Eagles’ early offseason deals ensuring stability

Howie Roseman has quickly invested in Philadelphia's young talent this offseason—John Breitenbach breaks down the extensions.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Eagles’ early offseason deals ensuring stability

Former head coach Chip Kelly has now been reunited with Tom Gamble in San Francisco, while the Eagles move forward with Howie Roseman firmly back in charge of personnel decisions. In the infancy of the 2016 offseason, Roseman has acted quickly to tie up the Eagles’ young talent with extensions. Below we break down those deals.

Tight ends locked up

The Eagles got the ball rolling by giving Brent Celek a four-year, $18 million deal ($6 million guaranteed). On the face of it, the deal looks a little rich for an aging tight end who’s turned into a blocker first and foremost. However, Celek was scheduled to make $5 million alone in 2015, meaning the extension reduced his cap number for next season. The signing bonus was spread across three years, opening up some cap space for the ensuing offseason.

The first major extension involved Zach Ertz, who was given a six-year, $43 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. The table below outlines how his deal stacks up with his peers.

Player Team Number of years Average/year Total guaranteed
Rob Gronkowski NE 8 $9 million $13 million
Travis Kelce KC 6 $8.75 million $20 million
Zach Ertz PHI 6 $8.25 million $20 million

It should be clear from the above table that Ertz is being paid like an elite tight end. The figures are right in the same ballpark as Gronk, Kelce, and Graham. Is he in the same league in terms of production, though?

Player Overall grade Overall league rank Receiving grade Run-blocking grade
Rob Gronkowski 96.7 1st 95.9 86.8
Travis Kelce 72.0 22nd 82.7 42.8
Zach Ertz 84.9 4th 84.6 81.6

Despite struggling with a sports hernia injury in the offseason, Ertz’s production in 2015 was impressive. He’s come a long way with his blocking, a feature of his game he struggled with initially. The big bucks came for the threat he poses in the passing game, however. Ertz struggled with drops last season more so than he has in the past (seven from 82 catchable passes), but he continued to make outstanding catches throughout the year. His body control and catch radius are outstanding. Ertz makes tough grabs look routine, even if his concentration suffered a little in 2015. In comparison, Travis Kelce dropped six of 78 catchable passes, suggesting Ertz’s numbers aren’t too bad. While the Chiefs’ tight end offers more of a threat after the catch (16 broken tackles to Ertz’s 5), the Eagles’ TE is better at generating separation. Overall, despite the struggles around him, Ertz can be pleased with his output in 2015.

Left tackle of the future?

With Jason Peters suffering a decline from excellent to good last season, Roseman was motivated to lock up Lane Johnson to a six-year, $66 million deal with $35 million guaranteed. The suggestion coming out of Philadelphia is that Johnson must therefore be moving to left tackle in the near-future. However, his performances on the left side were way below his performances on the right and; as colleague Steve Palazzolo has pointed out, pressure from either side has just as significant an impact on passing numbers. The table below shows Johnson’s performances on the left and right.

Position Sacks Hits Hurries Snaps         Snaps/pressure
LT 3 5 2 246 24.6
RT 3 1 14 940 52.2

As illustrated above, Johnson performed much better in pass protection on the right. Michael Oher’s career illustrates the unnecessary risk involved in shifting a tackle from one side to the other. As a rookie on the right side in 2009, he recorded a +11.4 cumulative grade in pass protection, giving up five sacks, six hits, and 28 pressures. After being shifted to the left in his sophomore year, he recorded a -9.2 cumulative pass protection grade, giving up nine sacks, 12 hits, and 28 hurries. His career has been disrupted by constantly having to adjust from one side to the other. Oher has found stability in pass protection this year in Carolina, but it has been six years since he first entered the league. Although Johnson ended the year as only our 24th overall tackle, he should nail down a starting position for the Eagles for the next decade—so long as he remains on the right side.

Curry in favor

The Eagles announced another long-term deal on Tuesday when they signed Vinny Curry to a five-year, $47.5 million contract with $23 million guaranteed. Drafted to play defensive end in an even front, Curry was forced to adjust to five-technique in Billy Davis’ two-gap 3-4. While he was serviceable at 3-4 DE, it was in the nickel where Curry did his damage. He recorded five sacks, nine hits, and 35 hurries in just 340 snaps in 2015, good for third in pass-rush productivity. Over the past three years, he has 19 sacks, 18 hits, and 81 pressures from just 914 rushes—remarkable production. In theory, Curry should be at least as productive on the edge, especially considering Jim Schwartz’s defense requires his defensive ends to get upfield off the ball. He has a variety of pass-rush moves and can use either quickness or power to win immediately off the snap. It might take him a little time to adjust because he added weight to play inside, but Curry could give the Eagles a dangerous pair of pass-rushing defensive ends with Brandon Graham opposite him.

One of Kelly’s strangest decisions as head coach was forcing a read-and-react 3-4 on his defensive personnel. Graham, Curry, and Fletcher Cox are all better-suited using their athleticism to attack upfield. Shifting to an every-down role is another hurdle Curry will have to overcome. His teammate Graham offers an example of a standout rotational player who wasn’t quite as effective once he become a starter. The table below compares his production by year.

Year Sacks Hits Hurries Snaps Snaps/pressure
2015 7 7 45 440 7.5
2014 6 8 39 240 4.5
2013 4 5 18 176 6.5
2012 7 7 31 220 4.9

The return to the wide-9 front, which Schwartz employs regularly, should help both Curry and Graham, however. One of Graham’s best seasons came when the Eagles employed that front in 2012. He finished that year first in pass-rush productivity amongst 4-3 defensive ends. Overall, the Eagles are projecting Curry’s production somewhat, chances are he’ll shine in their new defense.

The Eagles’ three major extensions handed out this offseason appear good business. Zach Ertz is coming off a very good year, while Vinny Curry appears poised for a breakout back in his natural position. Lane Johnson has potential, but it would be unwise for Philadelphia to risk their investment by shifting him to the left side. Howie Roseman is stamping his authority on the new-look Eagles, with free agency and the draft still to come.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Players want to be assured that if they do right for the team that they will be taken care of and Roseman is stepping up to the plate and providing that assurance. Definitely a smart business move.

  • KAO

    Unfortunately the Eagles front office is ignoring evidence and are paying Johnson LT money. Hopefully he gets use to that side and improves because he’ll be playing it in 2017 at the very latest.