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March 07, 2019

What they're saying: Replacing Foles with Fitzpatrick, the science of free agency and ranking the current Eagles

Plus, why Agholor may not be back and a closer look at Seumalo's new deal

Eagles NFL

Next week, NFL free agency will begin. And, especially for those of us still unwinding from the four-month marathon that was the Bryce Harper signing, the NFL's version of free agency is a welcome change of pace. Because if the MLB offseason is a marathon, the NFL signing period is closer to a 40-yard dash, with many free agents agreeing to terms before they're even legally allowed to put pen to paper. 

Of course, there will still be a few players who remain unsigned for some time, but expect next week to chock full of NFL rumors from beginning to end. 

Not too long ago, it was looking like the Eagles were going to have little to no room to make a free agent splash, as Howie Roseman is wont to do. But after parting ways with Nick Foles (and reportedly Timmy Jernigan) and restructuring a few other deals, the Eagles suddenly look ready to pounce. 

Now that they've freed up some money, the Eagles will need to do decide how best to spend it. And, according to a story Thursday from ESPN's Tim McManus, Roseman and Co. have a multi-pronged approach to evaluating players that includes analytics, sports science, scouting and financial perspectives. To illustrate how this has manifested itself, in the front office, Tim recounted this story that Roseman told at Wharton shortly after the Eagles won the Super Bowl about a free agent decision from a few years prior: 

"When we started the process with this free agent and went over his age and his background, Jeffery [Lurie] is like, 'This doesn't make a lot of sense. Why are we doing that?' And I said, 'Here's what we think from an analytical perspective, here's what we think from a value cap/cash perspective, and here's our scouting perspective. Let me send you all the information, let's get back on the phone, because this is what I'm looking at. And we got back on the phone and he said, 'Not only am I in favor of this, but this seems like a great value.'

"For him to change his tune based on those three pieces of information, to me that's the kind of person I want to work for -- somebody who can get this information, look at it and make a decision based on that and not just stick to the decision he had before. And that's kind of how we do business: Let's make really good bets."  ...

The Eagles have a decision-making process that involves "parallel paths," as Roseman put it, involving traditional scouting and advanced analytical models. The standard is such that if a prospect pops on tape, but his testing numbers suggest his odds of success are not good per data analysis, the staff knows better than to even present that player to Lurie.  []

To this writer, that's always been the best way to handle talent evaluation, by using both the human scouts and the analytics in tandem, comparing and contrasting the two, finding where things don't match up, and then making a decision based on a deeper understanding of that information. 

Eyes can deceive. Numbers can lie. But when used together, you get a much more complete picture, and ultimate, make a better decision for your team.

Now that we've taken a look at part of the Eagles' process, let's look at where they may apply that once free agency opens next week. 

Replacing Foles

Tim McManus | ESPN

We're going to stay with McManus on this one, in part because he just wrote about Eagles free agency from the team perspective. Perhaps that info was under consideration when he came up with a few names for the Eagles to look at for their open quarterback position.

Sure, the team has repeatedly said that Sudfeld will get an opportunity to back up Wentz this season, but given Wentz's injury history, they may want someone with more veteran experience in case they find themselves in need of a healthy starter late in the season (again). Considering Sudfeld has thrown just 25 regular season passes at the NFL level, they probably wouldn't want to throw him to the wolves should Wentz go down at some point this season.

If the Eagles are serious about giving Sudfeld a chance to win the job -- and the belief here is they are -- that would seemingly have an impact on whom they bring in. It's difficult to envision Teddy Bridgewater or Ryan Tannehill (if he shakes loose from the Dolphins) serving as potential third-stringers, right? The same might be said for Case Keenum or Tyrod Taylor assuming their market holds up. Can the Eagles catch someone such as Blake Bortles on the rebound? Otherwise, the QBs who fit the bill -- ones who bring experience and could be pegged for the No. 2 or No. 3 spot -- are along the lines of Matt Cassel, Josh McCown, and perhaps Ryan Fitzpatrick -- depending on his demands/mindset.  []

Do you believe in (Fitz)magic?

Pro Football Focus | ESPN+

The guys at Pro Football Focus put together a list of one free agent that every team should sign this offseason. Interestingly enough, the one mentioned for the Eagles was one of the same names McManus mentioned in his above story... 

Philadelphia Eagles: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

2018 team: Buccaneers | Age: 36

Fitzpatrick started the 2018 season in a magical way, earning 96-plus overall grades in each of the first two weeks. His gunslinger mentality paid off early, but his magic fizzled later in the season. However, he still did enough to earn an overall grade of 84.4, which ranked 10th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks last season. When kept clean, Fitzpatrick completed 121 of 172 attempts for 1,824 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 110.2, ranking 10th in the NFL. Fitzpatrick is 36 and would merely be an insurance policy in case Carson Wentz gets injured again.  []

RELATED: Examining the Eagles' QB situation beyond Carson Wentz

Ranking the best current Eagles players

Eliot Shorr-Parks | 94 WIP

That's exactly what Eliot did on Wednesday, when he put together a list of the top 10 players currently on the Eagles roster. The biggest surprise? For most, it was Carson Wentz falling outside of the top 5. But this may be the best defense of the five players ranked ahead of Wentz. 

That last part, about them being irreplaceable, speaks volumes, especially when you consider that Wentz was very much replaceable down the stretch each of the last two seasons. 

Last year, coming off what would've likely been an MVP season in 2017 had he not torn his ACL, ESP had Wentz ranked first. Here's what he had to say about the Eagles' quarterback this time around. 

6. Carson Wentz (2018 season: 1st): Wentz has topped this list each of the last two seasons. So why the dramatic fall? Back-to-back season-ending injuries are certainly a concern, as Wentz has now suffered broken ribs, a torn ACL and a fractured back since entering the NFL in 2016. There is also the harsh reality that the team has won their biggest games over the last two season with him on the sideline. Finally, although it wasn’t completely his fault, the offense struggled with Wentz under center last season. Wentz playing the most important position in all of sports puts him above players on this list that he probably shouldn’t be ahead of. The potential is still there, but after three seasons, the days of being able to point to Wentz’s potential, as opposed to looking at what he has actually accomplished in the NFL, are running out.  []

I happen to think Wentz should be a little higher on this list, and it's worth pointing out that by the end of this season, Wentz could easily climb back to the top of this list. But if you're going off what he did last season, albeit while hampered by injury, this isn't that far off. 

Nelly on the block

Bo Wulf | The Athletic

Last week, our own Jimmy Kempski wrote about the possibility of Nelson Agholor being on the trade block, which makes sense considering he's owed $9.4 million against the cap this season, and the Eagles wouldn't have to pay any dead money should they decide to move on from the wideout four years after drafting him in the first round. 

Bo Wulf of The Athletic laid out the four options facing Howie Roseman and the Eagles, and he doesn't believe the Birds will let Agholor enter the 2019 season making his full $9.4 million. 

It’s unfair to judge anyone’s character from the outside based on a smattering of forced interactions. But the Eagles have had Agholor in their building for four seasons and have a full understanding of his fit in the locker room. They know the person and they know the player. Now, they have to decide what he’s worth.

Basically, the Eagles have four options. They can do nothing and let Agholor enter 2019 on his $9.4-million option. That seems unlikely. They can come to terms with Agholor on a multi-year extension that lowers his 2019 cap hit and better reflects his status as a third or fourth option in the passing game. They can release him, which would clear the full $9.4 million off their cap at no penalty. It would also mean Braxton Miller, who loitered on the team’s practice squad all season, would be the second-most accomplished receiver on the roster with his 261 career receiving yards. The Eagles could also dangle Agholor as trade bait for draft-pick compensation or a player in return.

Whatever the decision is, we’re about to find out what the Eagles really think of him.  []

More money talk

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Earlier this week, the Eagles signed guard Isaac Seumalo to a three-year extension. According to Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia, that extension won't change Seumalo's $749,000 base salary (and $1,739,966 cap hit) this season. The deal came with a $4 million bonus and will cost the Eagles about $4 million against the cap in 2020, just over $5 million in 2021, and nearly $6 million in 2022 (a team option year). 

And by the time the deal is done, Zangaro thinks it could be a relatively team-friendly deal for the Birds. 

This is a decent deal for a player who just became a real starter last season. But it could also become a really good deal for the Eagles if Seumalo continues to improve. ...

His APY (average per year) during the three-year extension is $5.626 million. There are 27 guards in the NFL with an APY higher than that, so if Seumalo continues to develop over the course of this contract extension, the Eagles might end up with a bargain deal. And if he doesn’t look good in 2019, they can get out of the extension a year early, after the 2021 season. 

This seems like a contract from the Joe Banner School of Contracts. Lock down a young player a year before his deal is up in an attempt to gain some extra value. There’s some projection involved, but Seumalo was probably thrilled to get that $4 million signing bonus in his pocket and the Eagles will be thrilled if he continues to get better, eventually making his deal a bargain.  []

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