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The Big Question: What Improved The Most?

Posted Mar 16, 2015

Welcome to The Big Question. Every Monday during the offseason, Dave Spadaro, Chris McPherson and Bo Wulf debate one of the hot topics surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles. We invite fans to continue the discussion in the comments section. Enjoy ...

CM: The Eagles’ roster looks a little different than when we last did The Big Question. Now that the dust has settled on what was a roller-coaster first week of free agency, what position did the Eagles improve the most?

DS: I like the approach and we all get it that there is still work to do, so I'll begin by saying that the cornerback position is in much better shape than it was prior to free agency. It kind of got lost in the shuffle a bit, but adding Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond gives the Eagles a chance to do what they want to do at the position -- press and bail. Get their corners up to the line of scrimmage and jam receivers and then turn and run with them.

Maxwell is here to be a premier cornerback. Thurmond is here to compete for playing time. I don't know if he will start. Will he play inside or outside? Do the Eagles add another piece at cornerback? Maybe.

There are still questions there, but the Eagles have upgraded and added players who fit the scheme, who fit what coordinator Bill Davis craves at the position.

BW: While the DeMarco Murray-Ryan Mathews combination certainly changes the dynamic of the Eagles’ running game, I would argue, or at least hope, that the biggest upgrade came at quarterback. Certainly Chip Kelly must think so, that’s why the team was willing to part with not just Nick Foles, but the draft pick compensation.

I believe I made the case in an earlier Big Question that the quarterback position was the one facing the biggest question mark heading into the offseason. How the team felt about the position has now been answered in the form of Sam Bradford. If Bradford can remain healthy, and that’s the caveat we’ll hear all season, the expectation is that he’ll provide the Eagles with a big jump from the play they got at the position a year ago when they led the league in turnovers. Say what you will about Bradford’s time in St. Louis, but one thing he did very well when he was on the field was protect the football, to the tune of a 2.2 percent interception rate.

CM: I was with you, Bo, in that first sentence.

Chip wants a run-first offense. The Eagles have featured one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the past two seasons. And he wants it to be even better. That’s why I look at the running back stable featuring three Pro Bowl players and can’t envision a position that has been more improved.

From a talent standpoint, DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews are more ideal fits for the Eagles’ zone-blocking scheme. From a depth perspective, Kelly knew that he was fortunate to have LeSean McCoy remain healthy and ultra-productive for the past two seasons. Murray and Mathews will be able to lessen each other’s workload or take over in the event of an injury.

There’s no question heading into this season the running back position will be a superior strength of this football team.

DS: Don't really disagree with either of you, but let's answer the question: What position did the Eagles improve THE MOST?

Quarterback was a pretty strong position last year -- we all certainly hope Sam Bradford takes the position to a new level. Running back was strong in 2014 with LeSean McCoy rushing for more than 1,300 yards. Cornerback? The Eagles allowed the most 20-plus-yard plays in the league. Some think it was the worst position on the team.

Having Maxwell and Thurmond gives the defense a chance to run its scheme and compete and, if it all works, play at a high level.

BW: I don’t really agree that quarterback was “pretty strong” last year, considering the aforementioned turnovers. I will say that Mark Sanchez is a capable backup, and his return only strengthens the case that the position should improve more in 2015.

I also don’t disagree with you about the cornerback spot, though I’m not quite ready to pencil in Thurmond as the starter just yet. Like Bradford, he has to prove he can stay healthy and he’ll also have to fend off the likes of Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll. But yes, Byron Maxwell should bring a new, much needed dimension to the secondary. He’s certainly being paid to do so.

CM: Just because the Eagles had McCoy and his 1,300 yards last season, it doesn’t mean that it was an area for the Eagles to improve. Spuds, you wrote a column about the short-yardage situations that resulted in missed opportunities for the Eagles last season. And it’s fair to question when would McCoy, who will be 27 this July, would start to decline. He’s had 250 or more touches in each of the past five seasons.

By shedding his contract, the Eagles were able to bring in two top-quality rushers to complement Darren Sproles and provide more of the no-nonsense rushing style that Kelly prefers from his backs.

BW: While I don’t agree that the difference between McCoy in 2014 and Murray/Mathews in 2015 is the greatest difference, the McCoy trade did provide us with the other possible answer to this question – inside linebacker.

Considering that Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans both return, the addition of Kiko Alonso is really weighed against the only inside linebacker to depart this offseason, Casey Matthews. If Alonso returns to the form of his rookie year, he may actually provide the biggest position upgrade.

If the question is which single move of the first week of free agency provided the most impact, I would side with the McCoy-Alonso trade, considering how the Eagles spent the extra money.

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