After the disaster that was the Chip Kelly saga, the Philadelphia Eagles switched gears for the 2016 season, hiring a new head coach in Doug Pederson and drafting a promising young quarterback in Carson Wentz. The Eagles defense switched back to a 4-3 scheme, with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz taking over for Billy Davis, leading to a dramatically improved unit from 2015. For all the upgrades though, and after a three game winning streak to start the season, the Eagles ultimately fell to a midseason breakdown that saw them earn a 7-9 record.
While Pederson and Wentz appeared to be solid finds from the 2016 off-season, the lack of talent at skill positions and a patchwork offensive line were too much to overcome for the new coach-quarterback duo. Thus, the offense stagnated, keeping an otherwise talented defense on the field for far too long, exposing weaknesses in the roster.
Despite a rather formidable safety combination, the secondary eventually proved to be a liability because of the shortcomings at cornerback. The defensive line also dropped in production, steadily allowing more rushing yards as the season progressed. Whether this was due to the offense’s ineptness or trying to mask the secondary is debatable, but the Eagles would do well to address the situation after more pressing needs.
Ultimately, the Eagles are in better shape heading into 2017 than they were heading into 2016, but they have some work to do if they want to compete with the Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys.
Philadelphia Eagles 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Weapons for Carson Wentz
First and foremost, the Eagles desperately need a number one receiver. Jordan Matthews is good, but it’s unclear if he’s capable of being that top option without a wingmate drawing coverage. Dorial Green-Beckham could develop into that role, but the best choice would be to bring in some outside talent. Particularly a veteran free agent to add some experience to one of the youngest wideout groups in the league.
There have been plenty of rumors that there’s mutual interest between DeSean Jackson and Philadelphia. His deep threat capability would certainly add a needed dimension to the Eagles’ offense. However, there are a handful of other receivers that would work out just as well, if not better. Alshon Jeffery has elite talent, but injury and dedication concerns could be problematic. Terrelle Pryor’s another option, though he’s inexperienced at the position. If Cleveland decides to let him walk, his raw talent might be enough for the Eagles to take a chance.
The last big name, Pierre Garcon, is a quality, do-it-all type that would bring a leadership element to Philadelphia. He’s not a long-term solution, but he would buy the Eagles a couple seasons while they search for the guy.
By looking to free agency for a receiver, the Eagles could focus on other needs in the draft. However, if a free agency deal can’t be made, Clemson’s Mike Williams or Central Michigan’s Corey Davis are top choices.
Philadelphia should also consider finding a more reliable starting running back. Ryan Mathews is a great option when he’s healthy, but he’s almost guaranteed to miss playing time. This year’s draft has some generational options with Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook, assuming they fall far. Alternatively, the Eagles could try adding someone like Latavius Murray through free agency.
Help in the Secondary
The only other glaring need for Philadelphia exists at cornerback, a position the Eagles have struggled with for the past several seasons. Every other team in the division has an elite receiver so the Eagles must get a counter. Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin were the starters last season and they were painfully underwhelming. Rookie Jalen Mills had some good moments as a depth back, but he suffered from rookie mistakes as well.
Free agency has some some great options with Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye headlining the group. Gilmore has consistency concerns but he has familiarity with Jim Schwartz from his time in Buffalo. Bouye is arguably the better player and could be this year’s Josh Norman, assuming his 2016 wasn’t a one-season wonder. Both generate turnovers, something the Eagles need out of their secondary.
If free agency doesn’t work out, which is likely considering the Eagles’ cap space issues, the draft has excellent options. Teez Tabor, Marshon Lattimore, and Marlon Humphrey are but a few of top corners in the draft this season.
Forging the Lines
Acquiring a couple receivers and cornerbacks would go a long way for the Eagles’ 2017 hopes, but adding depth to both lines could make the Eagles a true playoff contender.
Carson Wentz was one of the most hit quarterbacks in the league in 2016. That has to change. On paper, the Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league: Left tackle Jason Peters is a future Hall of Famer. Right tackle Lane Johnson, center Jason Kelce, and left guard Brandon Brooks are all near the top of their positions. And Allen Barbre holds his own at right guard. The problem in 2016 was Johnson’s ten-game suspension. The ensuing chaos left the Eagles with a revolving door at right tackle until Johnson’s return. This isn’t a serious need for the Eagles, but with Peters nearing retirement and Johnson unreliable, they would be wise to capitalize on any opportunity to acquire a good tackle or two.
The need to shore up the defensive line might come as a surprise since it was a strength for Philadelphia last year. But defensive end Connor Barwin’s lack of production in a 4-3 scheme doesn’t match his salary and there are also rumors that defensive tackle Bennie Logan may wish to test free agency. However, Logan’s loss would be mitigated by the presence of backup linemen Beau Allen, who’s been a stud when playing in relief.
A solid run-stuffer at defensive end would be a prime candidate to replace Barwin. That goes double considering the emergence of Ezekiel Elliott and the likelihood of the Giants bringing in a top-tier back. The Eagles need to usurp the top spot in the perennial arms race if they want to make their first playoff appearance since 2013.