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January 11, 2020

Eagles stay or go: Wide receiver

Eagles NFL
43_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Alshon_Jeffey_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles wideout Alshon Jeffery.

The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 season is over, and there will be a lot of interesting decisions made on the players currently on the roster, more so than in most years. Let's take a position-by-position look at who will likely be back with the team in 2020, and who won't.

Previous stay or go positional analysis

Quarterback | Running back

Today we'll look at the wide receivers. (All money figures via OverTheCap.)

Alshon Jeffery

In his press conference on Wednesday, Howie Roseman was asked about the contract renegotiation that occurred with Jeffery prior to the 2019 season.

"We had a conversation with Alshon before the season, and he took a pay cut in exchange for guaranteeing," Roseman said. "For us, we were trying to create as much flexibility going forward with our roster to create cap space to improve the football team. I think we forget some of the contributions to our team that Alshon has had: during our Super Bowl year, the injury he played with not missing a game and the contributions in that Super Bowl game, and last year [2018] he had 11 catches during the playoffs, and even this year in his last game he had nine catches for over 130 yards in the Miami game.

"Alshon is a talented player and he loves being an Eagle and he loves this city. I think about the moment last year, after the New Orleans game, when he went into that school and put himself out there."

Whatever small cut in pay Jeffery took wasn't worth forfeiting the flexibility the Eagles previously had with Jeffery's contract.

Of course, Jeffery was indeed a key contributor in the Eagles' Super Bowl season, as Roseman mentions, and it's fair to note that he has played through shoulder and rib injuries. When Jeffery's career in Philly is over, his contributions will certainly be recognized.

That said, Jeffery has to go.

In November, Eagles sideline reporter Howard Eskin outed Jeffery as the anonymous (Alshonymous) source who criticized Carson Wentz in each of the last two seasons to national ESPN reporter Josina Anderson, which created significant distractions for the team. Jeffery denied being the source prior to Eskin's comments, but declined comment after them. 

While Wentz and Jeffery have pretended to be boys publicly, whether that be stretching next to each other during the media-attended portion of practices, or photo ops at Sixers games, that relationship is probably beyond salvaging.

Beyond the drama, Jeffery also simply wasn't very good on the football field this season. In 10 games, he had 43 catches for 490 yards (11.4 YPC), and 4 TDs, and was plagued by drops. After the loss of Jackson, the Eagles really could have benefited from a receiver stepping up his game, and Jeffery never did. In Week 14 against the Giants, Jeffery's season came to an end, when he was carted off the field after a non-contact foot injury, which will require an extensive recovery period:

Jeffery' contract renegotiation was a major unforced error. Before that move, Jeffery's cap numbers looked like so:

• 2019: $14,725,000

• 2020: $15,975,000

• 2021: $15,975,000

The Eagles could have traded or released Jeffery this offseason, and it would have been a savings of over $10 million, with a dead money hit of under $6 million.

By re-doing Jeffery's deal, the Eagles lowered his 2019 cap number, but guaranteed his $9,910,000 base salary in 2020. His new cap numbers:

• 2019: $6,069,000

• 2020: $15,446,500

• 2021: $18,536,500

The downside? If they are to release Jeffery this offseason, it will cost them a whopping $26,106,000 in dead money. If they trade him, their dead money hit will be $16,196,000.

The Eagles would certainly be willing to trade Jeffery for literally anything to get him out of town to minimize the exorbitant cap hit that lies ahead, but who exactly is going to trade for a slow, aging, injured, quarterback-criticizing receiver who might not even be ready for the 2020 season?

Barring some unlikely scenario in which the Eagles were to void Jeffery's guarantees as a result of a failed drug/PED test, or some other conduct detrimental to the team, perhaps the Eagles would be open to an NBA-style salary dump trade?

That was worth it to the Texans, who traded Brock Osweiler, a second-round pick, and a sixth-round pick to the Browns for a fourth-round pick in 2017, just to get Osweiler off their books. The Rams did something similar during the 2019 regular season with Aqib Talib, who they traded along with a fifth-round pick to the Dolphins for a seventh-round pick in 2022.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict:

DeSean Jackson

In his only full game with the Eagles in 2019, Jackson had 8 catches for 154 yards and 2 TDs. It was all a tease, as Jackson played just 15 snaps (11 at Atlanta, 4 vs. Chicago) the rest of the season. He initially tried unsuccessfully to return from a core injury without surgery, and then later, a mid-season surgery landed him on IR.

In 2020, Jackson is scheduled to count for $8,609,000 against the cap. It will cost the Eagles more to release Jackson ($12,536,000 in dead money) than it will to keep him, so there's almost no chance of that.

Jackson should be back in 2020, but the team cannot trust that he will stay healthy for anything close to 16 games, and must rebuild their receiving corps with the idea that Jackson doesn't even exist.

Anything Jackson gives the Eagles should be viewed as a bonus, though what he can give, when healthy, is obviously very intriguing.

#JimmyVerdict: Stay.

Your verdict:

Nelson Agholor

Agholor's roller coaster ride of an Eagles career hit a low point in 2019, when he failed to capitalize on several high-leverage moments in winnable games. Agholor had fixed his drop issues to some degree in 2017 and 2018, but they came roaring back in 2019, most memorably against the Falcons Week 2.

Agholor played the 2019 season on his fifth-year option at $9,387,000. That was a mistake, obviously. In 2020, Agholor will be a free agent, and it's probably best for all parties to move on.

#JimmyVerdict: Go.

Your verdict:

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Arcega-Whiteside was a second-round pick (57th overall) of the Eagles in the 2019 NFL Draft, and he was a disappointment, to put it kindly. He caught 10 passes on 22 targets for 169 yards and 1 TD during the regular season, and he got out-snapped by three practice squad guys in the Eagles' lone playoff game. 

Already unarmed with superior athleticism, Arcega-Whiteside also struggled with drops, route-running, and he did not convert on the 50-50 ball opportunities that made him appealing to the Eagles when they selected him.

The Eagles passed on a slew of other receivers who had far better rookie seasons, most notably DK Metcalf, a highly-rated receiver who got picked by the Seahawks seven spots later, who also hurt the Eagles in their playoff loss.

The Arcega-Whiteside pick was particularly curious, given his similar skill set to Jeffery. When the Eagles made that selection, it maybe made sense if the Eagles were going to move on from Jeffery after the 2019 season. And then about four months later, they made the ill-advised decision to guarantee Jeffery's 2020 salary. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

#JimmyVerdict: Arcega-Whiteside will be back in 2020, because the Eagles aren't going to cut a second-round pick after one season, but after Arcega-Whiteside's alarmingly bad rookie season, the team cannot view him as a long-term answer.

Your verdict:

Greg Ward

Ward was a great story in 2019, catching 28 passes for 254 yards (9.1 YPC) and a game-winning TD against Washington, but his roster spot in 2020 is far from a guarantee.

#JimmyVerdict: Ward will be back in camp in 2020, with a chance to make the roster. His late-season performance in 2019 should put him in a decent position to do so.

Your verdict:

Robert Davis

Davis has intriguing athleticism, and he'll have a chance to make the team in 2020, but he only had 1 catch for 6 yards for the Eagles.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp.

Your verdict:

Deontay Burnett

Burnett isn't as athletically gifted as Davis, but he is a smooth route runner with good hands. Like Ward and Davis above, he'll have a chance to make the roster in 2020.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp.

Your verdict:

Shelton Gibson

Gibson actually made a play (!) in the Eagles' playoff loss to the Seahawks, when he drew a pass interference call deep down the field. I guess he'll be in yet another Eagles training camp in 2020.

#JimmyVerdict: Camp.

Your verdict:

#JimmyVerdict Stay or Go Results

"Stay" means stay (duh), "go" means go (duh, again), while "camp" means that I think they'll be at Eagles training camp this year, but do not yet have a firm grip on a roster spot in 2020.

 QBCarson Wentz (stay) Josh McCown (go) Nate Sudfeld (stay)  
 RBMiles Sanders (stay) Jordan Howard (stay) Darren Sproles (go) Corey Clement (camp) 
 RB (cont.) Boston Scott (stay)Elijah Holyfield (camp)   
 WRAlshon Jeffery (go) DeSean Jackson (stay) Nelson Agholor (go) J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (stay) 
 WR (cont.) Greg Ward (camp)Robert Davis (camp) Deontay Burnett (camp) Shelton Gibson (camp) 

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