February 26, 2021
The NFL offseason is less than three weeks from kicking into high gear, with free agency starting up in mid-March and the draft coming up just over a month after that.
That being said, this has already been a more lively offseason to this point than we've grown accustomed to in past years. Three starting quarterbacks — Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff and, of course, Carson Wentz — have already been traded, and there could be several more, even bigger names on the move with the likes of Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers all voicing displeasure at their current situations.
And if that's any indication of what's to come once legal tampering (and actual free agency) begins next month, buckle up. It could get wild.
The Eagles, however, likely won't be major players in free agency, largely because they're a team "in transition," as owner Jeffrey Lurie called it back in January, and because their current cap situation simply won't allow it. Howie Roseman already has his work cut out just trying to get the Eagles under the cap before the new league year starts, let alone creating any significant room for major upgrades. That being said, the Eagles are expected to undergo considerable roster changes this year, although that likely won't come in the form of big-name additions.
Still, it's likely going to be a busy next couple of months for Roseman and Co.
As always, we'll keep you updated with all the latest trade rumors and free agency buzz as the offseason rolls on, and today that takes the form of What They're Saying, starting with a look at what the Wentz (and Stafford-Goff) trade means for the future of the quarterback position around the NFL...
Over at ESPN, Dan Graziano took a look at the Wentz and Goff trades from several different angles, largely through the lens of what those deals mean for how teams view the quarterback position — and how that could change after seeing the Rams and Birds swallow the two largest dead-money hits in NFL history just to get rid of the quarterbacks the drafted with the top two picks back in 2016. For starters, there's more pressure than ever for teams to decide whether or not their young quarterbacks are the answer — and that's causing some trouble. Previously, QBs would get the chance to bounce back from a bad season early in their careers. Now, with the way the fifth-year option works, teams essentially have three years to decide on a QB. And the benefit of those rookie contracts is now down after Year 4, making it more difficult to build around those quarterbacks once the higher salary kicks in.
"It used to be you had four or five years to figure it out with first-round quarterbacks," one agent told me. "Now, it's three."
Part of this is the fifth-year option, a device installed in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that allows teams to exercise a fifth year in addition to the standard four-year rookie contract on first-round picks. Teams are required to decide after Year 3 whether they will exercise the option, which comes at a significantly higher price than the player's salaries from Years 1-4 and thus marks the end of the window during which their starting quarterback is a bargain that makes it easier to build around him. [...]
Fundamentally, what the cases of Goff and Wentz show us is that teams don't want to compound mistakes by extending them. Yes, the Rams and Eagles will suffer massive dead-money hits in 2021, but those deals won't impact their salary caps at all in 2022 and beyond. Had they still been on the team for those years, they would have cost huge money. And had things not improved, that would have resulted in years' worth of trouble instead of one really bad short-term hit.
"It says what some people have always known about the NFL -- that it's cash that matters, not cap," a team executive told me. "A team owner is more likely to take the point of view of, 'With how much I'm paying in cash, what else can I get for that cash?' People just aren't being bound by old constraints." [espn.com]
According to Graziano, the Eagles and Rams might be the litmus test for other NFL teams. If they're able to successful turn their teams around in short order, perhaps other teams will be willing to make similar, previously unimaginable decisions moving forward.
In conclusion: These aren't just blips on the radar
The Goff and Wentz trades indicate a significant change in the way the NFL conducts business as it pertains to its high-priced franchise-quarterback types. And the fact that they happened means deals like these will continue to happen. The Texans might find themselves trading Watson, who signed his mega-extension last year and has made it clear he doesn't want to play there anymore.
It is, as we so often hear, a copycat league. Teams that never could have imagined taking on $22 million or $33 million in dead money for a single player have now watched teams do exactly that. If the Rams or the Eagles make it back to the Super Bowl in the next couple of years -- heck, even if they come close -- other teams are going to look at these situations and decide they're just fine. [espn.com]
One of the problems some pointed to when it came to Wentz's struggles in 2020 was the Eagles injury-plague patchwork offensive line — although the eye test shows that Wentz also struggled when he wasn't under pressure last season.
The Eagles are expecting to get several of those pieces back from injury in 2021, and that's good news for Jalen Hurts (or whoever winds up being the team's starting quarterback). But there could still be plenty of room for upgrades should the team want to put the second-year quarterback in the best position to win.
However, in a post with "daring" offseason suggestions, Football Outsiders suggested that the Eagles don't pay to upgrade their offensive line.
Philadelphia Eagles: Don't pay to fix the offensive line
The Eagles lost 48 combined games from presumptive starting offensive linemen Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo and Andre Dillard in 2020. Given Carson Wentz's historically big efficiency splits with and without pressure, those injuries may have ended the Eagles' hopes of a playoff berth before Wentz even started to slump.
Now that Wentz is gone, the team will want to reinforce that line to give sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts his best chance to succeed. But the Eagles may should resist that temptation. With a team full of veterans and an eye on a return to the Super Bowl, Philadelphia is $43 million over the projected salary cap. Only the Saints have a bigger deficit.
The Eagles will have to make sacrifices, and the offensive line could be a good choice given Hurts' mobility in the pocket and scrambling. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson echo those skills, and they have ranked in the top 10 in DVOA on their dropbacks with pressure every year since 2017 and have done so behind consistently porous offensive lines. Hurts started just four games in 2020 but teased that potential with what would have been a 13th-place finish in DVOA under pressure had he qualified. And if he can continue that success with pressure, then the Eagles can spend their limited resources to address their other deficiencies such as linebacker and wide receiver. [espn.com]
Honestly, that doesn't feel daring at all. If the Eagles do nothing along the offensive line, and all their injured players return, they'll still have, from left to right, Andre Dillard/Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson. I don't know if I'd call it a huge area of need — and our own Jimmy Kempski seems to agree.
Sure, Eagles QBs were sacked a ridiculous 65 times in 2020, but that wasn't with these guys manning the line. And if all are expected to return, it would actually be dumb, given their cap situation, for the Eagles to spend much of anything on the position in 2021. Instead, make some moves on the margin and potentially add some depth through the draft, as some of the guys listed above are starting to show their age and could need to be replaced before long.
Of course, if the Eagles do opt to upgrade the offensive line via free agency, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox thinks Russell Okung could be a fit — especially if the Eagles aren't sold on Dillard or Mailata as the left tackle of the future.
Insurance at left tackle would be ideal, as the Eagles still don't know exactly what they have in 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard. He played just 337 snaps as a rookie and then missed all of 2020 with a torn biceps.
Philadelphia will have to look at bargains in free agency, as it's projected to be nearly $47 million over the cap. The Eagles might be able to find one in left tackle Russell Okung, who is 32 years old and was only healthy for 13 games over the last two years.
Okung is a proven starter, however, and would represent an upgrade over impending free agent Jason Peters, who was a borderline disaster in 2020. He allowed eight sacks in 509 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Okung played roughly 100 fewer snaps but only allowed three sacks. [bleacherreport.com]
DeSean Jackson was released by the Eagles, and Alshon Jeffery won't be too far behind. And if the Eagles are looking to avoid spending too much in free agency, perhaps they could replace* those two with some in-house solutions.
And, of course, they could always spend another high pick on a wide receiver (and just hope they pick the right one this time).
The Eagles spent two premium draft picks during the past two years trying to add replacements. Jalen Reagor, their 2020 first-round pick, would fit as an option at the “Z” receiver spot that Jackson occupied. That’s still applicable, and the Eagles are hoping for better health — and more production — from Reagor in 2021 after he finished with 31 catches for 396 yards in 11 games last season.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside was selected with the hope that he could replace Jeffery as the “X” receiver. That optimism has since faded after two unproductive seasons from the 2019 second-round pick, and there’s no assurance that Arcega-Whiteside will even make the 2021 roster.
The Eagles could use Travis Fulgham as a Jeffery replacement. Fulgham showed potential during a midseason stretch when he was among the most productive receivers in the NFL, but his role was reduced during the final two months of the season. It might be more likely that the Eagles acquire a newcomer for this spot. Don’t be surprised if Philadelphia spends its first-round pick on a wide receiver again, with LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase an appealing option if he slips to No. 6. [theathletic.com]
Of course, if they don't believe that to be enough, they could look to free agency to add some wide receiver help. Of course, it would have to be on a relatively cheap deal, and the names available there aren't exactly thrilling. Still there are some that would fit, and Dave Zangaro highlighted five, including some that have ties to the Eagles coaching staff...
Let’s start off with an easy connection to new head coach Nick Sirianni. Williams was just released on Wednesday. Williams missed the entire 2020 season with an injury. He just turned 29 but he doesn’t have a lot of wear, playing in just 69 career games. And Williams’ two best seasons came with Sirianni as his position coach. In 2016, Williams was a second-year undrafted free agent and caught 69 passes for over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns. His second-best season came in 2017, still under Sirianni. The Eagles won’t have DeSean in 2021 so maybe Williams can fill the void as a deep threat. Since 2015, among players with at least 100 catches, Williams ranks seventh in the NFL in yards per reception (16.1). [nbcsports.com]
Over at NFL.com, Nick Shook offered up 2020 rookie grades for each team in the NFC East. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given how their season turned out) the Eagles finished last with a disappointing C.
Sure, these guys still have time to turn things around a prove their critics wrong, but for now it's looking like the 2020 draft could serve as yet another indictment of Roseman.
For a team that was in need of receiving help, the Eagles didn't quite find much of it in 2020 despite spending three picks, including a first-rounder, on the position. Reagor had some positive moments, but missed five games with a torn ligament in his thumb, which hampered his ability to establish a rhythm in Year 1. Hurts found himself in a QB controversy upon taking over as the team's starter in Week 14 following Carson Wentz's benching. With Doug Pederson out, Nick Sirianni in and trade rumors swirling around Wentz, Hurts will enter Year 2 under drastically different circumstances. Amid all the madness last season, the rookie passer showed glimpses of franchise-quarterback potential, but his evaluation remains incomplete. Taylor is a raw player with great upside because of his premier athleticism, but will require more time than usual to become a productive NFL linebacker. Wallace didn't see significant defensive time until injuries/personnel moves gave him an opportunity (albeit a small one), though he was effective on special teams. Driscoll was selected as a depth lineman but was called into action because of the many injuries the Eagles suffered. He gave up three sacks in 299 offensive snaps, earning a PFF pass-blocking grade of 69.6 while gaining valuable experience. Hightower struggled to make a difference in the passing game. Bradley primarily played special teams, breaking 20 defensive snaps in a game only once in 2020. Watkins was a sporadic participant on offense, catching seven passes for 106 yards and one touchdown on 116 snaps. Wanogho spent nearly the entire season on the Eagles' practice squad before seeing game action in Week 17. He signed a futures contract with the Chiefs in late January. Toohill was scooped up by Washington after appearing in one game with the Eagles. [nfl.com]
Speaking of the draft, Bleeding Green's Dave Mangels decided to take the draft prognosticators to task for their awful mock drafts (specifically those that come out before free agency). And while not every bad take is Eagles-related, he started off with a wild one that most certainly is...
From there, Dave goes through a number of early mock drafts from last year and it might make you think twice about putting too much stock into the ones you've read so far this year.
You have to love the mock draft industry. If you performed your job as well as mock drafters do theirs, you would quietly be asked to leave. Meanwhile, Mel Kiper said he would retire if Jimmy Clausen was not a successful QB; Kiper, unlike Clausen, is still going. Being massively wrong simply doesn’t matter. And the further away from the draft a mock draft is, the more outrageous a mock draft can get. Before their final years in college, you can find mock drafts where Matt Barkley, Mason Rudolph, and Jake Fromm were first-round picks, while Joe Burrow, and Carson Wentz, and Daniel Jones weren’t.
Right now we’re in the sweet spot of awful mock drafts. In a normal year, the Combine would be this weekend, giving us our first serious batch of mock drafts. The Combine would answer questions for some prospects and ask some for a few others. But just as important would be that the Combine serves as a trade show of sorts, where connections are made and information is exchanged. So these start to bring draft boards into focus. And crucially it is just before free agency starts. The draft is stage 2 of the NFL’s player acquisition period, it is putting the cart before the horse to try to determine what a team will do in stage 2 when stage 1, free agency, has yet to happen.
But being wrong has never and will never stop mock drafters. So let’s review a sampling of mock drafts from this time of year in 2020.
We will start with an absolute banger, as the kids say. The PFF Analytics Mock Draft 1.0 had Davion Taylor in the 1st round. Yes, the same Davion Taylor that the Eagles drafted in the 3rd round and was drafted at least two rounds early. [bleedinggreennation.com]
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