2014 Team Needs: Philadelphia Eagles
John Breitenbach looks at what areas the Eagles need to improve in order to take another step forward in 2014.
2014 Team Needs: Philadelphia Eagles
Year 1 of the Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia was nothing short of a success. The team won six more games than they did in the final year of Andy Reid’s tenure and the offense proved to be every bit as capable of working in the NFL as it had been in college. It says a lot about the system when your QB can post a rating of 119.2 and still only just scrape a top 15 passing grade at the position. That’s not to discredit Foles though, who made plays when he needed to and showed marked improvement from his rookie season. Coupled with a strong offensive line and the most elusive running back in the league, the offense looks pretty set going into 2014, especially considering the retention of Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper.
The defense, on the other hand, is still a work in progress. Billy Davis surpassed expectations with a decent year; especially considering this was the first time a number of the players had lined up in a 3-4 system. The scheme adjustment wasn’t just limited to the transition from the 4-3 either with Jim Washburn’s one-gap wide nine replaced with more two-gap discipline up front. A number of players adapted well to the change, especially along the defensive line, but there were some problems at linebacker. Finally while the secondary was adequate, a number of factors mean the unit needs attention heading into next season.
Potential Cap Casualties
Courtesy of overthecap.com, here are some players who might be concerned about their spot on the team:
– James Casey or Brent Celek; after inking Casey to a big deal in the offseason the Eagles used him on just 157 (14%) of snaps. With a cap number just short of $4 million the Eagles may decide to cut their losses and move on. There is some possibility Kelly decides to keep Casey over Brent Celek, who also has a cap number of $4 million, but the coaching staff seem to prefer him so that seems a less likely possibility.
– Patrick Chung; the former patriot was inked to a three year deal last offseason but struggled with injury and was inconsistent when he was on the field. He finished with a –7.0 grade proving especially poor in coverage (-8.4). To add to that the Eagles can save $3.25 million by cutting him – seems like a no brainer.
– Jason Avant; this one has already been reported as Avant is owed a bonus in March. The consummate professional, it’s a shame to see Avant go, but he just didn’t look like the player he once was last season. Since we started grading Avant never caught fewer than 60% of targets until this season and, with only 0.97 yards gained per route run (87th of 94) it’s time to move on.
Since the departure of Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell, the Eagles have had more different starting safeties than you can count. They may well have two new ones to add to the list after this offseason. The aforementioned Chung was added as a stop gap but failed to pan out. Nate Allen played much better than in 2013 but still graded negatively (-2.7) and is a free agent. Finally fifth round pick Earl Wolff showed some signs of competency especially in the box but also ultimately graded in the red (-4.0). The Eagles have surely been burned too many times in the past relying on young players to step up (Macho Harris and Kurt Coleman spring to mind) to go into 2014 with Wolff as a starter.
Free Agent Fix: The obvious one is Jairus Byrd due to his ability and connections to Chip Kelly (he played at Oregon) but the Eagles avoided adding top end free agents last offseason so may go a different direction. Davis prefers to have versatile safeties though – who can play either deep or in the box – so look out for a guy like Chris Clemons. Although he graded negatively against the run in 2013, he proved he could make plays in that department in 2012.
Eagles fans have somewhat ignored the position as an area of weakness but the middle trio was soft, especially earlier in the season. Swapping Isaac Sopoaga for Bennie Logan at nose tackle helped but still couldn’t conceal some issues with the inside ‘backers at the second level. Overall starting duo Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks combined for a -31.4 grade. Let’s start with Kendricks who, after one of the worst opening months of the season (-17.6!), improved to a respectable level. With that said, the former second round pick definitely hasn’t lived up to his potential and the frustrating inconsistency is still there — as shown by his poor performance in the wild card round (-3.2). It would be unwise to give up on Kendricks so quickly but the Eagles can’t count on him to play at a high level. Next to him Ryans was really disappointing. I didn’t buy concerns about the transition back to the 3-4 at the time last offseason but after being on the defense’s top performers in 2012 he dropped to one of their worst. Looking back the warning signs were there with five negatively graded games in a row to end 2012. This season he graded in the green just once but in the red on nine occasions. There isn’t a lot behind the duo either and the Eagles would likely by in trouble if they had to start Najee Goode (-2.7) or Casey Matthews (-2.0) for an extended period.
Free Agent Fix: There aren’t many young inside linebackers with potential hitting the free agent market this offseason. Depending upon which tender the Bengals decide to offer him, Vincent Rey could be a decent option. He graded third highest out of all the linebackers hitting the market but would need to adjust to playing in a 3 man front. Alternatively Arthur Moats would make a lot of sense considering his experience in the scheme, his relative youth and potential (+3.5 in 2013).
Credit where it’s due, Trent Cole (+21.5) played really well considering this was the first time he’d ever rushed from a standing up position. With that said though, you can never have enough pass rushers and, at the age of 31, it’s possible decline could be just around the corner. We’ve never been anything but impressed with Brandon Graham (+8.0) but it seems the coaching staff have decided he isn’t the answer. It’s a shame considering he posted that grade adjusting to a new role and moving from the left to right side, but it seems increasingly likely Graham will have to prove his ability in a different uniform. The need for a pass rushing right outside linebacker is increased by Connor Barwin’s inability to get to the quarterbacks (-7.6).
Free Agent Fix: Unfortunately the market is inundated with 4-3 defensive ends who are stout against the run. The only guy who posted a higher pass rush than run defense grade in the top ten free agent grade-wise was Michael Bennett. He will likely command top dollar but may well be worth it considering his versatility. Aside from him Willie Young would make some sense but he would have to adjust to rushing with his hand off the ground.
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