Names that have been mentioned as the biggest winners of the NFL Off-Season commonly include: the New England Patriots, the Tennessee Titans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But why not the Philadelphia Eagles? The Eagles were banged up and left clawing for room in a tough division in 2016. They have taken every step necessary to become significantly more competitive in 2017. It is not just moves on one side of the ball either. The Eagles have added key contributors everywhere on the field. They have added players who could become the future face of this franchise. Even if Philadelphia is not at ‘Super Bowl contender’ just yet, they are headed in the right direction. The team could get A LOT better, sooner rather than later.
How The Philadelphia Eagles Won The NFL Offseason
An Improved Secondary
Anyone who watched the Eagles in 2016 could tell that their most glaring concern was in the secondary. The problem was not that the overall unit was bad; it was that the corners could not compete against top level receivers.
Philadelphia landed on top of Pro Football Focus’s worst secondaries list. They had their three top corners rank “in the top eight for total receiving yards allowed among all defenders in the league”.
One of the main hindrances was their inability to get interceptions. Of the 16 interceptions by the Eagles, only three came from corner backs. Those three were caught by the combination of Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin. Neither player is on the current roster.
The only thing that kept the secondary together last year was the quality play of safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins. Both are back with the team and the Eagles have given them some support. Gone are McKelvin and Carroll. They were replaced by quality options through the draft and free agency.
Jones was widely considered one of the best corners in the draft and even a potential top 10 pick before an achilles injury forced his stock to plummet. If Jones is not hindered by his injury, he has ‘lockdown’ potential and could be the next great leader of this secondary. Douglas might not be as talented as Jones but he will provide depth and has a huge 6’2” frame. He also picked off eight balls in his final year of college, tying for the national lead. Robinson on the other hand will provide another veteran presence.
Aside from whom they drafted, the Eagles are also bringing in another three underrated free agents in their secondary. Robinson and the other veteran safeties will hopefully help shape the secondary moving into the future.
2. MANY New Weapons For Carson Wentz
As a rookie, Wentz had a dream start of 3-0 to begin his NFL career. Unfortunately, after those games it was all downhill for the Eagles passing attack. The problem stemmed form a young quarterback that could not do everything by himself. Though his first four games, Wentz had a 104.6 quarterback rating with a 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He would end the season with a 79.3 QBR and a TD:INT ratio of 16:14. The Eagles have obviously recognized that Wentz is good but cannot be a one man team.
General manager Howie Roseman went and got him some new toys.
New to the receiving corps this year are former Super Bowl champion, Torrey Smith and prized free agent, Alshon Jeffery. Both receivers are coming off of down years by their standards. They also have a good chance of returning to form with an up and coming quarterback like Wentz.
The change of receivers will be great for the Eagles as they have seen their efforts to find receivers in the draft falter. Nelson Agholor has widely been considered a bust and Josh Huff was cut by the team midway through 2016. The only real, decent receiver left from the past three years is Jordan Matthews. Matthews has been mentioned in trade talks, but if he were to remain with the Eagles into 2017, there would be less pressure on him to carry the receiving corps. Matthews would have more time to focus on becoming a great slot receiver.
The Trio of Jeffery, Smith and Matthews only caught a total of eight touchdowns between them last season. However, if you go back to 2014 the trio caught a combined 29 touchdowns. Even though 2014 seems like a long time ago, all three are still in their primes. If the three can find chemistry, they could become one of the most electric passing attacks in the NFL.
Blount may not be the sexiest look at running back but he brings one thing that no other Eagles running back can; power. Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews are an interesting 1-2 punch, but both have injury histories. Blount will step in and take the snaps that neither of those backs can take.
The main reason Blount was brought in was because Philly does not have a running back that can pick up first-downs in short yardage situations. Blount will be especially helpful in the red zone. Between Sproles and Mathews, neither can run with the power Blount brings.
What kept the Eagles backfield in the middle of the pack last season was their durability. Blount gives the Eagles an option to pick and choose where they use their backs and will hopefully enhance a running attack that has never failed to be average.
4. New Depth On The Defensive Line
There were no real problems with the Eagles defensive line last season. If you thought that the front-seven could not get any better, you were wrong. The Eagles finished up last season as Pro Football Focus’s second ranked front-seven and only added more to a budding unit.
First, came the small but necessary subtractions. After a down year in 2016, Connor Barwin and the Eagles parted ways. Barwin was less than stellar last season and his cap hit was going to be way too much for the Eagles to commit to. The defensive end was even quoted saying “It was smart to use that money and help Carson (Wentz)” during an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff McLane.
Next, came the upgrades. The Eagles went on a mission to add both quantity and quality and came up with some big names. The new faces include former Ravens defensive tackle, Timmy Jernigan, 14th overall pick Derek Barnett, and Super Bowl winner and long-time St Louis Ram, Chris Long.
On the field, Jernigan is a mauler. He is one of the most aggressive defensive tackles in the game and was a key contributor to the Ravens, who were so good at stuffing the run last season. His ability to get to the quarterback is not tremendous but teaming up with Fletcher Cox should allow the two to consistently get in the faces of opposing quarterbacks. Jernigan is due for a huge payday in 2018. The Ravens were forced to ship him to Philly because of Baltimore’s lack of cap space.
Just as important are the two new pass rushers in Barnett and Long. Barnett is a sack master. He should have every opportunity to get to the quarterback considering the defensive line depth Philly has. In three season at the University of Tennessee, Barnett notched 32 sacks; the majority against SEC opponents. Guiding the young defensive end will be Long. Long provides excellent leadership, championship pedigree and should play a strong role in the development of young stars like Barnett.
The Eagles d-line and front-seven look just about as scary as they get and should be the backbone of a team trying to make up ground in a clustered division.