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May 10, 2022

Mailbag: Are the Eagles moving to a base 3-4 defense?

We didn't have a chat last week, but I solicited questions and comments from Twitter and via email so that we could still have our weekly mailbag. Let's just get right to it.

Question from Brian Wiora: Given the addition of A.J. Brown, and the presumed development of the rest of the Eagles' offense, what is the minimum that Jalen Hurts has to do to keep his job in 2023?

On paper, the Eagles' offense has a chance to be special in 2022.

  1. The starting five along the offensive line is maybe the best in the NFL, and behind them there is no shortage of quality depth.
  2. The duo of DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown is already good and has a chance to be special. Smith is 23 and Brown is still only 24. 
  3. Dallas Goedert is a borderline top five tight end.
  4. There may not be a star running back, but the Eagles had an elite rushing attack in 2021.
  5. The defense still has some holes, but should be improved.
Quarterback aside, how many offenses are as good as the Eagles'? Hurts is in an outstanding position to have a great season. Given the talent around him on offense, expectations should be high at the quarterback position. 

The Eagles will need to see drastic improvement in Hurts' accuracy, and to a lesser degree, making the correct reads and getting the ball out more quickly. 

More importantly than whatever his numbers are, is he helping maximize the talent around him? If so, the Eagles' offense should be really good and he'll deserve to be crowned as "the guy" in 2023. Or is he still leaving plays on the field that most NFL quarterbacks would make? Obviously those two first-round picks are going to be earmarked for a quarterback if the Eagles think they can upgrade that position, like we saw this offseason when they tried to trade for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson.

Question from Anthony Ricciuti: What are your thoughts on how realistic it is for the Birds to sign James Bradberry? After giving A.J. Brown big money, is it less likely?

Because the Giants cut Bradberry in May, after free agency and after the draft, a whole lot of teams that previously had needs at cornerback have already filled them. He kind of got screwed. My guess is that he will want to sign a one-year contract with a team that has an open starting spot available so that he can raise his value and hit the open market in 2023. The Eagles found a similar mutually beneficial situation with Steven Nelson a year ago.

Because his pool of potential suitors is narrower than it would have been if he were a free agent in March, Bradberry likely won't break the bank. He was due a salary of $13.4 million in 2022 before the Giants cut him. No teams around the league wanted him at that price, or they'd have ponied up a conditional seventh-round pick to get him. So that's the absolute ceiling for him on a one-year contract. My bet is that he won't cost more than $10 million. 

According to the NFLPA's public salary cap report, the Eagles are about $9.3 million under the cap. They need less than $1 million to sign their two lone unsigned draft picks, Cam Jurgens and Nakobe Dean, as explained here. And of course, there's a good bet that if the Eagles signed Bradberry, even if only for one year, the 2022 cap hit would be low, with dummy years tacked onto the end of it.

So yes, they can comfortably fit him in under the cap if they have interest.

Question from Zach Teutsch: There is a lot of talk of odd-man fronts. How would you see that working? With the addition of guys like Jordan Davis and Haason Reddick, how do you see the defense changing?

Brandon Graham was asked that very question last week. Emphasis mine:

"I feel like our run defense has gotten a lot better with a lot of the additions that we have made," he said. "On top of that, we want to get after the quarterback. You got Haason who came in, you got in the draft you got the big boy up the middle, because in the 34 defense you need someone in the middle that can [take on double teams and triple teams]."

That was at the tail end of Graham's presser, and the last couple of questions did not follow up on his mention of the 3-4 defense.

The next time Nick Sirianni spoke, he was asked if the base defense would be a 4-3 or a 3-4, and he declined to answer.

I think that additions like Haason Reddick, Nakobe Dean, and most certainly Jordan Davis make sense for a 3-4, as do some of the long-term players already in place, like Josh Sweat, Milton Williams, and Javon Hargrave. We'll get a better look at the defense in training camp. They won't be able to hide it then. 

Question from Michael Ruzzi: After drafting Davis, what odds do you put on the team re-signing Hargrave after this season?

We'll be publishing a look ahead to the Eagles' 2023 free agents soon, but Hargrave is at the top of that list, in terms of importance to the Eagles. He is probably the best candidate on the team for an early contract extension, not just because he's a good player, but also because he currently has the biggest cap number on the team at just under $18 million and a new contract certainly would lower that.

Question from Patrick Yacovelli: Who is more likely to win defensive ROY, Jordan Davis or Nakobe Dean?

I'll take Dean. Even if Davis is a more impactful player, Dean has a better chance of putting up eye-popping numbers.

Question from Reagon: I have an annoying 2023 draft question: Reading the tea leaves of the QB situation around the league, what is the likelihood the Eagles trade up to draft either C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young? If so, will it be even possible given the teams most likely owning top 5 picks need QBs and what will it cost?

I think that one of the under-discussed things that happened in the draft (or perhaps better stated, didn't happen in the draft), was that none of the five teams that have multiple first-round picks in 2023 drafted a quarterback until the seventh round. Those five teams:

  1. Lions
  2. Texans
  3. Seahawks
  4. Dolphins
  5. Eagles

There's a good argument to be made that all five of those teams either need a quarterback now, or could in 2023. And yet, those five teams selected a grand total of one quarterback in the 2022 draft. Miami took Skylar Thompson with 235th overall pick.

It feels pretty clear that those teams are stockpiling for a quarterback class in 2023 that is projected to be much better than the 2022 class.

And oh by the way, the Lions, Texans, and Seahawks are all very likely to be bad in 2022. So if Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud are stud prospects likely to go top 5, I'm not sure the Eagles will be a great position to get either one. Their best hope is if the Saints are terrible in 2022.

Question from MassEagle: The front office lost a lot of people. Some are spinning this as the Eagles' front office's ability to "develop talent." In any other business, this would look like everyone is abandoning ship. Why aren't any of these people choosing to stay? Is this really a sign of dysfunction?

I don't think it's "spin," really. The people who left by choice found higher-ranking jobs with other teams. I think there would be a bigger concern if they made lateral moves to other organizations.

Question from Matthew Pecor: I'd like to see a ranking of UDFAs in potentially sticking on the final 53 man roster. I have an unrealistic belief in Reed Blankenship.

My top 6:

  1. QB Carson Strong: If he plays well in the preseason games, the Eagles will have no choice but to keep him instead of exposing him on waivers.
  2. CB Josh Jobe: He was the best prospect that the Eagles signed, in my opinion. It's noteworthy that he didn't participate in Eagles rookie minicamp. He had a foot issue throughout the 2021 season at Bama, which affected his play and led to him going undrafted. Since he's still not ready to play, it further cements the idea that he went undrafted because of the injury, as opposed to the idea that he just isn't good. So we'll see how he comes along, injury-wise, and how he plays in training camp, but he has some ability.
  3. S Reed Blankenship: We profiled this guy in each of the last two seasons in our Saturday "five prospects to watch" series, so he's been on my radar for a while now. He was productive in college, both in terms of tackles and takeaways, he has good size, and his athletic measurables are fine. It's so weird to me that most draft experts had a grade lower than "priority free agent" on him. I think he has talent, and certainly there's opportunity at safety.
  4. RB Kennedy Brooks: The Eagles still need a bigger back who can get the yards that are blocked up for him in between the tackles. If the Eagles don't sign a veteran to be that, Brooks could maybe fill that role if he shows something.
  5. DT Noah Elliss: He could push Marlon Tuipulotu for a roster spot. Personally, I didn't think Tuipulotu earned a spot last year, and only made the team because their depth wasn't good.
  6. CB Mario Goodrich: Like Jobe, Goodrich is another corner from a huge college football program who won't be intimidated by an NFL camp. His zone coverage abilities could be a good fit for the Eagles. 

Question from Dave Fash: How is the team planning to address the punter situation?  Are they aware that you must have a punter competition complete with hang time and downing inside the 20 metrics?  Is Donnie J'Owns still not returning your calls?!?

I'm not at all surprised that the team didn't draft a punter, especially after they traded a bunch of their Day 3 picks to move up for Jordan Davis. There were four (!) punters drafted, so perhaps the Eagles are just waiting for those teams to cut the veterans that those rookie punters are replacing.

I still can't imagine they're going to entrust Arryn Siposs as their punter this season after the way he fell apart at the end of last season. But also, yes, the Eagles won a Super Bowl mainly because of Donnie J'Owns, and they should bring him back.

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