Projecting the Philadelphia Eagles' Most Heated Roster Battles This Offseason
The good news is the Philadelphia Eagles shouldn’t have many roster battles of import over the summer. Following a 10-6 season and first-round playoff exit, you might say that could be the bad news as well.
The Eagles had plenty of “needs” entering the 2014 draft, just not many “holes” per se. The front office had already addressed the lone position of urgency—safety—by adding Malcolm Jenkins and re-signing Nate Allen during free agency.
All that was left was to do in the draft was to search for eventual replacements for aging players or impending free agents and stock up on depth.
The only question is did the Eagles improve significantly for the season ahead? Most of this year’s draft picks and even free-agent additions are not expected to start in ’14. Nearly all will likely be role players at best, barring injury.
The lack of immediate competition in many key areas leads me to believe Philadelphia will field nearly the exact same starting lineup in the upcoming season. The only major difference is the roster is deeper now.
Is that going to be enough to improve upon 10 wins and a first-round exit?
Safety: Nate Allen vs. Earl Wolff
Allen may have re-signed, but rest assured, he was made no promises. The one-year pact only assures him an opportunity to compete against 2013 fifth-round pick Earl Wolff for the safety spot opposite Jenkins.
Wolff held his own while appearing in 11 games as a rookie, including six starts, but it wasn’t quite enough to hand over a starting job. If nothing else, Allen can at least provide stability on the back end if the kid isn’t ready to play.
Despite being labeled a second-round bust, Allen actually improved gradually under defensive coordinator Bill Davis as last season wore on. He wound up starting all 16 games in ’13, finishing with one sack, one interception and one forced fumble to go with 82 tackles—nothing flashy, but competent.
Allen’s increasing level of confidence might have something to do with playing in a scheme that was better suited to his abilities. If that was indeed the case, maybe what we witnessed wasn’t the 26-year-old’s ceiling. Maybe he’ll be better in Year 2 under Davis.
It wouldn’t surprise in the least if Wolff won the job at training camp. I just think he’s going to have to really stand out to earn it, because Allen isn’t going down without a fight.
Winner: Nate Allen
Kicker: Alex Henery vs. Carey Spear
One could easily make the case the biggest need on this team heading into the draft wasn’t at pass-rusher, or wide receiver. It was at kicker.
Alex Henery doesn’t do anything particularly well. His lack of leg strength has become an especially serious issue. Two separate coaching staffs have only trusted him to attempt a total of five field goals of 50 yards or more in three seasons, whereas 17 players tried at least that many in 2013 alone. Kickoffs are an even bigger problem, as Henery finished tied for 20th in the NFL last season with touchbacks on only 41.1 percent.
Field-goal accuracy wasn’t exactly a saving grace, either. Henery connected on a career-worst 82.1 percent of his attempts in ’13.
Is Carey Spear a better option? Well, for one, the undrafted free agent kicked for a significantly higher touchback percentage (64.4 percent) as a senior at Vanderbilt than Henery did in Year 3 in the NFL. And while Spear’s field-goal percentage was slightly worse (78.9 percent), it can be more difficult in college due to the hash marks being wider.
Honestly, it’s not all that difficult to project Spear as the Birds’ next kicker. The other guy simply wasn’t cutting it.
Prediction: Carey Spear
Backup Quarterback: Mark Sanchez vs. Matt Barkley
Don’t get me wrong, Sanchez undoubtedly holds the inside track for the job. It’s just hard to imagine awarding a signal-caller with a career 71.7 passer rating anything before there has been a competition at least.
That’s where Matt Barkley comes in. A 2013 fourth-round pick, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding Barkley when he was drafted—some crazies went so far as to openly wonder if he was the quarterback of the future in Philadelphia.
Barkley got into a couple of games last year, posting some putrid numbers himself—30-of-49 passing for 300 yards with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. Those were almost impossible situations for a rookie, though, coming in relief of the starter in games where the Eagles were already trailing.
Statistics aside, Barkley seemed unafraid of making mistakes, plus his arm strength looked better than it did at training camp or during the preseason. Don’t write him off just yet, at least as far as becoming a competent backup is concerned.
Then again, don’t write off Sanchez, either. Yes, he never lived up to the expectations of the fifth overall pick in the draft. Then again, the New York Jets never surrounded him with many great weapons—not at running back, not at tight end and certainly not at wide receiver.
Yet, Sanchez managed to post a 33-29 record as a starter in regular-season contests and was 4-2 in the playoffs with New York. Now he’s heading into a better situation than ever with Philadelphia, joining the league’s No. 2 offense. Sanchez could legitimately turn his career around.
Prediction: Mark Sanchez
Backup Running Back: Henry Josey vs. David Fluellen vs. Matthew Tucker
With Bryce Brown shipped off to the Buffalo Bills, and Darren Sproles not an option as an every-down back in the event LeSean McCoy is out, the Eagles are suddenly in the market for a backup ball-carrier. Well, probably a third-string ball-carrier to be exact. Chris Polk looks like the front-runner to replace McCoy in a full-time capacity if necessary.
The Eagles signed a pair of undrafted rookies after the draft in Missouri’s Henry Josey and Toledo’s David Fluellen. The team also retained Matthew Tucker from last season after he spent most of the year on the practice squad and filled in on the 53-man roster later.
Tucker seems like a bit of a long shot, though. While he can contribute on special teams, Polk does that as well, so it’s not a necessity. And frankly, Tucker just doesn’t have the quality body of work of the other two.
Josey and Fluellen each rushed for over 1,000 yards in their final two collegiate seasons. Tucker never did that once in four seasons at TCU.
As of now, I’m inclined to give Josey the edge. While he needs work in pass protection and didn’t do much as a receiver, he was one of the more explosive backs in college football, leading the nation with 8.1 yards per carry in 2011. With McCoy and Sproles handling most of the snaps anyway, explosive playmaking ability with the football can take precedence here.
Prediction: Henry Josey