by Brian Umbaugh, @NFLRosters
After crushing Dallas 33-10 in Week 13, the Eagles took control of the NFC East. Over the last month, the disintegrated pass coverage and lack of production at the skill positions became evident. Three straight losses, including the rematch with Dallas, caused the Eagles to fall one game short in the wild card race.
With a handful of changes, the Eagles will likely compete in 2015. Ex-GM (now Executive Vice President) Howie Roseman did an excellent job signing most of his top talent so that the team will be drafting with minimal holes to fill. Whoever ends up in charge – whether it be Chip Kelly, Roseman, or someone else – not only has money to re-sign key free agents, but also a little extra if needed. Position by position, here are the strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities in Philadelphia.
Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez (UFA), Matt Barkley, G.J. Kinne (FUT)
After a few years of watching Michael Vick’s decline, the Eagles hoped that Nick Foles could be more than an 11 game wonder. They are still hoping, as Foles did not play particularly well before being injured halfway through the season. The one thing they learned is that Mark Sanchez is not the answer, even as a backup. Can they trust Barkley or Kinne, who are on a similar level? Maybe not, but to re-sign Sanchez at $2 mil when he isn’t better than either of those two is useless. The free agent QB pile is a hot mess. It’s time to get a #2 competition between Barkley and Kinne and see what shakes loose. Another story that could happen is the drafting of Marcus Mariota, which would obviously change the outlook here.
LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk (RFA), Matthew Tucker (FUT), Kenjon Barner (FUT)
Any fantasy owner will tell you McCoy had a terrible year, as in most leagues he was drafted in the top five overall. Was his season really that bad? He almost had 1500 total yards. Regardless, PFF attributes much of his stats to the offensive line. His cap number for 2015 is $12 mil. Would the Eagles cut a 26 year-old Pro Bowler to save $7.5 mil? No, but he must make better use of his vast abilities or this topic becomes an issue next year.
Sproles does just that. An obvious passing game threat, he’s not as much the backup to McCoy as an alternative weapon. He does a great job of providing an out for Foles if he gets in trouble. Futures signings Tucker and Barner are both fast and had great college production. Should the Eagles tender Chris Polk? He’s had some success with the Eagles and should be re-signed, but that same success may require a 2nd round tender, as he was undrafted. This would cost about $2 mil.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
WR: Jeremy Maclin (UFA), Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith (UFA)
TE: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey, Trey Burton
Maclin is the only Eagles receiver rated above average by PFF, ranking #14 in the NFL in 2014. It’s important not to overestimate the importance of this for three reasons. First, Maclin’s previous years’ NFL rankings have never been higher than #43 (considering only receivers logging 25% of a team’s snaps.) This does not prove a consistent track record you’d like to see before signing someone to a long term deal. Second, two draft picks in 2014 were used for wideouts. In 2-3 years, one or both of those receivers could be more productive than either Maclin or Cooper. Third, #2 WR Riley Cooper was unproductive in his first year of a new contract, and it should make the Eagles more hesitant to offer big bucks to a receiver who can possibly be equally unproductive.
This last reason, while it might create hesitancy, doubles as the reason why the Eagles need to get this deal done. Cooper isn’t productive, and until the rookie(s) break out, Maclin is necessary if any semblance of a passing game is to be seen. I expect a contract like 5 yr/$50 mil; it’s too expensive for his production, but the Eagles need him and his agent knows it. Brad Smith should be re-signed for his versatility.
The tight ends are all signed, but some are in roster jeopardy due to their cap figures. Celek is about $4.8 mil and Casey is at $4 mil, but Ertz has become the best weapon. All three can run block, but Ertz has the most passing game value. While Celek and Casey are valuable, I would think Casey is not necessary for that salary. He is a decent H-back, but with the proliferation of offenses lining up a TE in the FB spot, there is no need for a specialist like this. Cutting him would raise the cap room to $10.5 mil.
L to R: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson
Top Backups: Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Molk
As mentioned in the Running Backs section, this group is a big reason for McCoy’s yardage totals. It starts with Jason Peters, the #1 rated LT in the NFL due to his ability to block well for both run and pass. On the other side, Lane Johnson was rated #13, as he also has a great balance of run and pass blocking. Backup Allen Barbre hit the IR after Week 1, but he is also an able blocker. Andrew Gardner is a better guard than tackle, because he is a better run blocker than against the pass.
Evan Mathis was ranked #2 in the NFL as a guard, after being ranked #1 each of the last three seasons. RG Todd Herremans did not have a good season, but he should rebound if healthy, as his 2013 was much better. Center Jason Kelce adds more riches to the pile, as he was ranked #8 due to his great run blocking. They have the #1 and #13 tackle, #2 guard, and #8 center all under contract through 2016? Impressive.
3-4 DE: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton (RFA), Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, Taylor Hart
3-4 NT: Bennie Logan, Beau Allen, Wade Keliikipi
Cox and Curry, the Eagles’ 2012 1st and 2nd round picks, are coming to the end of their rookie contracts after 2015. Thornton is currently at the end of his. These three combine to make a formidable set of DE’s. Cox was ranked #5 in the NFL, and if the pass rushing of Curry was combined with the run stuffing ability of Thornton into one guy, that guy would be ranked almost the same. Thornton was an undrafted free agent in 2011, so he would need to be offered at least a 2nd round tender at $2 mil to ward off other teams.
The tackles were not very impressive. They need to be at least good run stoppers with a little push on the pass rush to collapse the pocket. Logan was decent against the run, but provided no push against the passing game. Allen wasn’t even much of a run defender. With a good NT, this line would be tough, so consider that a need.
OLB: Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham (UFA), Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman
ILB: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews (UFA)
The outside backers for Philadelphia have an aptitude for rushing the passer. Barwin tallied 16 sacks, Cole led the team in QB hits, and Graham was a terror as a part-time player. This offseason, Cole is a potential cap casualty at $11.6 mil and Graham is a UFA. It is rumored that if Cole is cut, Graham could be re-signed and slip into that spot. I recommend this since Graham has had above average production for a few years before this breakout season. He should be re-signed, but the Eagles have to know that he has little interest in pass coverage. None of the OLB’s are very good at it, which means that the Eagles have been trying to stuff 4-3 DE’s into their 3-4 scheme. They should run a 4-3/3-4 hybrid to provide some variability in defensive looks; in addition, the Eagles need to get an OLB that can drop back in coverage. Running nickel defenses all the time will not only leave excellent personnel on the bench, but it will telegraph what the defense is running.
When Ryans was lost to injury at the midway point, he was having a very average season. The Eagles used Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho to replace Ryans, but both were below average against the run and pass. Injured backup Najee Goode has not shown much in his professional career, but he has potential. Matthews is a UFA; since he has not developed into much, there’s no point in bringing him back. Ryans is back, although he should probably be cut. He has a $6.9 mil charge and hasn’t produced. Kendricks is a Top 10 linebacker, but he needs someone consistent and above average beside him. ILB will be another good position to look for in the draft. Cutting Ryans and Cole would mean $15.3 mil for a current total of $23.8 mil, which could make them players in the free agent market
CB: Bradley Fletcher (UFA), Cary Williams, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
S: Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen (UFA), Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski
The starting corners, Fletcher and Williams, were average to below last season. Nickel corner Boykin is athletic, quick, and decent in coverage, but he’s only 5’9″ and is best used against the slot receivers. Carroll was unspectacular and did better during his snaps at safety. 4th round pick Watkins is a fast, athletic CB/S tweener that would probably be best in the nickel and dime. The Eagles shouldn’t re-sign Fletcher unless he takes a pay cut, because he’s not good enough to merit more than his $3.2 mil salary from 2014. Even if they do re-sign him, the Eagles will continue to struggle on the back end unless they bring in a good cover corner.
Safeties Jenkins and Allen are not stars, but they were slightly above average against the pass and run. The backups were average in their few snaps. Re-signing Allen is not a slam dunk due to his inconsistency over the years, but there are not any obvious successors. Allen would cost $3-4 million per year; with the cap room available, it does not seem like a bad idea to sign him while they develop Wolff or some other added player.
Pro Bowler Cody Parkey was rated 28th in the NFL by PFF, despite hitting 89% of his field goals. It’s not an easy environment, but Parkey handles it well. His kickoffs tend to be long and low, creating opportunities for runbacks; despite this, he ends up about league average on kickoffs.
Punter Donnie Jones also rated in the lower half of the league, down a bit from the previous year. Long snapper Jon Dorenbos also made the Pro Bowl despite being ranked in the lower half at his position.
Kick returner Josh Huff and punt returner Darren Sproles each had good years and will probably continue in this role next year.
Initial cap space: $19 million
Re-sign: Polk ($2 mil tender), Maehl ($585K), Maclin ($8 mil), B. Smith ($870K), Thornton ($2 mil tender), Graham ($6 mil), Fletcher ($3.2 mil), Allen ($3 mil) – with a net $3.6 million needed to sign draftees, these are projected to leave a cap deficit of approximately $6.2 million.
Let walk: Sanchez, Matthews
Best cap cuts to clear up room: Cole ($8.4 mil), Ryans ($6.9 mil), Casey ($4 mil)
Biggest Team Needs: CB, NT, ILB, OLB
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Other team analysis reports and depth charts can be found in the archive.