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May 02, 2022

The Eagles' remaining holes to fill, post-draft, and who can fill them

Eagles NFL
Sony-Michel-RB-Rams-Eagles_050222_USAT Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

Sony Michel could be the down-hill running back the Eagles backfield is missing.

Each year after the draft has come and gone, the Philadelphia Eagles typically sign a veteran player or two to plug unfilled holes on their depth chart. There are a few positions where they could use an additional veteran player.

Safety

A starting safety duo of Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps isn't good enough. The Eagles kicked the tires on Tyrann Mathieu in early April, and because they did not select a safety in the 2022 draft, many have assumed that their interest in Mathieu would intensify.

"I think where we are at the safety position – we have a lot of confidence in Anthony," Howie Roseman said on Saturday when asked about the possibility of adding Mathieu. "That's why we brought him back. We have a lot of confidence in Marcus. Marcus played really good football for us last year. We have a lot of confidence in K’Von [Wallace]. We brought Andre [Chachere] here last year, we have Jared [Mayden], and we'll continue to look at that position. You know, nothing imminent, but again, we probably have a higher vision of that room than maybe is perceived."

Even if perhaps a little overrated publicly, Mathieu is by far the best safety available on the open market, and according to ESPN, the Saints are expected to make an aggressive push to sign him after they too did not draft a safety.

Update: It looks like the Saints are signing Mathieu: 

The remaining free agent safeties are not exactly a who's who of greatness.

Cornerback

Darius Slay is coming off a Pro Bowl season, and the team signed Avonte Maddox to a contract extension during the 2021 season. CB1 and slot corner are covered. But CB2 remains an unsettled spot in the Eagles' defense. The team seemed to be purposely stockpiling young cornerbacks all year in 2021:

  1. May 1: They drafted Zech McPhearson in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
  2. May 18: They traded a sixth-round pick to the Jaguars for Josiah Scott.
  3. September 2: They claimed Andre Chachere off of waivers from the Colts. 
  4. September 7: They signed Mac McCain off of the Broncos' practice squad.
  5. October 15: They traded Zach Ertz to the Cardinals for a fifth-round pick and Tay Gowan.
  6. November 2: They traded a sixth-round pick to the Broncos for Kary Vincent, Jr.

During the undrafted phase of free agency, they reportedly added three corners in Alabama's Josh Jobe, Clemson's Mario Goodrich, and Duke's Josh Blackwell.

While none of those players individually should be counted on as a definitive starting options in 2022, perhaps the Eagles are playing the odds that one will stick?

But also, beyond just looking at personnel, in Jonathan Gannon's defense cornerbacks weren't challenged with tough assignments the same way they were during the Jim Schwartz era, so it may not currently be viewed as a position of high priority, right or wrong.

If the Eagles get a look at the above group of young corners and don't like what they see, they could still add a veteran Band-Aid for one season, like they did last July with Steven Nelson. The still available free agent candidates this year are guys like Trae Waynes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett, Kevin King, Xavier Rhodes, A.J. Bouye, Jimmy Smith, and others. So there are still some reasonable fallback options.

Defensive end

The Eagles had 29 sacks in 2021, second worst in the NFL. Of that total, only 10.5 of them came from edge rushers. There were 14 individual players last season who had at least 10.5 sacks in 2021. Brandon Graham will return next season, and he'll help improve the Eagles' edge rush, but he's not a long-term answer as he just turned 34 years old. All the Eagles have in terms of long-term pieces at DE is Josh Sweat, who still has to prove that he can be a consistent disruptor. 

In free agency, the Eagles made a splashy Day 1 signing when they added Haason Reddick, who will likely play a mix of the SAM position as well as DE on obvious passing downs. He'll help generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They also drafted a Kyron Johnson in the sixth round, a player who will likely back up Reddick.

When the Eagles still had three first-round picks, it felt like a near-lock that they would draft an edge rusher. However, they made the unpopular decision to bring back Derek Barnett on a one-year deal, a move may have been influenced by first-round prospect David Ojabo tearing an Achilles at his pro day. Huh? How's that? Well, perhaps the Eagles couldn't be certain that at least one of the pass rushers worthy of one of their three first-round picks would slide to them, so they wanted to ensure they had somebody in place if the draft didn't go their way?

The Eagles still need to add youth along their line, but with the draft having come and gone without a traditional DE added to the mix, the Birds will likely have to wait until next year to reload. It feels unlikely at this point that they'll add another difference-making vet.

Running back

The Eagles had the best rushing offense in the NFL in 2021 because (a) they kind of had to be without a functional passing offense, and (b) they had an elite run-blocking offensive line. The backs were just sort of along for the ride, and they failed to produce big plays despite plenty of opportunities provided to them by the big boys up front. On the season, Eagles backs had zero rushes of over 40 yards.

The running backs on the Eagles' roster include Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, and Jason Huntley. They also reportedly added undrafted free agent Kennedy Brooks.

The Birds could still add a between-the-tackles banger in the same mold of Jordan Howard. Howard himself has been effective in that role, but he has not been able to stay on the field.

Former Patriots and Rams RB Sony Michel is a bigger back at 5'11, 220, who isn't a home run hitter, but does a very good job of getting the yards that are there.

Punter

Arryn Siposs turned into a Shankopotomous machine at the end of the season. At a minimum, they have to give Siposs legitimate competition in training camp this year, if not just replacing him outright before camp even begins. Four punters got drafted this year, and some of them even went pretty early:

  1. Round 4, pick 130: Jordan Stout, Ravens
  2. Round 4, pick 133: Jake Camarda, Buccaneers
  3. Round 6, pick 180: Matt Araiza, Bills
  4. Round 7, pick 255: Trenton Gill, Bears

After the Eagles traded most of their Day 3 picks to select Jordan Davis and acquire A.J. Brown, they were unlikely to draft a punter, but it was also maybe a little surprising that they did not at least add an undrafted free agent. Is Siposs going to be the answer again? Perhaps the Eagles will now just wait for one of the teams that drafted a punter to release the punters already on their rosters? If so, here's that menu of punters:

  1. Ravens: Sam Koch 
  2. Buccaneers: Bradley Pinion 
  3. Bills: Matt Haack 
  4. Bears: Pat O'Donnell signed with the Packers.

The notable free agent punters are Matt Palardy (Dolphins), Kevin Huber (Bengals), and Dustin Colquitt (Browns).

None of those above available (or likely soon to be available) punters were particularly good in 2021, via ThePuntRunts:  

021822PunterEPAJimmy/for PhillyVoice

Should the Eagles trade one or both of their 2023 first-round picks for a punter? Or maybe just coax Donnie Jones out of retirement.


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