2017 NFL Offseason: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles (Last Year: 7-9)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Nick Foles, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith, G Chance Warmack, DE Chris Long, DT Timmy Jernigan, CB Patrick Robinson.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Derek Barnett, CB Sidney Jones, CB Rasul Douglas, WR Mack Hollins, RB Donnel Pumphrey, WR Shelton Gibson. Eagles Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Chase Daniel, RB Kenjon Barner, WR Dorial Green-Beckham, G Allen Barbre, NT Bennie Logan, DE/OLB Connor Barwin, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Nolan Carroll.

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Offense:
The Eagles didn’t get to choose which of the top two quarterbacks they wanted in the 2016 NFL Draft, and yet, thanks to the Rams’ utter incompetence, they obtained the best one. Jared Goff has failed to win a single game, has looked completely unprepared to play in the NFL, and spent time in the offseason partying at the Super Bowl. Carson Wentz, meanwhile, showed command of the offense, allowed the Eagles to be competitive, and has worked tirelessly this offseason to improve his game. Wentz, as a result, has shown improved mechanics and strength at OTAs, which should translate into a terrific sophomore campaign.

Wentz’s bolstered mechanics isn’t the only reason he’ll perform on a higher level in 2017. Philadelphia’s front office did its job, obtaining some new weapons for its young quarterback. The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to reasonable contracts. Jeffery is very talented, but has been injury-prone, so the 1-year “prove it” deal makes a lot of sense. He has great potential though, as he caught 85 balls for 1,133 yards in 2014. Smith, meanwhile, signed a big contract when he went to San Francisco, but that was a sign that he didn’t care much about his career because he was willing to go from a perennial playoff contender in Baltimore to a collapsing franchise with no hope. Perhaps these past couple of years will serve as a wake-up call for Smith, who can still beat opposing secondaries with his deep speed.

With Jeffery and Smith on the roster, Jordan Matthews will go from being the top receiver to the No. 3 option at the position. This role suits him much better; Matthews is a decent possession wideout, but was outmatched as a No. 1 receiver. Zach Ertz, meanwhile, finished the 2016 campaign with nine or more receptions in his final five games, as he and Wentz developed some great chemistry late in the year.

Speaking of the final contests, the Eagles were able to get Lane Johnson back for the final two affairs. That was important, as Philadelphia was 5-1 (practically 6-0) with him in the lineup. The one loss came against the Lions in which Ryan Mathews fumbled when the Eagles had the lead and were trying to run out the clock in the final couple of minutes. The disparity in records is not a coincidence, as Johnson is arguably the top right tackle in the NFL. He and Jason Peters will likely form a terrific tandem once again, though there’s some concern with Peters’ age (35). However, Peters performed on a Pro Bowl level in 2016, so there’s a good chance he won’t regress much this year.

Philadelphia has strong blocking in the interior as well. Brandon Brooks and Allen Barbre both thrived there last year, though 2016 third-rounder Isaac Seumalo will start over Barbre, who was released. Brooks, meanwhile, performed on a Pro Bowl level in 2016, save for the two contests he missed because of anxiety issues. The Eagles lost both contests he missed, so they’ll need him on the field if they’re to make a playoff run. As for center, it’s sounding like Stefen Wisniewski could start at the position. Wisniewski is a decent blocker, though he could have competition from Jason Kelce.

The one weakness on this side of the ball coming out of the 2017 NFL Draft was at running back. Darren Sproles is still a potent pass-catching weapon, but the Eagles didn’t have anyone to pound the ball in between the tackles. That changed when Philadelphia signed LeGarrette Blount. The former Patriot rushed for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. He has not performed well when outside of New England, save for his rookie season with the Buccaneers, but he wasn’t a starter in his one dreadful year with the Steelers. He was not motivated to be there, so given that he’ll have more of a responsibility with the Eagles, it’s reasonable to expect a greater effort level on his part.

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Defense:
The Eagles fixed their offense through free agency, but they had only done a couple of things to bolster their defense entering the 2017 NFL Draft. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise that they spent their first three selections on defenders.

Philadelphia’s first-round choice was used on Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett. Owning the same measureables as Terrell Suggs coming out of Arizona State, Barnett didn’t test very well, but he was extremely productive in college. He broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee, so he’s expected to ultimately thrive across from stud defensive end Brandon Graham. As a rookie, however, Barnett will be in a rotation with Vinny Curry and Chris Long. Curry, who recorded nine sacks in 2014, struggled this past season because he dealt with a balky MCL. Long, meanwhile, doesn’t have much left in the tank, but he’ll give the Eagles some decent snaps and quality leadership.

Moving inside, the Eagles lost run-stuffer Bennie Logan this offseason, but managed to replace him with Timmy Jernigan, who was acquired from the Ravens in a trade. Logan struggled in 2016 because he was banged up, so Jernigan should offer upgraded play. Jernigan is a quality run defender, but offers very little pass rush. Fletcher Cox will make up for that, however. The All-Pro has notched 16 sacks in the past two seasons, which is a high number for a defensive tackle. Cox won’t even be 27 until December, so he could continue to improve, as crazy as that sounds.

The next two draft choices were spent on a pair of cornerbacks, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, as the two are expected to shore up the weakest part of the roster by 2018. It won’t be 2017 because Jones is coming off a torn Achilles. Jones, a top-15 prospect prior to his injury, is making a hasty recovery, but it’s still highly unlikely that he’ll contribute at all this upcoming season. Given that, there will be pressure on Douglas to produce right away. Douglas is a tall corner who was productive at West Virginia, recording eight interceptions in 2016. Douglas will start behind Jalen Mills and Ron Brooks, but he shouldn’t have much of an issue passing either of them, given that both were awful last year. Patrick Robinson, meanwhile, was signed via free agency to play in the slot. Robinson has undergone a roller-coaster career, thriving one year and struggling the next, so it’s unclear what the Eagles will get out of him.

It’s not all grim in the defensive backfield, as the safeties are both exceptional. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod both had strong 2016 campaigns. Neither has hit 30 yet, so there’s no reason for either of them to regress.

As for the linebackers, this is a much stronger area than the secondary. Jordan Hicks is a tremendous talent and is emerging as one of the top players at his position. Nigel Bradham also thrived in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, so the two figure to be an exceptional tandem once again in 2017. The one weak link at this spot is Mychal Kendricks, who has not transitioned well to the 4-3, but he saw limited snaps last year.

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule and Intangibles:
Philadelphia had an awful homefield advantage entering 2016. The team hadn’t put together a winning record at the Linc in five of the previous six seasons, owning a 22-28 record in that span. However, things changed with Carson Wentz, as the Eagles were 6-2 as hosts last year.

The Eagles have outstanding special teams. They outgained their opponents by wide margins on kickoff and punt returns, thanks to Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood.

Caleb Sturgis did a fine job as the Eagles’ kicker last year, going 35-of-41, including 4-of-6 from beyond 50. He missed only one extra point.

Donnie Jones has finished sixth and 11th in net punting average the past two seasons.

The Eagles have a mixed schedule. They get to beat up on the 49ers, Rams and Bears, but they also have to take on tough, non-divisional foes like the Chiefs, Seahawks and Raiders.

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Rookies:
Go here for the Eagles Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Philadelphia Eagles Analysis: The Eagles are the sleeper playoff team from the NFC. As mentioned earlier, they were practically undefeated in 2016 with Lane Johnson in the lineup. As long as Johnson is on the field, they have one of the top offensive lines in the NFL. Meanwhile, Carson Wentz is going to be much better in his sophomore campaign, thanks to his great work ethic and improved receiving corps. The defense has major issues at cornerback, but the front seven is one of the best the NFL has to offer. With all of these positives, it’s not out of the question that the Eagles will reach the NFC Championship, just as they did in Donovan McNabb’s second full year as a starter.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC East)

2016 Projection: 5-11. 2016 Actual Result: 7-9.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Eagles have a great chance to make a deep playoff run in 2017, but they still have some needs to address. They have to find a new running back, replace Mychal Kendricks, obtain another pass-rusher, and acquire a couple of cornerbacks. Luckily for Philadelphia, this draft class is stocked at corner and defensive end, so the team needs to take advantage of that.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I’ll go out on a limb and say that Eagles fans hardly miss Chip Kelly and all of the blunders he was responsible for as Philadelphia’s primary decision-maker. The Eagles have operated much more efficiently under Howie Roseman, and that continued to be the case in the 2017 NFL Draft.

When I re-grade all of the picks five years from now, Sidney Jones could be seen as the best selection in the entire draft. Jones had top-10 ability, yet fell to the second round because of a torn Achilles. It’s unlikely he’ll play in 2017, but he could be terrific for the Eagles in 2018 and beyond. He and Rasul Douglas were positive additions during the second day of the draft, as they’ll potentially fill Philadelphia’s greatest need.

Philadelphia’s top pick, Derek Barnett, will provide a much-needed jolt to the edge rush, which struggled on Connor Barwin’s side last year. Barnett had nearly the same testing numbers as Terrell Suggs coming out of Arizona State, and if his ability to break Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee is any indication, he’ll pressure opposing quarterbacks quite frequently as an Eagle.

Overall, I gave the Eagles just one grade below a “B” throughout the weekend, as I thought Donnel Pumphey was a slight reach in the fourth round. However, the Eagles had a strong draft otherwise, though it was a bit disappointing that they failed to obtain a potential starting running back.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

14. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee: B Grade
This pick is perfectly fine. Some had Derek Barnett as high as No. 9, but he was slotted in the mid-teens in most places. I had him falling to No. 22, but that was worst-case scenario for Barnett. The Tennessee product is a very talented edge rusher, but didn’t test very well. That could remind the Eagles of Brandon Graham. The two are very similar, and Philadelphia had to find an upgrade across from Graham. However, there were better prospects available like Jonathan Allen, Malik Hooker and O.J. Howard. Still, this is a solid pick, and I don’t have any issues with it otherwise.

43. Sidney Jones, CB, Washington: A+ Grade
If you were to tell the Eagles two months ago that they could select Sidney Jones in the second round, the front office probably would’ve had you committed to a mental ward. And yet, here we are, as Jones is coming off a torn Achilles. Jones is a top-15 talent and may not be able to play in 2017. There’s a chance he could, and even if he does, he probably won’t be 100 percent. However, Jones should be fully recovered by 2018, and by that time, Philadelphia will be ready to compete for the Super Bowl (though I’d say they are ready this year.) Jones will likely emerge as a No. 1 shutdown cornerback by then, making this a terrific selection.

99. Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia: B Grade
It’s hardly a surprise that the Eagles have opted to double down on cornerbacks. They had an extreme need at the position, and the first corner they chose may not be ready to play until 2018. Douglas is a solid choice, as I had him slotted only slightly later than this. Douglas is a tall cornerback who accumulated plenty of interceptions this past season, so he might be able to start right away, though I think he needs some work.

118. Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina: B Grade
It’s no surprise that the Eagles drafted a receiver, as both Alshon Jeffery and Jordan Matthews are impending free agents after this season. I had Mack Hollins taken in the fifth round, but this isn’t a big reach. Hollins is a huge receiver (6-4, 221) with some decent speed, but he has struggled to stay healthy. If it weren’t for durability concerns, he could’ve been chosen on Day 2.

132. Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State: C Grade
Earlier in the fourth round, the Bears selected a very, very poor man’s Darren Sproles. Donnel Pumphrey is just a poor man’s Darren Sproles. Pumphrey tested poorly at the combine, but was highly productive at San Diego State. I had him going in the fifth round, so I’m not a big fan of the Eagles moving up for him.

166. Shelton Gibson, WR/KR, West Virginia: B Grade
I once slotted Shelton Gibson in the third round of my mock draft, but he finished up at No. 168 in my projections, so I think the range is certainly correct. Gibson looked like he had good deep speed at West Virginia, but ran poorly at the combine. He also struggled with drops at West Virginia. However, Gibson projects a solid return specialist, so he could help in that regard.

184. Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska: B+ Grade
I actually had Nate Gerry going No. 184 overall, but to the Dolphins. He fits the exact range, and I like this pick for the Eagles. He provides some needed safety depth, and if he emerges as a starter, the Eagles could move Malcolm Jenkins to nickel. Gerry projects as a run-stuffing safety with decent athleticism.

214. Elijah Qualls, NT, Washington: A Grade
I had Elijah Qualls being chosen much earlier than this, as I slotted him at the end of the fourth round. Qualls was a highly productive player at Washington. He didn’t test well during the pre-draft process, but he projects as a run-stuffing specialist with a bit of pass-rushing ability. The Eagles lost Bennie Logan, so it’s not out of the question that Qualls could take over his spot at some point.

Season Summary:
The Eagles were the talk of the NFL when they began the year 3-0. Everyone was on the Carson Wentz bandwagon, but the wheels fell off following the team’s bye. Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games, which worsened pass protection. Constantly under siege, Wentz finally looked like a rookie. The good news, however, is that the Eagles seem to have the foundation of a perennial playoff contender.

Offseason Moves:
  • Eagles sign RB LeGarrette Blount
  • Eagles sign QB Matt McGloin
  • Eagles acquire DT Timmy Jernigan, third-round pick (No. 99) from Ravens for third-round pick (No. 74)
  • Eagles sign CB Patrick Robinson
  • Eagles sign DE Chris Long
  • Eagles cut QB Chase Daniel
  • Eagles sign QB Nick Foles
  • Eagles re-sign C Stefen Wisniewski
  • Eagles sign G Chance Warmack
  • Eagles sign WR Alshon Jeffery
  • Eagles sign WR Torrey Smith
  • Eagles cut DE/OLB Connor Barwin
  • Eagles re-sign OLB Najee Goode
  • Eagles cut CB Leodis McKelvin

    Team Needs:
    1. Wide Receiver: The Eagles appear to have a franchise quarterback. Now, they need to build around him. That involves finding a No. 1 receiver, as Jordan Matthews figures to be nothing more than a solid second option. I’m sure Philadelphia will consider Clemson’s Mike Williams with Minnesota’s first-round pick. Signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith

    2. Two Cornerbacks: Philadelphia’s defense has some major strengths, but a big liability happens to be at cornerback. The Eagles’ corners can’t cover anyone. They need at least two new ones, so a first-round choice could be used on the position. Signed with Patrick Robinson

    3. Running Back: Doug Pederson played musical chairs with his starting running backs this past season because he didn’t have any confidence in any of them. Ryan Mathews was the best of the bunch, but he’s too injury-prone to be deemed reliable. The Eagles will have to use an early pick on a running back. Signed LeGarrette Blount

    4. Center: Jason Kelce has devolved into one of the worst centers in the NFL. The Eagles could use a second-day pick on a much-needed upgrade at one of the most important positions in football. Re-signed Stefen Wisniewski

    5. Offensive Tackle: Jason Peters won’t be around much longer, so once he leaves, Lane Johnson will move to left tackle, creating a hole on the right side. Besides, some insurance is needed just in case Johnson is suspended again.

    6. Defensive Tackle: Bennie Logan is a stout, run-stuffing defensive tackle, but he also happens to be an impending free agent who should be re-signed if the Eagles want to continue playing the rush well. Traded for Timmy Jernigan

    7. Interior Offensive Line Depth: Stefen Wisniewski did a great job as a reserve lineman this past year, but he’s an impending free agent, and he’s good enough to start for someone else.

    8. Kicker: Caleb Sturgis is set to hit free agency in March.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears. Age: 27.
      Signed with Eagles (1 year, $14 million)

      Alshon Jeffery is a very talented, big receiver, but he hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Whether it’s an injury or a PED-related suspension, the Bears haven’t been able to trust him very much. The silver lining is that Chicago might be able to retain him at a reduced rate.

    2. Torrey Smith, WR, 49ers. Age: 28.
      Signed with Eagles (3 years, $15 million)

      It was obvious Torrey Smith was going to be a bust signing when he left a perennial playoff contender, taking the money and going to one of the worst organizations in professional sports. Smith was horrible, logging 53 receptions in two years. Granted, he had horrible quarterbacks throwing the ball to him, but his heart and effort were lacking. Smith could rebound in a new home, but I have to wonder if he has mentally checked out of football.

    3. Patrick Robinson, CB, Colts. Age: 29.
      Signed with Eagles (1 year)

      Patrick Robinson has gone through a roller-coaster career thus far. He was a first-round pick in 2010 and played well at times, but he also struggled enough to get benched in New Orleans. Robinson performed well for the Chargers in 2015, but struggled in Indianapolis last season because of multiple injuries.

    4. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots. Age: 30.
      Signed with Eagles

      LeGarrette Blount turned 30 in December. His days are nearing the end even though he scored 18 touchdowns in 2016. He didn’t run very well for the most part, averaging only 3.9 yards per carry.

    5. Chris Long, DE, Patriots. Age: 32.
      Signed with Eagles (2 years)

      Chris Long was still an effective player for the Patriots this past season, but he’s clearly not the dominant defender he used to be. Long turns 32 in March, and he probably has one more year as a somewhat decent starter remaining.

    6. Chance Warmack, G, Titans. Age: 25.
      Signed with Eagles

      Chance Warmack hasn’t played like a two-star player; he’s been awful. However, he was the No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so he has some potential.

    7. Nick Foles, QB, Chiefs. Age: 28. — Signed with Eagles
    8. Matt McGloin, QB, Raiders. Age: 27. — Signed with Eagles

    Philadelphia Eagles Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $10.8M.
    1. Bennie Logan, DT, Eagles. Age: 27.
      Signed with Chiefs

      Bennie Logan doesn’t put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he’s a tremendous run defender. Logan has been excellent in past years, but struggled in 2016 because he’s been bothered by a groin injury since early October. Logan is likely to bounce back next year.

    2. Trey Burton (RFA), TE, Eagles. Age: 25.
      Tendered by Eagles (2nd round)

      The sky is the limit for Trey Burton, who hasn’t been overly productive because he’s stuck behind Zach Ertz. However, Burton has produced when Ertz has been hurt, proving that he’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Just 25, Burton has a ton of potential.

    3. Connor Barwin, DE/OLB, Eagles. Age: 30.
      Signed with Rams (1 year)

      Connor Barwin collected 14.5 sacks in 2014, and he tallied seven sacks the year after. His production fell off a cliff this past season, however, as he was miscast as a 4-3 defensive end. That, and the near-$8 million cap savings are the two reasons Barwin was released. Barwin can still play though, and he would be wise to sign with a 3-4 team.

    4. Stefen Wisniewski, C/G, Eagles. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Eagles (3 years, $9 million)

      Stefen Wisniewski has been a very good backup for the Eagles, as he performed very well when asked this past season. Wisniewski is too good to remain a reserve, as he can be a somewhat decent starter at guard or center for someone else.

    5. Nolan Carroll, CB, Eagles. Age: 30.
      Signed with Cowboys (3 years, $10 million)

      Nolan Carroll was Philadelphia’s best cornerback in 2015, but he regressed markedly this past season. Carroll’s true ability is probably somewhere in between those two outputs, so with a bounce-back season, perhaps he can be an average No. 2 corner.

    6. Bryan Braman, OLB/ST, Eagles. Age: 30.
    7. Kenjon Barner, RB, Eagles. Age: 27. — Signed with Chargers
    8. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Eagles. Age: 32.
    9. Najee Goode, OLB, Eagles. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Eagles
    10. Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Eagles. Age: 32. — Announced retirement
    11. Dwayne Gratz, CB, Eagles. Age: 27.
    12. Chase Daniel, QB, Eagles. Age: 30. — Signed with Saints


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