In a season that began with Super Bowl aspirations, the Eagles barely won a weak NFC East division at a 9-7 record. Even that was a struggle as they had to win four straight games to win the division, including a crucial home win against division rival Dallas. They did all this just to get knocked off in the Wild Card round by the fifth-seeded Seattle Seahawks by a score of 17-9.
The Eagles should be commended after they continued to show fight all the way to the end of the season to even have a chance to play in the playoffs, even when all seemed lost after a loss to the lowly Dolphins. Even when they lost their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz after a dirty hit to the head by Jadeveon Clowney in the Wild Card game they still gave themselves a chance to win the game. 41-year old Josh McCown was inserted in and it came down to a Miles Sanders‘ fingertip away from almost completing a comeback victory.
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What Went Right
Even with all the injuries to the offense, Sanders burst onto the scene and put up franchise-record numbers on offense. Sanders put up a franchise rookie record of 1,327 yards from scrimmage breaking the previous record held by DeSean Jackson of 1,008 yards in 2008 while also breaking LeSean McCoy‘s rookie rushing record with 818 rushing yards. He also became the first Eagles rookie to exceed 170 scrimmage yards, and score one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown in the same game, which was the w 15 game against the Redskins. In that game, Sanders also produced the team’s first 100-yard rushing performance in over two seasons.
Wentz made the best of what he had with second, third, and even fourth-tiered receivers down the stretch to carry the Eagles to a division title with 27 touchdowns seven interceptions, completing 63.9% of his passes, and a 93.1 rate. The Eagles run defense was one of the brightest spots during the season as they were third in overall, fourth in running back yards allowed and run-stuffing, while third, in second-level yards that were allowed. They prided themselves on this and more often than not sold out to stop the run with very few blips in the road in big yards allowed to an opposing back.
What Went Wrong
Injuries were the main thing that went wrong for this team this season. In the Wild Card game against the Seahawks, Philadelphia was down their starting right tackle Lane Johnson, starting right guard Brandon Brooks, their entire starting receiver corps, and lost Wentz to a head injury in the first quarter. This is just without mentioning that tight end Zach Ertz was playing limited snaps with broken ribs and a lacerated kidney.
The loss of Jackson in week two was a major hit to their receiving corp as they lost their only true deep threat. If the Eagles had beat Seattle, Jackson would have been cleared to return against Green Bay. Another big negative was the amount of dropped passes, which forced Wentz to do a lot of things himself to get the Eagles into the playoffs. While the defense looked a lot better down the stretch and still gave the offense a chance to win in the playoffs, they continued to get burned deep all season.
D.K. Metcalf burned them a few times in Seattle’s victory, including a long touchdown catch and the catch that sealed the game. Philadelphia’s defense sells out for the run so much that they almost expect to get burned on occasion, but it seems a lot more than just “on occasion”.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Eagles will have plenty of cap space going into the offseason, with somewhere around $48-55 million per Over The Cap. This will give Howie Roseman enough room to work with to fix the glaring holes in the roster, including receivers and most notably the secondary. The team has already made some coaching moves, firing their offensive coordinator Mike Groh and receivers coach Carson Walch. They may look internally for their replacements, particularly runnings back coach Duce Staley, who was a candidate for offensive coordinator two years ago when Frank Reich left for Indianapolis. One potential semi-internal option is McCown, who will be recovering from his hamstring tear for the next six months and will probably retire.
The Team’s Free Agents
The Eagles have 18 free agents with Nigel Bradham having a club option so they will try to retain at least 14 to 15 of them as they are an integral part of the team at their respective positions. They will likely be letting go of McCown as a player along with tight end Richard Rodgers, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, outside linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, cornerback Craig James, and running back Corey Clement to make space for new draftees that come their way in April.
Also when the production isn’t great and is replaceable by the younger talent it’s easier to let go of the older players who aren’t doing much. The players that will likely be staying on the roster are cornerback Ronald Darby, left tackle, Jason Peters, safety Rodney McLeod, quarterback Nate Sudfeld, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive end Vinny Curry, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, running back Darren Sproles, running back Jordan Howard, right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, cornerback Jalen Mills, and punter Cameron Johnston.
The franchise tag hasn’t really been used by the Eagles that many times and there isn’t anyone who is about to be a free agent who is worthy of it. This means the Eagles will not use the franchise tag this offseason so that they can also afford open market free agents.
Open Market Free Agents
It’s not gonna be easy to try and get someone big in free agency because of the Eagles simply not really needing one except for in the secondary and passing game. The Eagles will go after big fishes like Chris Harris Jr. and Logan Ryan to try and bolster a secondary that was among one of the league’s worst. Peters also isn’t getting younger with injury issues so the Eagles should look at younger options in Anthony Castonzo or Kelvin Beachum.
It’s a gold mine in terms of wide receivers as Jackson is their only viable receiver with Alshon Jeffery with one foot out the door so look for them to go aggressively after A.J. Green, Amari Cooper, or Randall Cobb. Roseman will be willing to give them any kind of money to give Wentz more weapons in the passing game. The rest of the free-agent signings should come via undrafted free agents or draft day trades to just fill up the roster. The Eagles don’t need much, but if they can fill the roster right then the draft will make them a SuperBowl contender.
Projecting the NFL Draft
Round 1 Pick 21: Wide Receiver
The Eagles had a couple of games this year slip away because of the inability of wide receivers to catch the football with both hands even with Wentz putting the ball in the right spots. This can be avoided by going after one of the explosive Alabama receivers early to give Wentz a new top target as Jackson is aging. Doug Pederson could also open up the playbook more with wide receiver screens or flip passes to utilize their speed making them a nightmare to cover.
Round 2 Pick 53: Cornerback
A lot of quality cornerbacks will still be available at this part of the draft and honestly, it couldn’t get that much worse for the Eagles because they gave up a ton of points and yardage because of injuries and lack of discipline. The lack of discipline was so bad that they were getting burned on simple double moves by receivers. A Jimmy Moreland archetype would be ideal as you want your top corner to not only be physical but also have good ball skills.
Round 3 Pick 85: Linebacker
Health is important and after it was found out that Nathan Gerry played all of last year with a core muscle issue it was time for the Eagles to look in other directions. They should ideally go for someone strong who can get good open-field tackles while blitzing occasionally. This will also help with depth at the linebacker position.
Round 3 Pick 103: Defensive Back
This is an expected compensatory pick for losing Nick Foles last offseason. The secondary was so bad this season, the Eagles should invest two picks on day two into fixing the secondary. This unit has been a problem for years and hopefully this offseason, the Eagles finally fix it.
The last two years have featured a lot of downs before ups, but if the Eagles get the right personnel in the draft and free agency they should be atop the NFC. Wentz needs confidence and the only way he’s going to get that back is if Pederson gets creative with the playbook helping Wentz execute the right plays in different ways. The defense is getting old, although Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham should keep up their efficient ways of torturing opposing quarterbacks while defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz needs to tweak a little bit of his scheme so that he can help the cornerbacks bounce back from a rough year.
The Eagles play five out of their six division games early so they need to be able to come in week in and week out with the right gameplan because these teams know each other very well so preparation will be the key. The schedule outside of those division games is one of the toughest in the NFL as they will be facing five playoff teams in the Seahawks, 49ers, Saints, Packers, and Ravens. They are lucky that the NFC East is so weak because even if they finish with a bad record they could still find a way to sneak into the playoffs.
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