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January 16, 2019

Ranking the Eagles' 2019 offseason needs from most glaring to most stable

Eagles NFL

Despite suffering an inordinate number of injuries that last two seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles won it all in 2017, and then made the Elite Eight (I guess we'll call it that) in 2018. Overall, they have a very talented roster, at least compared to most teams around the league.

Still, there are roster holes that need to be filled, and the need for young players to be added to the pipeline at some spots where age is creeping in. Let's go ahead and rank the Eagles' needs this offseason, from top to bottom.

1) Defensive end

One of the strengths of the Eagles' roster over the last few seasons has been the defensive line, and there haven't been any recent down years in terms of the pass rush. And you know what? You don't want to be that team that can't get to the quarterback.

The lack of a pass rush is a fatal flaw for many teams, especially in today's NFL, where there are so many elite quarterbacks who can just pick you apart if they have time to throw. If you can't affect the quarterback, you're in big trouble.

At defensive end, the Eagles haven't had that one star edge rusher like a Von Miller or a Khalil Mack, but they've been very successful employing defensive ends in waves that they can rotate in and out, keeping them fresh over the course of a game, and a season. The Eagles potentially have some outgoing pass rushers this offseason:

• Brandon Graham will be a free agent, and he is going to test the market. 

• Michael Bennett was a good player in 2018, and he'll be under contract in 2019 at a reasonable cost of $7 million, but he's 33.

• Chris Long is also under contract, but he'll be 34 in March, and he almost retired last year.

Beyond that trio, the only defensive end on the roster with any legitimate NFL production is Derek Barnett.

The Eagles are almost certainly going to lose some combination of the above defensive ends, and they must continue to fill the pipeline with pass rushers, and do so now, seeing as pass rushers tend to take a year or two to develop.

Luckily for the Eagles, the crop of defensive linemen in the 2019 NFL Draft is absolutely stacked with good players. 

2) Interior offensive line

A week ago, a report surfaced that Jason Kelce was 'likely to retire' this offseason, despite being at the top of his game. After the Eagles' loss to the Saints in the playoffs, Kelce acknowledged that retirement was a possibility, but noted that no decision had been made yet.

Still, it's obviously on his mind, and the Eagles should be prepared for that contingency, even if it doesn't happen this offseason.

And then there's Brandon Brooks, who ruptured his Achilles in the loss to the Saints. He's looking at a 6-9 month timetable for return. The Eagles' depth chart along the interior of their offensive line currently looks like this:

 Isaac SeumaloJason Kelce Brandon Brooks 
Chance Warmack  Stefen WisniewskiMatt Pryor 

If Kelce retires and Brooks isn't ready to go for the start of the season, the interior of their offensive line would be a serious concern.

3) Defensive tackle

Fletcher Cox is a first-team All-Pro. Beyond him:

• Timmy Jernigan won't be back at $13 million on the cap. If he takes a pay cut, he could return.

• Haloti Ngata was (mostly) unproductive, and is unlikely to be back.

• Treyvon Hester was a great find off the street during the season, and should be back on the team in 2019 as a rotational guy.

If Jernigan isn't willing to take a significant pay cut, the Eagles are going to need to add to the defensive tackle position.

4) Running back

Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood led the team in carries this season. That's not good enough. Corey Clement will return, and he is a nice complementary third-down back. Otherwise, Darren Sproles will turn 36 this offseason, and even if Jay Ajayi returns next season, the team can't count on a guy who already has chronic knee issues, who now also has a torn ACL on top of it.

A good running back could take the offense to the next level.

5) Wide receiver

More specifically, the Eagles need more speed at receiver, to help open up the short-to-intermediate parts of the field for Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery. They replaced Torrey Smith with Mike Wallace last offseason, and Wallace promptly got hurt Week 2 and never returned.

They'll take another crack at a new speed guy this offseason, I'd imagine.

6) Offensive tackle

This position is a wild card. Jason Peters obviously needs to be replaced in the immediate future, and there are two candidates to do so. Jordan Mailata played in his first ever football game in freaking August, but he is a size-athleticism specimen who grew by leaps and bounds throughout training camp and the preseason. His situation is entirely unique and nearly impossible to predict.

And then there's Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a player with whom the Eagles won a Super Bowl starting at LT. Vaitai's best role, in my view, is as a swing tackle, as he has been successfully over the last two seasons. That said, while not an ideal full-time starter, Vaitai has shown that the offense can still function at a high level if the team needs him to start.

7) Linebacker

Nigel Bradham took over as the "never leaves the field" linebacker for the Eagles when Jordan Hicks was lost for about a month with an injury. The Eagles appear to be happy with Bradham in that role going forward. Hicks is a free agent, and it will be interesting to see how his market develops. The guess here is that he signs a one-year prove it deal somewhere, perhaps in Philly. If he moves on, the Eagles will need help at linebacker.

8) Safety

Malcolm Jenkins is the constant, and Rodney McLeod will be returning from a torn ACL and MCL. The sense here is that the Eagles are just going to keep McLeod, but they'll still need depth, because Corey Graham is cooked. It should be noted here that the emergence of Avonte Maddox, and his ability to play several positions in the secondary, gives the Eagles some flexibility, though I think he is best utilized as a corner.

I'll also note quickly that Tre Sullivan played a lot of snaps down the stretch.

9) Cornerback

Corner made my top five offseason needs when we did this exercise back in November, when guys like Chandon Sullivan and DeVante Bausby were getting starts. Now, after Maddox, Rasul Douglas, and Cre'Von LeBlanc stepped up in big ways late this season, the Eagles appear to have good depth at the position.

Ronald Darby will probably move on this offseason, but the Eagles will still have Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones returning.

With Jones clearly being an injury risk at this point, adding a corner in the draft is never really a bad idea, but it won't be a priority.

10) Quarterback

With Nick Foles almost certainly moving on this offseason, the team has said that they believe in Nate Sudfled. I believe them. Sudfeld looked very good in the preseason games, and he has had plenty of time to develop behind the scenes.

The question is whether the Eagles would use a Day 3 pick to groom a third quarterback, as they liked to do under Andy Reid. I personally like that strategy.

11) Tight end

The Eagles have the best tight end duo in the NFL in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. Could they draft a third guy? Eh, I guess, but I think it's a better bet that they just sign a guy to a veteran minimum contract, like they did last offseason with Richard Rodgers. And hey, maybe Rodgers can just be that guy again.

12) Kicker / punter / long snapper

They're fine there.

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