. It's the youth that gives them the flexibility to move on from the two veterans, with Mack Hollins awaiting his chance to be a featured wideout and Nelson Agholor proving worthy of an extension.
Tight end Zach Ertz has developed into one of the best players at his position in the league, and Eagles fans will be giddy to see he's locked up through the 2021 season.
At running back, the Eagles have endless options. LeGarrette Blount likely won't be around three years from now, but rookie back Corey Clement is excelling and second-year back Wendell Smallwood is improving from his rookie season. The recently acquired Jay Ajayi sees his rookie contract run out after 2018, and he could be worth an extension if he lives up to expectations.
Even if they only choose to keep around two of those backs long term, the run game will be in good hands.
Over the next couple of offseasons, the Eagles will have tough decisions to make regarding who to keep around. Those choices get tougher when you factor in the dump truck full of cash they will be backing up to Wentz's doorstep. But with the amount of youthful talent they have at receiver and running back, it's hard to envision a scenario where they are anything other than stacked at each position.
Among all the areas of Philadelphia's roster to project three years into the future, the offensive line probably has the cloudiest outlook.
Wentz sets up behind a line that's built on veteran leadership and household names. Even if Jason Peters returns next season from his torn ACL and MCL, his contract is up after 2019. Already 35, the Eagles' longtime left tackle almost surely won't be around beyond then.
Fortunately for Philly, it has an easy replacement for Peters in star right tackle Lane Johnson. He's on the books through the 2020 season, when he'll be 30 and still likely at the top of his game.
Elsewhere, it's easy to see where age could be a detriment in the future. Center Jason Kelce will be 33. Guards Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks will both be 31. Kelce and Brooks are on the books for 2020, but by then, Philly may need to infuse some youth into the line to keep it fresh.
The Eagles are developing young talent, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack being potential long-term replacements up front. But none of them are signed through 2020. It remains to be seen whether any of them will be invested in to the point the Eagles will want to pay them like starters.
Philly is stocked with youth almost everywhere on the roster, and that includes the offensive line. But as long as the team rides the veterans up front, the long-term outlook of this unit is murky at best.
The Eagles boast the most treacherous defensive line in football, and that's a trend fans can expect to continue for many seasons to come.
The driving force behind their long-term potential is the guy in the middle. Fletcher Cox received a gargantuan contract two offseasons ago—one that matches his impact on offensive lines. He's the only Eagle on the books through the 2022 season, and with the way he's playing, Philly should have no reservations about keeping him in the fold for the next five years.
The franchise put its money where its mouth is recently by wasting no time in re-signing defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to a four-year, $48 million extension. The interior duo of Cox and Jernigan figures to be wreaking havoc for a long time.
The pass rush has seen a renaissance in 2017. Brandon Graham is a star, and he could command an extension after the 2018 season if his output continues. In three years, Derek Barnett should be an every-down dynamo and in his prime at the age of 24.
Defensive end Vinny Curry is slated for a $12 million cap hit in 2020, and the Eagles may have to move on from him to free up money if Barnett develops as expected. There's already a ton of money tied up in the defensive line, and Philly can't afford that price tag for a rotation player with the contract negotiations that will take place between now and 2020.
Regardless, the Eagles are sitting pretty for the long term up front on defense. Don't expect the dominance from 2017 to subside anytime soon.
Even as the weak spot of the team, the Philadelphia secondary is performing well enough to have contributed to an 8-1 record through 10 weeks. No unit on the roster projects to improve more over the next couple of seasons, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NFC.
Philly's cornerback depth is being tested in 2017, but it will be flush with talent over the next few seasons. Jalen Mills is developing into an impact starter, and Patrick Robinson has filled in well, but they both may lose their jobs just based on the young studs who have yet to make an impact.
Ronald Darby is the team's No. 1 corner when healthy, but he'll have a lot to prove if he wants to be around when his contract is up after 2018. The Eagles' 2017 draft likely targeted their cornerback duo of the future, with Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas the beneficiaries.
Douglas has emerged from being inactive in Week 1 to being a strong starter, and Jones has yet to suit up as he recovers from offseason Achilles surgery. Both are set to play out their rookie contracts in 2020, but each of them could secure an extension before that time comes.
Between Darby, Mills, Jones and Douglas, the Eagles have arguably the most stacked core of young corners in the league. One or two will be phased out by the time 2020 arrives, but competition brings the best out of cornerbacks, and Philly should be well-suited to shutting down their opponents in three years' time.
The Eagles have plenty of talent on the roster at linebacker, but it remains to be seen how that unit will look down the road.
Jordan Hicks is the best player in the unit, and it's safe to say his development into becoming one of the league's best middle linebackers will allow him to lock down a big extension once his rookie contract expires at the end of 2018. The Eagles won't get any help from Hicks for the rest of 2017 after his Achilles injury, but he will be a critical component of the defense for the long term.
He's not the only linebacker Philly will have to shell out some cash to if they want to keep him around. Nigel Bradham is having a huge season, but he's a free agent at the end of the year. If his dominating campaign continues in Hicks' absence, expect him to get paid.
Meanwhile, Mychal Kendricks appeared to be an easy cut going into 2017 but is having by far the best season of his Eagles career. Still, his contract runs up at the end of the 2019 season, and he likely won't be a part of the big picture.
Elsewhere, the Eagles will need some of their young talent to thrive down the stretch in 2017 and in the seasons to come. Rookie Nate Gerry has yet to make an impact, while Kamu Grugier-Hill, Joe Walker and Najee Goode have made minimal impacts. In a perfect world, one of them would emerge as a starter to allow Philly to move on from Kendricks sooner rather than later.
Going into 2017, the jury was still out on head coach Doug Pederson. Coaching could be pointed to for some of the team's shortcomings in Pederson's first year at the helm, and the pressure was on for him to improve the Eagles' 7-9 record from 2016.
In just nine games, Pederson has surpassed that record, and the consensus on his coaching ability has shifted drastically for the better.
Pederson still has four years remaining on his deal, but contract lengths matter little in the world of NFL head coaches. Good coaches are extended long before their deals are up, and underperforming ones are often fired well before their contract says so.
Three years is an eternity for NFL coaches, and Pederson could be a distant memory come 2020 if the Eagles have even one bad season. But with the direction the team is headed from top to bottom, it's hard to see that happening.
In terms of assistant coaches, serious turnover will be inevitable if the Eagles continue to ascend. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will be happy to be leading one of the league's best defenses, but teams will come calling as soon as this offseason if Philly makes a Super Bowl run on the back of its defense. Expect a team to give Schwartz another crack at head-coaching after his up-and-down tenure with the Detroit Lions.
Philly may have to worry about losing offensive coaches for the same reason. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich doesn't even call the plays, but he's likely to generate interest if the offense continues to thrive. Running backs coach Duce Staley is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and he could get snatched up for an OC job after his fifth season in charge of the Eagles' running backs.
Pederson will likely have to fill some important assistant-coaching positions in the next few offseasons, and he will have to do so intelligently to keep the Eagles machine rolling.
All contract and salary information courtesy of Over the Cap.