May 02, 2023
Each year after the draft has come and gone, the Philadelphia Eagles typically sign a few veteran players to plug unfilled holes on their depth chart, sometimes immediately, and sometimes a little closer to the season.
Last year, for example, we identified safety, cornerback, defensive end, running back, and punter as positions that could still be addressed post-draft, and sure enough, the Eagles added a safety (Chauncey Gardner-Johnson), a cornerback (James Bradberry), a defensive end (Robert Quinn), and a running back (Trey Sermon). They didn't bother with a punter, and, well, oops.
It's noteworthy that as of Tuesday, players who sign with new teams won't count toward the compensatory pick formula, which could spur some signing action around the league. (The Eagles lost nine compensatory pick-qualifying players in free agency this offseason and gained none, so they had no reason to wait until after the compensatory deadline passed to sign players, seeing as the maximum number of comp picks that can be awarded to any one team is four.)
Here we'll take a look at the positions that should still be addressed. As we noted in our draft grades, there is no team with a roster more ready for the 2023 season right now than the Eagles, so many of the positions listed below are a little nitpicky.
The Eagles' depth at linebacker looks like so:
|Nakobe Dean||Christian Elliss||Davion Taylor|
|Nicholas Morrow||Shaun Bradley||Ben VanSumeren (unofficial UDFA)|
It is expected that Dean will start after understudying behind T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White last season. Morrow, for now, is the other projected starter, but it should be noted that he signed a one-year contract worth just $1.09 million, hardly starter money.
Otherwise, they have Elliss, who actually looked pretty good in some blowouts last season but has limited experience, and Bradley, who didn't play a single snap in the regular defense in 2022.
It feels like a lock that the Eagles will add a linebacker at some point after they didn't draft one over the weekend. The most recognizable names among the available free agents are Deion Jones, Myles Jack, Zach Cunningham, and Rashaan Evans, none of whom are exactly slam dunk, unquestioned starters.
There's perhaps an interesting situation developing in Baltimore, where Patrick Queen could be available. The Ravens traded for Roquan Smith last season and then signed him to a monster contract, and they drafted Clemson LB Trenton Simpson in the third round. They have also decided not to exercise Queen's fifth-year option.
In 2022, Queen had a nice season statistically, racking up 117 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 INTs, 6 pass breakups, a forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 14 QB hits. He has also never missed a game in his three years in the NFL.
The Eagles are loaded up with a projected 10 picks in 2024, including four picks in the fifth round, and two in the sixth. Queen could be an option for a Day 3 pick, or the Eagles could wait for another linebacker to become available.
Josiah Scott was the Eagles' backup slot corner last season, and he struggled. During 2022 training camp, the Eagles put more on Scott's plate, giving him reps at safety in addition to his usual spot in the slot, hoping that he could be a valuable, versatile backup. He played meaningful snaps in eight games during the regular season, usually filling in whenever Maddox was sidelined with injuries. In those games, opposing offenses often moved their best receivers into the slot specifically to attack Scott, usually with success.
It's worth noting that when Chauncey Gardner-Johnson returned from injured reserve (with Maddox still on the shelf), the Eagles felt more comfortable moving Gardner-Johnson into the slot in nickel, and having Reed Blankenship come off the bench to play safety rather than have Scott just fill in directly for Maddox.
If the season began today, Scott would still probably be the backup slot corner, which is an issue, considering that Maddox has struggled to stay on the field.
This offseason, the Eagles signed Greedy Williams and drafted Kelee Ringo, who are both better suited to play outside. The Eagles have not yet used Zech McPhearson as a slot corner, even though he played in the slot at times in college. Perhaps it would make some sense to put more on his plate this season. Otherwise, the Eagles could use an upgrade on Scott.
One player who I believe makes sense is Artie Burns, who was a Steelers first-round pick (25th overall) in 2016 who has appeared in 72 career games (38 starts). After a disappointing four years in Pittsburgh, Burns signed with the Bears in 2020, but he tore an ACL in the preseason and his season was over before it ever started. The Bears thought enough of what they saw in 2020 to sign him once again to a one-year contract in 2021.
In 2021, Burns did not play in the regular defense until Week 11. He started 6 of the final 7 games, collecting 23 tackles and 6 pass breakups. I don't like citing PFF's grades as they often lack context (and I'm not watching hours of Artie Burns film just for this article), but PFF gave him a very good coverage grade of 85.1.
Burns' two seasons in Chicago overlapped with Sean Desai. In 2022, he signed with the Seahawks, after the Seahawks hired Desai to become their associate head coach. He managed to stick on the roster for the entirety of the season, but was among the team's inactives for 13 games.
It's also perhaps noteworthy that Eagles Director of Scouting Brandon Hunt was with the Steelers when Pittsburgh drafted him in the first round.
The Eagles' wide receiver depth chart:
|WR||A.J. Brown||Tyrie Cleveland||Joseph Ngata (unofficial UDFA)|
|WR||DeVonta Smith||Devon Allen||Greg Ward|
|WR||Quez Watkins||Olamide Zaccheaus||Britain Covey||Jadon Haselwood (unofficial UDFA)|
Brown and Smith are of course one of the best 1-2 wide receiver tandems in the NFL, and then it gets a little dicey.
In 2021, Watkins had a fantastic training camp and earned a starting spot in the Eagles' offense. That season he had 43 catches for 647 yards and one TD. He ranked third on the team both in receptions and receiving yards, with a big gap between himself and the rest of the Eagles' receivers below him.
Watkins entered 2022 with an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, expectations for his play were heightened because of the promise he showed in 2021. On the other hand, he was losing his starting job as a result of the trade for A.J. Brown, and his production was surely going to decline even if his play on the field didn't.
What the Eagles asked of Watkins was to make the most of the opportunities that came his way, and he largely disappointed.
Watkins finished the 2022 season with 33 catches for 354 yards and (10.7 YPR) and three TDs, and the Eagles signed Zaccheaus to give him competition in the slot.
The Eagles believe that Watkins can play inside or outside, so he would theoretically start on the outside if Brown or Smith got hurt. Otherwise, the Eagles don't have much in the way of outside receivers.
Judging by the reported signings of Ngata (6'3, 217) and Haselwood (6'2, 215), a pair of big receivers, the Eagles could be looking for a replacement for what Zach Pascal brought to the offense.
One veteran receiver we have mentioned here in the past is Kenny Golladay, who was a disastrous big-money signing by the Giants, but in the three seasons (36 games) with Detroit before his signed with the Giants, Golladay caught 155 passes for 2591 yards (16.7 YPR) and 18 TDs. Extrapolate those numbers over 17 game seasons, and he was averaging 73-1224-9 per season. He has talent. Maybe the Eagles can coax it out of him?
As far as a potential role, Golladay was thought of as a good blocker in his time in Detroit. If he is willing to take on an unselfish role, he could be a significant upgrade on Pascal. Of course, Golladay is a player who has made around $50 million over his career, so he may not be interested in embracing a dirty work depth role.
The Eagles are returning Reed Blankenship, who was actually the Eagles' most impactful rookie in 2022 after signing as an undrafted player. They also added Terrell Edmunds and Justin Evans in free agency, and drafted Sydney Brown early in the third round. And then there's K'Von Wallace, who could be back for his fourth season with the team.
I believe the Eagles are done at safety, unless an unexpected opportunity arises, like it did last year with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
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