June 03, 2021
The Philadelphia Eagles offseason continues on this week with the latest batch of OTA practices down at the NovaCare Complex in South Philly. But, depending on who you ask, this actually hasn't been that great of an offseason for the Eagles.
In fact, one outlet has them ranked among the worst offseasons in the NFL this year. That's probably enough to have you scroll right past anything else I'm about to say here, and considering that's where we'll start today's look at what they're saying about the Bird, let's just dive right into it...
Before things get too doom and gloom, we should be sure to point out that it was hardly all bad for the Eagles this offseason — after all, they only finished in the bottom half of this list and not, say, the bottom three. Things they did right, according to ESPN's Bill Barnwell, included moving on from Carson Wentz, getting their cap situation under control (especially for 2022), signing guys like Anthony Harris (more on him in a bit) and Ryan Kerrigan, as well as drafting Devonta Smith.
As for what didn't go their way...
What went wrong: Imagine telling an Eagles fan after they won the Super Bowl in February of 2018 that neither Doug Pederson nor Wentz would be involved with the organization three years later. Pederson was fired after his relationships with Wentz and owner Jeffrey Lurie fractured beyond repair, and Wentz was traded to Indy shortly thereafter. We'll see how the moves work out, but two key positions that seemed solved for the Eagles for years to come are question marks yet again. Philly is eating a staggering $33.8 million in dead money on its 2021 cap as part of the Wentz trade, meaning that his ghost will have the second-largest cap hit of any player in football this season.
What they could have done differently: Signed a backup quarterback who runs something vaguely approximating the same scheme the Eagles will run with Hurts. It's difficult to imagine two quarterbacks who are more different than Hurts and Flacco, and while the passing concepts for the two don't necessarily need to be different, they will at least build some chunks of their offense to play to Hurts' strengths. If Tyrod Taylor wasn't financially feasible, Robert Griffin might have been a better choice than Flacco.
What's left to do: Move on from Zach Ertz. It's clear that the star tight end's future is somewhere else, and Philly could use the $8.5 million it will save on their cap in 2021 to help extend Ertz's long-term replacement, free agent-to-be Dallas Goedert. The Eagles will likely either trade the 30-year-old for a late-round pick or cut him outright. [espn.com]
Interestingly enough, it seems like Barnwell's biggest complaints (aside from that dumb Joe Flacco deal) center around things that had been in motion long before the offseason began. Sure, this offseason was a result of stuff that had been boiling under the surface for some time, but it's pretty obvious the Eagles were trying to turn lemons into lemonade with some of their moves.
In other words, they were backed into a corner and had very limited options. Still, that was their own fault and they most certainly need to be held accountable for it.
As noted above, the Eagles added a potential future top wideout in DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick. They also have Dallas Goedert, who is among the best tight ends in the NFL. Additionally, they spent their first-round pick a year ago on another wide receiver who they're hoping takes a big step forward in 2021.
Still, none of that was enough to keep the Eagles out of the bottom three receiving units in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Here's more from PFF's Steve Palazzolo on why the Eagles are so low...
30. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Eagles wide receivers have ranked last in receiving grade in each of the last two years, so there’s plenty of room to improve for this unit. They’ve now spent back-to-back first-round selections on receivers, putting the pressure on Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith. Reagor graded at 64.0 overall as a rookie in 2020, picking up 396 yards on 31 catches. It was a slow start, but he has the explosiveness to develop as an outside vertical threat. Smith is a better all-around receiver, and that was on display in one of the best seasons in college football history. He can separate to all levels of the field and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, so look for Smith to develop as the high-volume threat in this offense.
One of the bright sides of last season’s struggles was the emergence of Travis Fulgham, who had bounced around with several teams before posting an impressive 71.2 overall grade and leading the Eagles with 539 receiving yards. Beyond that top three, Greg Ward may have a role in the possession game, as he’s averaged 8.3 yards per reception in his career. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has disappointed as a former second-rounder with just 26 career targets. And 2020 fifth-rounder John Hightower adds another speed component.
At tight end, Dallas Goedert showed that he’s the No. 1 option going forward after grading at 79.5 overall, sixth-best among tight ends. He’s one of the league’s best all-around tight ends — he and George Kittle are the only two tight ends to grade at 80.0-plus both as receivers and as run blockers. Zach Ertz remains on the roster for now, but he’s on the trading block after a career-low 57.3 overall Grade. Ertz has been one of the best route runners in the league in his eight-year career, so he still has something to offer in a complementary role. When and if Ertz is moved, the backup snaps will have heavy competition between Caleb Wilson, Jason Croom, former QB Tyree Jackson and former WR Hakeem Butler.
While Eagles pass-catchers are coming off a couple of rough seasons, Smith provides hope and there are pieces in place to turn things around. [pff.com]
PFF also ranked other positions — like running back, where the Eagles finished 27th — as well as individual players — like Miles Sanders, whose 19th ranking wasn't enough to pull his unit's collective ranking any higher.
One of the interesting ones was Darius Slay, who PFF had ranked as the 23rd best outside cornerback in the NFL. The Eagles still don't know who will be playing opposite him, but they do know that they have a new addition in the secondary, with Anthony Harris coming in to replace Jalen Mills, who signed with the Patriots. Interestingly enough, PFF has Harris ranked as the 13th-best safety in all of football. Only Goedert (TE5), Jason Kelce (C5), Fletcher Cox (DT6), Brandon Brooks (OG8), and Lane Johnson (OT10) were ranked higher at their respective positions.
Speaking of Harris, he might have been the Eagles' biggest offseason addition, at least in terms of what he'll contribute in 2021. At the very least, going from Mills to him is the Eagles' biggest upgrade at any position — although we'll have to see how the young QB pans out before making any final judgements.
Just how big of an upgrade was Harris? Well, despite ESPN ranking the Eagles in the bottom half the league in terms of their overall offseason, they ranked the Harris signing specifically as one of the best in all the NFL.
18. Philadelphia Eagles, S: Anthony Harris replaces Jalen Mills
Mills' 2020 stat line: 74 tackles, 1 INT
Harris' 2021 projection: 103 tackles, 2.0 INTs
Mills was a solid find by the Eagles as a seventh-round pick back in 2016, but the versatile defensive back was not the answer as Malcolm Jenkins' de facto replacement at safety last season. Mills is now in New England and will be replaced in Philadelphia by a more traditional safety in Harris.
The 29-year-old broke out with a league-high six INTs in 2019 before he was slapped with the franchise tag by Minnesota. He wasn't quite as dominant last season, as he failed to record a single interception, but he did increase his tackle total from 60 in 2019 to a career-high 104. Nonetheless, Harris provides an upgrade and solid starter with upside opposite Rodney McLeod in an Eagles secondary that badly needed an injection of talent. The Eagles have ranked 22nd or worse in interceptions each of the past three seasons, with a total of 29 during the span. [espn.com]
We mentioned Goedert above, and with Zach Ertz expected to be on his way out of Philly before long, the young TE is going to be taking on an even bigger role in Philly. He's ready, but he's also ready (and due) a new contract. Here's more from CBS Sports' Jeff Kerr following Goedert's recent session with the media...
Dallas Goedert was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles to eventually become the heir apparent at tight end to Zach Ertz, which may be coming a year sooner than expected. Ertz, heading into the final year of his contract, and the Eagles are expected to part ways this offseason -- the Eagles are trying to find the right trade compensation for Ertz -- paving the way for Goedert to become the starting tight end in 2021.
Goedert is also heading into the final year of his rookie deal. While free agency is upon him, Goedert is preparing to be in Philadelphia for years to come.
"I think the contract stuff is still in discussions a little bit," Goedert said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday. "I'm not too worried about that...I would love to be in Philly forever and having the second contract is the ultimate goal. The sooner you can get to it, I feel like it's better.
"Either way, whether I get it or not, I'm going to have the same mentality. I have to go in there, have a good year, we have to make the playoffs, we have to get more wins than we did last year." [cbssports.com]
Finally, an update on the most important player on the roster: quarterback Jalen Hurts. So much for this franchise is riding on what kind of player he can be. If he proves he can be their QB1 going forward, then the Eagles will be able to better spend their massive arsenal of draft capital next season, one that could include a trio of first-round picks. If he doesn't, then Philly will likely have to spend that either as part of a deal to move up for a QB in the draft (assuming they don't finish with the worst record) or as compensation in a trade to acquire a veteran QB.
How Hurts develops on the field will be key, but according to this recent story from NJ.com's Mike Kaye, the second-year player is already handling himself like the team's leader.
Running back Boston Scott has been impressed by Hurts’ willingness to coach his teammates at such a young age.
“He likes to teach,” Scott said Wednesday. “We’ll be running routes, and he’ll have his helmet on, and he’ll take off his helmet and then he’ll go run the route.”
During his second summer in Philadelphia, Hurts wants to develop chemistry with his playmakers. [...]
Hurts will use the time between reps to show his teammates what he sees in practice. He will also explain how he wants them to run a route and what needs to happen for a play to be successful.
“Not only is he a hard worker, and takes care of his stuff individually,” Scott said, “but he also wants to make the people around him better.” [nj.com]
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