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March 30, 2020

Ranking the Eagles' team needs, after free agency

NFL free agency is now two weeks old, and it appears that the Philadelphia Eagles are done shopping, at least for any players that will come with some sort of significant cost.

They still have glaring needs. Here we'll order those needs from most glaring to most stable, with some weight on positional importance.

1) Wide receiver

The Eagles had the worst wide receiving corps in the NFL a season ago (like they did in 2016), and they did nothing to fix it at all in free agency, opting (for now, anyway) to solve that position in the draft. Barring a trade for a starting-level wide receiver, it's hard to imagine how this can be the Eagles' strategy, seeing as there are major question marks with every single receiver on the current roster.

  1. Alshon Jeffery: He has trashed his own quarterback anonymously in the media over the span of a multiple years, he looked cooked last season, in that he appeared slower than usual and struggled catching the football, and now he has a serious Lisfranc injury that will require at least a nine-month recovery period. He's still on the roster, for now, but don't expect Jeffery to ever suit up in a game with Carson Wentz ever again.
  2. DeSean Jackson: He played one game last season, and that was that. Certainly, you keep Jackson on the roster and whatever he gives you should be viewed as a bonus, but he's going to turn 34 during the season, and cannot be relied upon as an answer. Hell, it was a mistake to view him that way last year.
  3. Greg Ward: He provided a spark down the stretch last season, and he was a great story, but if anyone views him as anything more than a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver they're kidding themselves.
  4. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: A very disappointing rookie season ended with Arcega-Whiteside getting fewer snaps in the playoff game against the Seahawks than a trio of receivers in Ward, Robert Davis, and Deontay Burnett, who were all added to the roster mid-season.
The 2020 draft is loaded with wide receiver talent, but rookies are far from a sure thing, and a shortened offseason could make it very difficult for young players to learn a new offense at a position where it's already difficult to make an early impact. 

2) Cornerback

When the real details of Darius Slay's contract came out, it became clear that it was really only a two-year deal worth $26.55 million. If the Eagles want to keep Slay longer than that (and if Slay still wants to be in Philly), they'll have to renegotiate at that time. 

Otherwise, the current plan seems to be that the 5'9, 184-pound Avonte Maddox will start at outside corner in 2020. That's not ideal, as Maddox is much better suited for slot corner duty. In my view, they still need a second outside corner. It's probably too late to find one in 2020, but they could certainly draft one with 2021 and beyond in mind.

3) Linebacker

As you know, the Eagles just don't value the linebacker position. While that is a strategy that I agree with, if the season started tomorrow, they'd be rolling with Nate Gerry, T.J. Edwards, and Jatavis Brown(?) as their starters.

4) Running back

This is something of an under-discussed need. Yes, Miles Sanders had a Rookie of the Year-worthy first season in the NFL, and there is plenty to be optimistic about with him, but the Eagles are extremely light at running back. They have Sanders, Boston Scott, and Elijah Holyfield. That's it. For a team that almost always carries at least four (and sometimes five) running backs, they're going to add somebody

5) Safety

I guess this depends on perspective. From the Eagles' perspective, they think Rodney McLeod is a good starting safety who is going to take on a big leadership role in 2020, and play better than he did a year ago, being another year removed from an ACL tear. They also believe that Jalen Mills is more than capable of transitioning from his spot as a starting outside corner to more of a Malcolm Jenkins-like role.

On the outside looking in, the concern would be that McLeod was at least partly culpable for many of the Eagles' league-leading 40-plus yard pass plays allowed last season, and Mills switching positions is a lot easier said than done.

6) Defensive end

Broken record alert here, but no matter what you think about Brandon Graham or Derek Barnett, the team loves them both, and they're going to be the Eagles' starting defensive ends in 2020. Beyond Graham and Barnett, Josh Sweat took a small step forward in 2019, and the Eagles will hope his progress accelerates in 2020.

And then they have a slew of guys thereafter, like Genard Avery, Joe Ostman, Shareef Miller, and Daeshon Hall, that they probably like a more than you do.

7) Interior offensive line

At some point Jason Kelce is going to retire, so the Eagles could continue to fill the OL pipeline. A guard-center versatile player would make sense in the short-term for depth purposes, and also as a long-term replacement either for Kelce at center, or for Isaac Seumalo at LG, should the Eagles simply slide Seumalo in to replace Kelce at center.

8) Offensive tackle

Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a very useful player for the Eagles over the last four years, but he's now gone, so the Eagles could use a swing tackle to back up Andre Dillard at LT (Jason Peters remains unsigned, by the way), and Lane Johnson at RT. 

Jordan Mailata was once a candidate for that role. We'll see soon enough if the Eagles think his progress has stalled. Matt Pryor is also in the mix, though you wouldn't consider him a swing tackle, as he has mainly been trained at RG and RT.

9) Quarterback

The bet here is that the Eagles will employ a similar strategy at quarterback as last year, in that they'll view Nate Sudfeld as the No. 2, unless he falters / gets hurt / etc., at which point they'll bring in an outside quarterback (Josh McCown again?) to fill in. They could also draft a developmental third quarterback to develop behind the scenes.

10) Defensive tackle 

The Eagles have boatloads of financial resources allocated to the defensive tackle spot, with three highly-paid players in Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Javon Hargrave. They also retained Hassan Ridgeway this offseason. While it's not the worst idea to beef up the defensive line with disruptive player, and I wouldn't completely rule out a draft pick there, it would be overkill.

11) Tight end

There's a good argument that the Eagles should find a capable third tight end if they're going to run a two-TE set as their base offense, but they have shown little evidence that they share that logic.

12) Kicker / punter / long snapper

They're fine there.

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