It’s day two of the 2017 league year and the Philadelphia Eagles have already sent waves rippling through free agency. Last season Philadelphia’s receiver corps was, at its best, lackluster. Without a deep-threat and a reliable pass-catcher, Carson Wentz was ultimately limited to quick, short throws despite a strong start to the season. The run-game was made stagnate by the one-dimensional passing and ultimately the entire offense sputtered. Knowing that the receiver position was one of dire need, the Eagles signed not one, but two of the best available receivers, Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery.
Early Impressions for the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2017 Free Agency Moves
General manager Howie Roseman didn’t stop there, though. In a few less-publicized moves, the Eagles also added offensive line depth, cut Connor Barwin, declined running back Kenjon Barner’s option, and re-signed special teams stud Najee Goode. Keeping all of that in mind, here are some projections for the 2017 season.
The Former State of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Receivers
If you watched an Eagles game last season, you were likely exasperated with the painfully-mediocre receiver play. That’s not to say the Eagles’ young receiver corps lacked talented, but it was clear that they were in need of a true number one option.
Nelson Agholor was a colossal disappointment in his second year, offering little more than dropped passes and route gaffs despite a first-round pedigree and a well-touted off-season. Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham looked promising as a huge, athletic target for Wentz. Unfortunately, his play was what one would expect of a developmental prospect that had to rapidly learn a new offense. While Green-Beckham had clear moments of potential, his play was simply too sporadic. Jordan Matthews was the only wideout near 1,000 receiving yards, but even he was supremely inconsistent. Without a decoy, defenses could focus on keeping Matthews out of a game and frequent drops kept him from beating coverage.
The Eagles did get some production out of rookies Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner. However, like Green-Beckham, these receivers were too underdeveloped to be consistent performers. With a glaring deficit of experience and quality hands, the Eagles wideouts weren’t a serious threat.
Fly Eagles Fly… With a Better Receiver Corps!
2017 is the year that changes. Alshon Jeffery is no Julio Jones, but he’s a true number one receiver. His production may have dropped over the past two seasons, but there are a variety of explanations. The Bears never replaced Brandon Marshall, so defenses could take out Jeffery with little fear of other options burning them.
Jeffery has the instincts and strength to make contested catches, with an accompanying knack for breaking tackles. These are qualities that were rarely present on the Eagles’ roster last season, so it goes without saying that Jeffery is a good addition. But he’s not the only one.
Torrey Smith also had a mediocre season in 2016, but he’s had success as a speed threat in the past. He may not be as well-rounded as Jeffery, but he’s an upgrade over Agholor; and his touchdown numbers are highly-respectable.
At a minimum, Smith frees up Jeffery and Matthews. At a maximum, Smith registers as one-half of a potent, deep-threat receiver duo that has Jordan Matthews doing damage from the slot. That’s not even counting the Eagles’ tight end options. On paper, this receiver group is vastly superior to anything the Eagles mustered last season.
Solidifying the O-Line
The Eagles’ offensive line manhandled opposing lines the first three games of 2016. Then Lane Johnson was suspended for ten games and it all fell apart. The right tackle position was a revolving door and the rest of the line, and offense, suffered. When Johnson returned near the end of the season, the line performance immediately returned to greatness – but it was too late for the Eagles to recover their season.
Philadelphia indirectly addressed this issue by adding former Titans‘ first-round pick Chance Warmack. The prized left guard never truly lived up to his full potential in Tennessee, but he was hardly a bust either. Warmack can bring some competition to a guard spot or add some capable depth. It’s entirely possible that the move was really directed at replacing an aging Allen Barbre.
The Eagles also re-signed Stefen Wisniewski, who has experience at both center and guard. The new contract could be a simple depth move, but it’s entirely possible that the Eagles are planning on reshuffling the line. Barbre isn’t the only aging linemen; Jason Peters is 35 this season and Jason Kelce is 29. Admittedly, Kelce is still young, but there have been plenty of rumors that his tenure in Philadelphia is nearing its end.
Still, the Eagles don’t need to replace members of the line this upcoming season. A possible lineup would have Peters staying at left tackle, Warmack replacing Barbre at guard, Kelce at Center, Brandon Brooks at right guard position, and Lane Johnson holding down the right tackle spot. Wisniewski would headline the second tier unit and the Eagles have a more secure front-five.
Shuffling the D-Line
The defensive line was a different story. Fletcher Cox had a subpar season by his standards, but still served as a dominant force. On the left end, Brandon Graham had the best season of his career while Bennie Logan enjoyed a solid effort at Cox’ right.
Connor Barwin had less success as the right-side defensive end. Playing out of his norm in a 4-3 defense, Barwin never adjusted to the new scheme and his production drop was significant. For this reason, it didn’t come as a surprise when Barwin was cut Thursday, saving $7.75 million in cap space. This does create a hole at the position, but the Eagles could easily draft a rookie or look to free agency.
The bigger problem, one likely to be solved in the immediate future, is what to do with Bennie Logan. Now a free agent, Logan was a brilliant run-stuffer in 2016 and the Eagles should make an effort to re-sign him. However, backup Beau Allen was good in relief, so Logan’s loss wouldn’t be catastrophic.
Overall 2017 Outlook
On paper, the Eagles won the early days of free agency. Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith not only give Philadelphia a vertical passing game, they allow the franchise to focus on other areas in the draft. That’s especially important in the first round, where a number of reputable corner backs are expected to go. Considering the Eagles haven’t had a decent set of corner backs in years, that’s a big need.
Adding Warmack and re-signing Wisniewski for offensive line depth was similarly imperative, since protecting Carson Wentz is essential to his long-term success. Not to mention the freedom it will provide both phases of the offense.
The defensive line is a little more precarious at the moment. It’s unlikely that Marcus Smith replaces Connor Barwin, so the Eagles will have to add a new defensive end soon. Assuming the Eagles can improve or maintain Barwin’s mediocre level of production from last season, the defensive line should continue to be a team strength.
With all of that in mind, the Eagles should have a better roster in 2017 than they did in 2016. Assuming Carson Wentz continues to develop into the franchise quarterback he’s believed to be, the Eagles could be a legitimate contender in the NFC East this year.