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February 16, 2020

What they're saying: A five-step plan for Eagles' offseason, trade proposals and free agent options

Eagles NFL
Dairus-Slay-Wentz_021620_usat Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

New Eagles cornerback Darius Slay celebrates his fumble return as he runs past quarterback Carson Wentz.

The official start of the NFL's league year, which comes in just over a month, can't get here soon enough. Until then, the official start of free agency, everything remains speculation. And there will be A LOT of it in the coming days and weeks. After all, between guessing which offseason transaction will be made and who your favorite team will target in the draft, there's not a whole lot else happening in the world of football. Unless, of course, you're a big XFL fan. 

Otherwise, these next few weeks could be excruciating. 

The good news is, for those of you who enjoy non-stop rumors and speculation, there's plenty to talk about in the meantime, especially for the Eagles, who have a slew of players expected to hit free agency, in addition to all the holes they already need to fill, like cornerback, wide receiver and more. And with over $40 million in expected cap space, there should be no shortage of options for Howie Roseman and Co. when trying to construct the Eagles roster for the 2020 season. 

As we do from time to time, let's take a look around the local and national media to see what they're saying about the Eagles, their current offseason plans and what to expect when the offseason really picks up next month...

Flipping the script

Bill Barnwell | ESPN

Over at ESPN.com, NFL writer Bill Barnwell broke down what he believes to be the ideal offseason plan (in five steps) for each team in the NFC. Only five teams, including the Cowboys and Giants, will have more money to spend than the Eagles this offseason ($42.3 million), but the Cowboys situation can be a bit misleading, as they still need to sign a starting quarterback for 2020. And if they sign Dak Prescott to a contract similar to what the Eagles gave to Carson Wentz, they'll almost certainly fall below Philly in terms of cap space for next season. 

So, what do the Eagles have to do? Well, for starters, here's a look at Nos. 2-5 on Barnwell's list for the Eagles, and it's hard to argue: 

5. Pick up Derek Barnett's fifth-year option.
4. Depth along both lines.
3. Add speed at wide receiver.
2. Find a backup quarterback for Carson Wentz.

It's also a little different from the six-step plan our own Jimmy Kempski outlined for the Eagles in 2020: 

But there is definitely some overlap, including Barnwell's No. 1 priority for the Birds this offseason... 

1. Address the secondary. General manager Howie Roseman's game plan for years on defense has been to build around a deep line and a pair of effective safeties. At cornerback, he has generally devoted draft picks and a deep well of hope to the position. In 2017, that worked when Ronald Darby played well and Patrick Robinson delivered an excellent campaign for the veteran minimum. In 2019, despite paying Darby $6.5 million on a one-year deal and counting on 2017 draftees like Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas to round into form with more experience, cornerback was a disaster in Philadelphia.

The Eagles' team-building philosophy doesn't lend itself to spending exorbitant sums on cornerbacks, but they can't come back in 2020 with the same questions at corner. At the very least, they need to hope different low-cost options work out. Robinson, a likely cap casualty in New Orleans after two disappointing seasons, would be a good fit to return. Philly already added Trevor Williams, who was a starter for the Chargers in 2017 and 2018 before injuries limited him to special-teams snaps with the Cardinals in 2019. Buy-low cap-casualties like Xavier Rhodes and Trumaine Johnson could interest Philly, as could disappointing first-rounders of the past such as Artie Burns and Eli Apple. Basically, if you're a cornerback with some upside who is going to come cheap, this team should be interested.

What's different about this offseason, though, is that the Eagles might also be turning things over at safety. Rodney McLeod is a free agent, while Malcolm Jenkins has said that he won't return to the team unless they redo his deal. Jenkins, 32, is still a useful player, but they might not be interested in offering him another meaningful contract extension. Declining Jenkins' option would free up $4.8 million in space, but after the Eagles cut Andrew Sendejo in midseason, their depth chart at safety is essentially a blank canvas. Avonte Maddox could move to safety on a full-time basis, but if the team moves on from Jenkins and McLeod, they'll need to add a starter and at least one meaningful reserve.  [espn.com]

A win-win trade for Philly?

Mike Clay | ESPN+

As part of ESPN's way-too-early 2020 preview, their NFL experts made some bold predictions for the offseason (as well as the regular season and beyond). And one includes the Eagles addressing their secondary needs with a little addition by subtraction ... as well some regular addition. 

Could a trade involving Sidney Jones and Darius Slay be beneficial to both the Eagles and the Lions? Philly was rumored to be interested in Slay around the trade deadline last season, but nothing ultimately materialized.  

There are other Eagles predictions in here as well, including one writer picking them to miss the playoffs this season while another is picking them to win the Super Bowl. And then there's the one about Carson Wentz winning the MVP.

But, for now, let's stick to the hypothetical trade... 

Mike Clay, fantasy writer: The Lions trade Darius Slay to the Eagles for Sidney Jones and a third-round pick. There were rumors Slay -- one of the league's better shadow corners -- was available at the 2019 trade deadline, so perhaps he'll be moved this offseason. Slay just turned 29 and is headed into the final year of his contract. Cornerback has been a disaster for Philadelphia in recent seasons, so moving Jones, 23, and a Day 2 pick for a top corner in Slay (whom they'd likely extend) makes sense.  [espn.com]

Out of the Norm

Justin Sayles | The Ringer

Another option for the Eagles at cornerback is veteran free agent Josh Norman, who has reportedly been let go by Washington. Naturally, with the Eagles looking to upgrade this offseason, their name popped up when listing potential fits for Norman. Of course, with Roseman wanting to get younger this offseason, adding a 32-year-old corner might not exactly be the kind of move the Eagles GM is looking to make. That, and he was a big disappointment in Washington, with the lasting impression for Eagles fans being him getting beat by Greg Ward for the game-winning touchdown in the Eagles penultimate game of the regular season. 

According to the NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, [Washington] is releasing the cornerback after four largely disappointing seasons. The move allows Norman to sign with another team starting now, before free agency begins in mid-March. The question is, will any team be in the market for a 32-year-old defensive back five years removed from his lone All-Pro appearance?

Norman signed with Washington in 2016 under dramatic circumstances... The move didn’t turn out to be an Albert Haynesworth–style disaster, but Washington hardly got what it paid for. Norman had just seven interceptions across four years and never ranked higher than no. 33 in Pro Football Focus’s cornerback grades. In 2019, when he started eight games after being benched at midseason, he came in at no. 191. As Norman flailed, so did Washington: The team won the NFC East the year before he arrived, but hasn’t made it back to the postseason since. In 2019, Washington finished 3-13 and 24th in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA. There was simply no way the team was going to pay Norman the $12 million he was owed for 2020.

While Norman seemed to think Rivera could turn around the culture created by owner Dan Snyder and former team president Bruce Allen, he’ll have to watch that process play out from afar. (At the moment, he doesn’t seem too bothered.) But where could Norman land? Cornerbacks such as Joe Haden and Richard Sherman have had late-career resurgences after changes in scenery, but both are younger than Norman and had more consistent track records before splitting with their previous employer. There are certainly plenty of DB-needy teams out there—the Eagles, Cowboys, Vikings, Chiefs, and Lions immediately spring to mind—but with images like these likely burned into their minds, it may be hard for Norman to get a chance to rejuvenate his career anywhere.  [theringer.com]

Safety not guaranteed

Ed Kracz | Sports Illustrated

If Norman isn't a fit, there's another free agent defensive back who could be a fit for the Eagles, especially with Rodney McLeod heading into free agency and Malcolm Jenkins saying he'll hold out unless he gets a new contract. The Ravens recently released safety Tony Jefferson, who might not cost the Eagles a ton of money given he's coming off a torn ACL. 

The Eagles could be in a bind at safety depending on whether they decide to restructure Malcolm Jenkins’ contract and/or lock up Rodney McLeod before he becomes a free agent when the league year ends on March 18.

Jefferson, who just turned 28 at the end of January, was released in part because of an ACL he suffered in Week Five of the regular season and the emergence of his replacement, Chuck Clark, who was given a three-year contract earlier in the week for $16 million. Another part of Jefferson’s release was salary cap related. He will save the Ravens $7 million on the salary cap...

Jefferson’s ACL tore on Oct. 6, which means he could be ready to return in midway through summer training camp, depending on how well his rehab goes.

He could be worth taking the risk at a reasonable price.

In three years with Baltimore, the former undrafted free agent of the Arizona Cardinals from the University of Oklahoma, Jefferson had 174 tackles, two interceptions, 3.5 sacks, 11 passes defended and one fumble recovery in 35 starts.  [si.com]

The biggest loss

Marcus Hayes | The Philadelphia Daily News

Sure, the Eagles not having DeSean Jackson for almost the entire season greatly hurt their offense. But, in his latest column for the Daily News, columnist Marcus Hayes argues that the loss of defensive tackle Malik Jackson, another key offseason acquisition a year ago, was just as big for the defense, if not more so. And his return this season could be a huge boost for Jim Schwartz' unit. 

When the Eagles lost speed receiver DeSean Jackson in Game Two, they lost a luxury item in what might have been another run at the Super Bowl. But when they lost defensive tackle Malik Jackson in Game One, they lost an irreplaceable cog on the defensive line, the team’s most important unit.

That doesn’t diminish the absence of the DeSean. It just places the proper value on Malik...

Malik’s return might be the biggest gain of this offseason. The Eagles expect both Jacksons to play in 2020, and those expectations will influence the moves they make when free agency begins in a month, how they evaluate players at the NFL Scouting Combine next week, and which players they draft in two months. Considering DeSean’s chronic frailty and Malik’s history durability, they’re more likely to pursue receiver talent than to go all-in on the defensive line.

The Eagles built their defense around the best player on the team, All Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. But Cox was coming off foot surgery, and even at his best Cox isn’t the sort of one-man typhoon Aaron Donald is. Cox needs help.  [inquirer.com]

Commitment issues?

Danny Heifetz | The Ringer

Finally, we come to The Ringer's QB Commitment Index, in which Danny Heifetz ranks how committed each team is to their current starting quarterback. And, despite Philly handing him a four-year, $128 million deal last summer, he doesn't think the Eagles are as taken by Carson Wentz as that contract might indicate. 

Wentz came in at 24th, one spot behind Baker Mayfield, and just ahead of Derek Carr and Jameis Winston. 

Relationships are hard to explain even when they are easy to feel. The same is true in football. The relationship between a team and quarterback is rarely as simple as “franchise player.” The relationships between teams and QBs have more in common with our own personal relationships than we’d like to think. Considering this is the time of year that NFL teams must reflect on their personnel, your NFL team might be experiencing the same emotions around Valentine’s Day as you. This year, we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day (and by “celebrating” I mean “watching it come and go while eating chocolate”), by ranking every team’s relationship with their starting quarterback from least committed to most committed. Advanced stats can define player value, but this is the only place anyone will Define The Relationship (DTR) for every team in the NFL. ...

24. Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz: Happy on Instagram but always fighting IRL.

We all know the couple who fights in private and makes up in public. Eagles fans don’t complain about Carson Wentz in front of company, but in private all they do is bicker about him. Is he there when you need him? Is he the right long-term guy? Why didn’t we stick with Nick when we had the chance? On the surface, Eagles fans will defend Wentz, but deep down they wonder whether they chose the wrong guy.  [theringer.com]

So, how did that compare to some other quarterbacks? Well, the top 3 were Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson, respectively. But, perhaps the most shocking (at least in comparison to Wentz) is that Dak Prescott and the Cowboys are listed as eighth, despite Dak not being under contract for next season. 

I'm sorry, but these rankings (for the most part) make absolutely no sense. 


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