Offseason to-do list for the Philadelphia Eagles
The Chip Kelly era in Philadelphia proved short-lived after an ill-fated experiment with personnel power ended in disaster. Owner Jeffrey Lurie hedged his bets by retaining Howie Roseman, a move that suggested he was never fully committed to Chip Kelly as irreproachable overseer. After taking a risk by bringing in a college coach with no NFL experience, Lurie has reverted to a safety-first approach, hiring Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator of the past few years.
Doug Pederson’s resume is very similar to Reid’s when he was hired by the Eagles. He is also being hired in similar circumstances, tasked with improving an offense that struggled mightily in 2015, as it had in 1998 when Reid took over. Below are the main issues, along with some possible solutions for the Philadelphia Eagles heading into 2016.
Problem: Pederson is no stranger to poor wide receiver play, having led a unit which went a whole year without a score from a wideout. The Eagles are in an equally desperate position, requiring a complete overhaul to a unit that combined for a -32.5 PFF cumulative receiving grade (0.0 is average). Drops were a huge issue for the Eagles’ wide receivers, as they combined for 22 in 2015.
|Jordan Matthews||85||9||9.57 (128th)|
|Josh Huff||27||3||10 (129th)|
|Riley Cooper||21||3||12.5 (150th)|
|Nelson Agholor||23||4||14.81 (166th)|
|Miles Austin||13||3||18.75 (182nd)|
A breakout season was expected of Jordan Matthews, but he set the tone early on by dropping a pass against the Falcons. The deflection was picked off, sealing the win for Atlanta. Matthews’ receiving grade fell from sharply from 2014 to this season.
Nelson Agholor, meanwhile, showed enough at USC to suggest he can succeed in the NFL, but his rookie season was a disaster. He finished dead last in our receiver rankings, with a 43.9 overall grade (scale of 1–100), and a 42.8 mark in terms of receiving alone. Rounding out the group, Austin was rightly cut mid-season, Cooper has never shown sustainable NFL ability, and Josh Huff was over-drafted. The Eagles need a significant upgrade at wide receiver if they’re to contend for the NFC East in 2016.
Solution: To be fair to Agholor, rookie wideouts tend to struggle in the NFL. Both DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin suffered inconsistent rookie years before developing into dominant receivers. For that reason, the Eagles 13th overall pick is probably better served on another position. The potential standout of the free agent crop is Alshon Jeffery (94.5 grade, third-best NFL WR), but the likelihood is he won’t make it out of the Windy City. Bengals’ WR Marvin Jones is a more plausible target, should he leave Cincinnati. He ended the year as our 30th-ranked wideout in terms of receiving alone (79.8 grade), catching 65 passes for 816 yards, four TDs, three drops, and 12 broken tackles. The Eagles need to add playmakers who can make things happen after the catch, and Jones fits the bill.
The Bradford dilemma
The Problem: Although Bradford’s numbers weren’t the best in 2015, he improved as the season went along. Despite getting limited support from his receivers, Bradford finished the year as our 12th-ranked NFL QB. He has his limitations, specifically passing downfield, but those issues might be mitigated by the conservative offense Pederson could bring with him from Kansas City. Alex Smith was one of only six QBs to throw 20 yards downfield less frequently than Bradford. Smith went deep on just 8.5 percent of passes, the third-lowest rank in the league. If Pederson can succeed in limiting turnovers like he did with the Chiefs, then the Eagles can depend on the quality of their defense to win low-scoring games.
Solution: If the Eagles are unsure as to whether Bradford is their long-term solution at QB, then they could franchise tag him and take a QB in the draft. Bradford himself might be willing to take the short-term risk considering he received the financial benefits of being a pre-CBA No. 1 overall pick. Alternatively, Pederson might prefer to groom his own QB, which could bring Memphis’ Paxton Lynch into play with the 13th overall pick. Not everyone at PFF is convinced by Lynch, who looks like he might need some time to adjust to the NFL. Lynch’s upside is obvious, though, considering his physical capabilities and improvement year-on-year, but questions remain. He ended the year as our tenth overall college QB, proving his ability, in particular, against a talented Ole Miss defense. Lynch remains inconsistent, however, ending the year with a couple of poor performances. Ultimately though, he’s flashed enough pro-level throws to suggest he’ll be a first-rounder come April.
Versatile offensive lineman
Problem: Chip Kelly’s decision to cut Evan Mathis remains baffling, especially considering the alternatives the Eagles had on the roster. Sam Bradford had to deal with constant interior pressure, with his guards frequently beaten immediately off the snap. Overall, the two players either side of the center allowed nine sacks, 25 hits, and 63 pressures. Allen Barbre was set to start all along, but proved he’s a journeyman for a reason. Barbre ended the year with a 58.2 overall grade, leaving him ranked 52nd amongst guards. He recorded a 53.2 pass protection grade after allowing a sack, 10 hits, and 29 hurries in 672 snaps. Barbre was also the only Philadelphia offensive lineman to record a negative run-blocking grade. Across from him, an injury to Andrew Gardner forced Matt Tobin into the lineup. Tobin recorded the worst pass protection grade we’ve ever given to an OG (since 2007). He finished with a 30.9 grade (1–100 scale) in that facet of play, giving up eight sacks, 11 hits, and 31 hurries. Despite their issues on the interior of the offensive line, the struggles of the guards played only a small part in the Eagles’ disappointing season. A reshuffle forced by an injury to an aging Jason Peters, who’s owed $9.3 million in 2016, also stymied the offensive production. After adding just one offensive lineman under Chip Kelly (Lane Johnson in the first round in 2013), the Eagles’ desperately need an investment in youth.
Solution: The 13th pick might end up being an ideal spot to take a tackle with guard flexibility in the 2016 NFL Draft. It appears certain Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil will be off the board, but the Eagles might have their pick thereafter. Michigan State LT Jack Conklin has put together a pair of outstanding back-to-back seasons. After grading as our third overall tackle in 2014, he improved to second-best in 2015. Conklin’s allowed just four sacks, four hits and 17 hurries in two years. Alternatively, Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair is flying somewhat under the radar. He finished as our seventh overall OT in 2014, and first this year. There have been some suggestions that Whitehair is a guard only at the next level, but pass protection numbers of four sacks, three hits, and 14 hurries suggest he’s capable of holding his own in space. Hopefully he’ll get a shot on the edge at the Senior Bowl, where Whitehair will have a chance to elevate his stock.