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March 27, 2023

NFC East 2023 free agency grades: Philadelphia Eagles edition

Eagles NFL
032723HowieRoseman Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Howie Roseman

It was widely expected that the Philadelphia Eagles were going to lose a whole slew of players this offseason after steamrolling their way to the Super Bowl with a loaded roster. And, well, they did, though the carnage perhaps wasn't as bad as anticipated.

It probably makes the most sense to start with their losses, with each players' new team in parentheses. 

Players lost

DT Javon Hargrave (49ers): Hargrave was a star in 2022, racking up 60 tackles and 11 sacks. Here are those 11 sacks:

Stud. He also had a good 2021 season, making 63 tackles and 7.5 sacks, plus a trip to the Pro Bowl. 

There's perhaps a fair argument to make that while Hargrave will make an occasional play in the backfield in the run game, he is not a great run stuffer, but he is clearly one of the best pass rushing interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

Hargrave's departure will significantly strengthen the team the Eagles beat in the NFC Championship Game, the San Francisco 49ers, who signed him to a four-year deal worth $81 million. That makes a tough blow even worse.

Hargrave was pretty clearly the Eagles biggest loss this offseason.

S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (Lions): In late August, the Eagles traded their 2023 fifth-round pick and the worse of their two sixth-round picks in 2024 for Gardner-Johnson and a 2025 seventh-round pick. Gardner-Johnson proceeded to quickly become a fan favorite, leading the NFL in interceptions, with six, despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney. He also proved some additional worth when he filled in for an injured Avonte Maddox in the slot down the stretch and during the playoffs.

Gardner-Johnson played out the final year of his rookie contract in 2022, and entered free agency hopeful land a monster contract. Instead, the open market league-wide was surprisingly soft for any safety not named Jessie Bates.

The Eagles had strong interest in re-signing Gardner-Johnson early in free agency, per multiple sources. However, they pivoted to keeping James Bradberry and Darius Slay in house when Gardner-Johnson turned down the Eagles' offers.

Gardner-Johnson eventually landed with the Detroit Lions on a deal that his agency, Universal Sports Management, touted as $8 million for one year. Universal Sports also said in a since deleted tweet that the Eagles offered Gardner-Johnson a three-year deal worth $7 million over the first two years, and $17 million in year three, claiming that the one-year deal with the Lions worth "$8 million" was the better deal, and they punctuated it with a mic drop emoji, lol. 🎤

Except, NFL contracts simply aren't structured that way. Not by the Eagles, not by any other team. Perhaps his agency was looking at what the cap numbers would be for the Eagles in each year? If so, the deal the Eagles offered might have looked something like this (via the great Sam Lynch):

As it turned out, the details revealed that Gardner-Johnson's one-year deal in Detroit was for just $6.5 million, plus incentives that feel unlikely to be earned. From Mike Florio of PFT

Per a source with knowledge of the deal, it has a base value of $6.5 million. Gardner-Johnson can make another $1.5 million via a package of incentives — all of which require the Lions to finish in the top 16 of yards allowed.

He gets $375,000 for 70-percent playing time or $750,000 for 80-percent playing time. He also gets $375,000 for three interceptions or $750,000 for five interceptions.

So he’ll get another $375,000 or another $750,000 or another $1.125 million or another $1.5 million. Or nothing at all.

Again, even if he has 100-percent playing time and 15 or more interceptions, he gets nothing unless the Lions finish in the top half of the league defensively.

Yuck. It should be noted that the Lions finished dead last in yards allowed in 2022.

It was reported that Universal Sports offered the Eagles the opportunity to match Gardner-Johnson's deal, which if true (who knows?) the Eagles probably could have matched. But ultimately, two teams in the last seven months attempted to negotiate a long-term contract with Gardner-Johnson, and both essentially decided that maybe he should just play somewhere else.

RG Isaac Seumalo (Steelers): Seumalo had some bumps in the road early in his career, but he developed into a quality starter, quietly stacking together a pair of good seasons for the Eagles in 2021 and 2022. He offers the versatility to play either guard position as well as center, and was also called upon to play both tackle spots in some pinches during his career in Philly. 

With Seumalo departing and Jason Kelce announcing that he will continue to play in 2023, look for 2022 second-round pick Cam Jurgens to fill in as the new starter at right guard.

LB T.J. Edwards (Bears): Edwards is a tough, physical, instinctive linebacker who saw his role increase each year after signing with the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2019. In those four seasons, he became the Eagles' best linebacker, albeit on a team that doesn't place a high value on the position. It's fair to also note that while Edwards has made himself into a quality starting linebacker, he is also always going to be limited athletically, and the Chiefs were able to take advantage of him and White in the middle of the field in the Super Bowl.

Still, Edwards was a leader on the Eagles defense and the "green dot" signal caller under Jonathan Gannon. The Eagles will have to find a new player for that job in 2023 under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.

RB Miles Sanders (Panthers): Sanders had a very good season in the stat sheet and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2022 after rushing 259 times for 1,269 yards (4.9 YPC) and 11 TDs, finishing fifth in the NFL in rushing yards. For the first time since 2019, Sanders played in every game, and his 259 carries beat his previous season average of 160 by 99 carries.

However, he has remained a flawed player in many ways. 

  1. As a receiver, Sanders had just 20 receptions for 78 yards (3.9 YPR), and 0 TDs. He was pretty much just an early-down back.
  2. He didn't fumble at all during the first 13 games of the season, but he lost fumbles in consecutive weeks against the Bears and Cowboys. He also fumbled twice in the Super Bowl and was fortunate that the one of them — which resulted in a Chiefs defensive touchdown — was overturned on review.
  3. There were times this season when Sanders did a good job of running hard and at least getting the yards that were blocked up for him, but there were other times he reverted back to old habits of leaving meat on the bone.

After the Eagles signed former Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny in free agency, the writing was on the wall that Sanders would soon be finding a new home. In Carolina, he will reunite with his former positional coach, Duce Staley, who is now the assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Panthers. 

S Marcus Epps (Raiders): The Eagles claimed Epps off of waivers from the Vikings in 2019, and his role steadily grew with the team until he finally became a full-time starter in 2022, when he finished third on the team with 94 tackles. He also had 6 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, and no interceptions. 

Epps was a decent enough placeholder at safety on a loaded Eagles defense, but there's an argument to be made that undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship was a better player than Epps when he got his opportunities.

LB Kyzir White (Cardinals): Over the last half decade-plus, the Eagles had their share of free agent linebacker acquisitions who failed to even make it through a full season with the team, like Corey Nelson, Paul Worrilow, LaRoy Reynolds, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown, Jatavis Brown, and Eric Wilson. They have also had some terrible linebackers who did make it through full seasons that Eagles fan perhaps wished hadn't, like Nate Gerry, for example.

In that sense, providing competent linebacker play was a low bar for White to clear, which he did, at least comparatively speaking. On the season, he had 110 tackles (three for loss), and seven pass breakups. He rarely made major, easily identifiable errors resulting in big plays for the offense, and he also did not make any big plays in terms of takeaways, for the defense. He was a solid linebacker on a reasonable one-year deal in his one season in Philly.

QB Gardner Minshew (Colts): The Eagles went 0-2 with Minshew as the starter in 2022. Against the Cowboys in Week 16, he was 24 of 40 for 355 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs. He mostly made good decisions, throwing with anticipation and subtly sidestepping the Cowboys' pass rush to extend plays and find receivers down the field, but the Birds would fall in a shootout.

Against the Saints in Week 17, Minshew completed 18 of 32 passes for 274 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, which doesn't look that bad in print but the eye test showed quite clearly that there was a very sizable difference between what Jalen Hurts is capable of on a football field and Minshew's limitations.

In Week 18, with a 1-seed on the line, the Eagles showed what they thought of Minshew's starting performances when they put an obviously hurt Hurts back out on the field against the Giants' backups to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Minshew thinks that he is a starter in the NFL and he wants to play. That would only be possible in Philly if Hurts goes down with an injury. The Colts have the No. 4 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and it is expected that they will select a quarterback. Minshew makes sense as bridge to the rookie, and in Indy, he'll reunite with former Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.

WR Zach Pascal: When the Eagles signed Pascal to a one-year contract last March, the logic made a lot of sense, in that he was a well-regarded blocking wide receiver who could do some of the meat and potatoes stuff that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside did in 2021, but with the ability to actually catch the football when it came his way. 

And that's essentially what he was for the Eagles, playing a minor role in the Eagles' offense as a pass catcher, making only 15 catches for 150 yards and a TD, but doing a lot of the dirty work that freed up star receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith to make plays.

Pascal was something of a victim of his unselfishness, however, as he had his worst statistical season as a pro.

Wide receiver is a sneaky-thin position on the Eagles' roster, and they'll need to add players either in the late stages of free agency or in the draft.

LT Andre Dillard (Titans): The Eagles traded up for Dillard in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on the hope that he would be the successor to Jason Peters at LT. That never materialized, as Dillard struggled early in his career and was leapfrogged by Jordan Mailata, who beat him out for the starting LT job during 2021 training camp.

Dillard began the 2022 season on injured reserve with a broken bone in his forearm. He returned as the backup LT and added backup LG duties to his resume after Sua Opeta was demoted to the practice squad. He appeared in 12 games, but only played 37 offensive snaps on the season.

As a former first-round pick, Dillard will go down as an Eagles draft bust, though the team did hit on Mailata in the seventh round instead. If Dillard had Mailata's career and Mailata had Dillard's, both would be viewed as successes.

There's a sentiment that Dillard can be a decent starting LT on another team. I'm less confident in that, but we'll see. He'll get a chance in Tennessee.

Players retained

C Jason Kelce: Kelce remains the best center in the world, and he will make $14.25 million in 2023, which is a $250K raise. He will also remain the highest-paid center in the world.

CB James Bradberry: Bradberry was fantastic for the Eagles during the 2022 season. According to PFF, opposing quarterbacks completed just 40 of 87 targets (46.0%) against Bradberry for 429 yards (4.9 yards per target), 2 TDs, and 3 INTs, for a combined passer rating of just 54.2. He finished with 3 INTs and 17 pass breakups.

The Eagles signed Bradberry at a severely discounted rate of $7.25 million on a one-year contract after the Giants unceremoniously cut him in a salary cut dump last May, two months after the start of free agency. In his two seasons with the Giants before signing with the Eagles, Bradberry had an impressive 35 pass breakups and 7 INTs. The decision by the Giants to release him was a curious one, given that (a) Bradberry was arguably their best defender the two seasons he played there, and (b) their cornerback depth was among the worst in the NFL. The Giants pretty much did the Eagles a huge favor by making him available once other teams around the league had already signed and/or drafted other cornerbacks.

Bradberry's reported new average annual pay of $12.7 million is once again a bargain, especially for a player who was a second-team All-Pro. According to Bradberry (via Josina Anderson), he had better offers on the table, but decided to return to Philly for less money.

He'll have the opportunity to torment the Giants a little longer for their mistake.

DT Fletcher Cox: In an otherwise stellar offseason by Howie Roseman and the Eagles' front office in 2022, one mistake was signing Cox to a one-year deal worth $14 million. Cox is an Eagles all-time great, however, he had his worst year as a pro in 2021, when he had 35 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in 16 games, often appearing disinterested and griping about his role in the scheme. While he did play harder and was more disruptive on the field during the back half of that season, it's hard to imagine how the team felt that a valuation of $14 million was reasonable.

In 2022, Cox had better stats (43 tackles, 7 sacks) than the previous year, but he never truly felt like an impact player, and it has become pretty easy to see that he is a player in decline.

As noted above the safety market was terrible for players. Conversely, the interior defensive line market was very lucrative. The Eagles did need help on the interior of their defensive line with the departure of Javon Hargrave in free agency and Cox is obviously a player they know, but they probably overpaid for his services for the second straight offseason, even if what he got was probably in line with the going rate in an inflated market.

DE Brandon Graham: Coming off a 2021 Achilles tear, Graham flourished in a smaller role in 2022, racking up 11 sacks in just 474 snaps. It was his first season with double-digit sacks, a milestone he had long hoped to pass.

Graham has always been a good run defender, and his power off the edge was a nice complement to the speed of Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat last season. He signed a bargain one-year deal worth $5 million.

RB Boston Scott: Scott has now been with the Eagles since 2018, often filling in for an injured Miles Sanders, usually against the Giants. In 2022, he carried 54 times for 217 yards (4.0 YPC) and 3 TDs, and didn't do much as a receiver (five catches for 15 yards).

OL Brett Toth: Toth has appeared in nine games in the Eagles' regular offense over the last three years, despite being a fringe roster guy who has ping-ponged back and forth between the Eagles and Cardinals. After tearing an ACL in the meaningless Week 18 game against Dallas in 2021, he began the 2022 season on the PUP list and never appeared on the 53-man roster. Interestingly, he played center in that game, when he had previously only played tackle for the Eagles. Perhaps Jeff Stoutland sees something in him as a potential backup at multiple positions?

Toth should be healthy for 2023 training camp, and because the Eagles are likely to lose some offensive line depth he could have a decent enough chance of cracking the roster.

Players gained

QB Marcus Mariota: The Eagles' pairing with Mariota makes sense, in that he is a running quarterback who can do some of the same things that Jalen Hurts can do with his legs. Should Hurts go down, the Eagles wouldn't have to throw out huge chunks of their playbook, particularly in their RPO attack, like they did with Minshew.

The Falcons were the second-most run-heavy team in the NFL in 2022, with Mariota carrying 85 times for 438 yards (5.2 YPC) and 4 TDs. His signature win of the season came against the San Francisco 49ers in a game in which he completed 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and 2 TDs, while rushing six times for 50 yards and a TD. You can watch full highlights of that game here, but as you can see below, Mariota still has wheels.

On the downside — and this is kind of a big one — Mariota's downfield accuracy in 2022 was atrocious. The below chart is a little tough to read, but it shows that Mariota was the least accurate downfield passer in the NFL, completing 8 of 44 pass attempts for 265 yards, 2 TDs, and 4 INTs on passes of 20+ yards downfield. That would be a passer rating of 29.5.

As a point of comparison, Hurts was 26 of 65 for 993 yards, 12 TDs, and 1 INT, for a passer rating of 120.7.

The eye test matched with Mariota's deep ball stats, as Falcons fans were often frustrated with his inability to connect with open receivers down the field.

The Eagles are a shot play passing offense, and for good reason when they employ A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert. It's worth noting that Brown played with Mariota in Tennessee when he was a rookie in 2019, and he played his best ball that season after the Titans made the switch from Mariota to Ryan Tannehill. 

Still, there's reason to believe that the Eagles can help Mariota become a more accurate downfield passer, given the success they had with Hurts' accuracy progression in 2022.

RB Rashaad Penny: Let's start with the bad. The Seahawks selected Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and he has missed 40 games over the last five seasons.  His list of injuries since entering the NFL:

• 2018: Missed two games with a knee injury.

• 2019: Missed three games early in the season with a hamstring injury.

• 2019: Torn ACL. Missed the final three games of the season.

• 2020: Missed the first 13 games of the regular season while recovering from his 2019 torn ACL. He returned for the final three regular season games, but missed the Seahawks' wild card round matchup against the Rams.

• 2021: Injured his calf in the Seahawks' win over the Colts Week 1. He missed the next five games.

• 2022: Broke his tibia Week 5 against the Saints, missed the rest of the season.

So why should the Eagles even consider signing this guy? Well, with the Seahawks' season basically in the toilet down the stretch in 2021 and few paying attention, Penny absolutely went off in the Seattle's final five games:

Opponent Rush Yards YPC TD 
Week 14, at Texans 16 137 8.6 
Week 15, at Rams 11 39 3.6 
Week 16, Bears 17 135 7.9 
Week 17, Lions 25 170 6.8 
Week 18, at Cardinals 23 190 8.3 
TOTAL 92 671 7.3 

As a follow-up in 2022, he was off to a great start with 57 carries for 346 yards (6.1 YPC) and 2 TDs before he broke his leg.

Penny's running style is a great fit for the Eagles' offense. He's a power back at 220 pounds, who runs with excellent energy. He has good vision, and his short, choppy steps allow him to follow his blocks as they develop down the field. He also has 4.46 speed (pre-injuries, anyway), and can run away from defenders. A look: 

This may sound like a bit of hyperbole, but if he can run like that over the course of 17 games, Penny is an All-Pro player. He just hasn't shown that he can last an entire season, or at least come close.

There's no risk in signing Penny, but there is risk in relying on him because you don't know if he will stay healthy, but he is a potential home run, short-term results kind of signing who can help take the Eagles' rushing offense to an even higher level. The team just better have a plan for if/when he goes down.

1 year, $1.35 million.

LB Nicholas Morrow: The Raiders had success converting Morrow from a safety into a linebacker after signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2017, and he has since had a successful NFL career. The Eagles have a history of attempting to convert safeties into linebackers, like Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, and (sort of) Davion Taylor. That track record isn't exactly awesome, obviously. They did find a competent safety-turned-linebacker in Kyzir White last offseason in free agency, and are seemingly replicating that approach in 2023. 

In 2020, Morrow broke out, as he allowed just 4.5 yards per target, per He was also a threat as a blitzer, as he collected three sacks and eight pressures on the season.

In 2021, Morrow was a free agent, but he signed back with the Raiders on a fully guaranteed one-year deal worth $4.5 million. However, he suffered an ankle injury during training camp and missed the entire season. In 2022, he signed with the Bears and had a little bit of a down year in coverage, but led the team with 116 tackles. Pencil him in as a starter.

1 year, $1.16 million.

S Terrell Edmunds: Edmunds, 26, was a 2018 first-round pick of the Steelers who played out his rookie contract in Pittsburgh before hitting the open market in 2022. The Steelers had declined to exercise his fifth-year option the previous offseason. Still, he ended up signing back with the Steelers in 2022 on a one-year deal during which he made roughly $2.5 million. In 2022, he had 70 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. He will now join the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent.

Edmunds has good size at 6'1, 217, and before last season he had never missed a game due to injury. He was a first-round pick partly because of his impressive athleticism.

This feels a lot like a "We'd like to pick a safety that we like in the draft, but if we don't we at least have a guy with some experience" type of signing.

1 year, $2 million.

CB Greedy Williams: Williams was a second-round pick (46th overall) in 2019. In four years in Cleveland, he played in 39 games, starting 21. He has 99 career tackles and 2 INTs. His best season came in 2021, when he had 41 tackles, 2 INTs, and 10 pass breakups while playing in 16 games (8 starts).

Williams' pro career has been derailed by injuries. He played in 12 games in 2019 as a rookie, but missed four games with a hamstring injury. In 2020, he suffered career-threatening nerve damage in his shoulder during an offseason practice, detailed by Cabot here, costing him the entirety of the 2020 season. In 2022, he was buried on the depth chart behind Denzel Ward and 2021 first-round pick Greg Newsome, and played just 105 defensive snaps.

Williams has some intriguing traits. He's 6'2 and he ran a 4.37 40 at the Combine, which is a nice start, but his place on the Eagles' 53-man roster is far from guaranteed. He'll serve as depth behind Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and perhaps even Zech McPhearson at outside cornerback, but he has reasonable enough upside to warrant a low-risk, low-cost look in training camp. 

1 year, $1.35 million.

S Justin Evans: Evans was a Bucs second-round pick (50th overall) in 2017 out of Texas A&M. He had a productive rookie season in 2017 (in the stat sheet, at least), when he had 66 tackles, 3 INTs, and 6 pass breakups. However, his career has since been derailed by injuries.

• In 2017, he was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and he missed the last 2 games of the regular season.

• In 2018, he missed six games with a toe injury, once again landing on injured reserve to finish the season.

• In 2019, he missed the entirety of the season with an Achilles injury.

• In 2020, he started training camp on the PUP list, and was waived in December with a failed physical designation.

• In 2021, he wasn't on an NFL roster.

• In 2022, he signed with the Saints and played in 15 games, starting four. He missed the last two games with a shoulder injury.

Evans will have a chance to show what he can do in Eagles training camp, but he probably should not be penciled in just yet as a starting replacement for either Chauncey Gardner-Johnson or Marcus Epps.

1 year, $1.6 million.

The tale of the tape

Players lost Players retained Players gained 
DT Javon Hargrave C Jason Kelce RB Rashaad Penny 
 S Chauncey Gardner-JohnsonCB James Bradberry LB Nicholas Morrow 
RG Isaac Seumalo DT Fletcher Cox S Terrell Edmunds 
LB T.J. Edwards DE Brandon Graham CB Greedy Williams 
RB Miles Sanders RB Boston Scott S Justin Evans 
S Marcus Epps OL Brett Toth QB Marcus Mariota 
LB Kyzir White   
QB Gardner Minshew   
OT Andre Dillard   


As expected, the Eagles lost a lot of good players this offseason, however, they largely kept their potent offense intact. Their two notable losses on that side of the ball were Sanders and Seumalo. Sanders had great stats in 2022 as a runner, but is a flawed player for the reasons noted above, and is replaceable. Seumalo, meanwhile, is a very good player and will be missed, but of the young players likely to step into much bigger roles in 2023, my belief is that Jurgens is the readiest of the bunch.

Defensively, the team lost Hargrave, both starting linebackers, and both starting safeties. Barring some sort of unexpected, unlikely splash move (a trade for Jeffery Simmons, for example), Hargrave's production won't be replaced by any one player, and the Eagles will hope that young players like Milton Williams and Jordan Davis make big leaps in 2023. 

The Eagles don't spend premium resources on linebackers or safeties, so it was not a huge surprise to see them lose Edwards, White, Gardner-Johnson and Epps, but replacing all four of those players won't exactly be easy either. Philadelphians have seen their share of bad linebacker and safety play over the years, and in 2022 their starters largely played well (or at least well enough). There's some potential major downside there.

On the bright side on defense, the unexpected return of Bradberry at an entirely reasonable cost was a coup for the front office, and Graham's resigning at $5 million keeps a Graham-Reddick-Sweat edge rusher trio that combined for 38 sacks in 2022 intact.

As for the players gained, the theme was pretty clear. The Eagles sought to bring in low-cost players whose markets have been devalued for one reason or another, typically due to injuries. Mariota, Penny and Edmunds were first-round picks; Williams and Evans were second-round picks. The one-year deals for Penny, Morrow, Edmunds, Williams and Evans add up to just $7.46 million. 

• If you're an optimist, yaaaay upside bargains (maybe) 🥳. 
If you're a pessimist, a bunch of guys nobody else really wanted could be stepping into major roles on a Super Bowl contending team. 😬

For all their losses, the Eagles are certain to receive four compensatory picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, currently projected to be in the third, fifth, fifth, and sixth rounds. If you include those projected comp picks, they currently hold 12 picks overall in 2024.

All of the above aside, the biggest offseason move has not yet been made. That, of course, is a presumed contract extension for Jalen Hurts. Some expected that Hurts' contract would be the first domino to fall this offseason, but it has not played out that way. With the restructure of Lane Johnson's contract late last week, the Eagles have some additional money under the cap to get that done.

Grade: B

Other NFC East free agency grades

• Cowboys: A-
Commanders: C-
Giants: C-

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