In and of itself, trading a 2020 conditional draft pick (reported to be a sixth-round selection that could become a fifth-rounder) for a proven, reliable and fits-in-on-and-off-the-field-in-every-way running back in Jordan Howard is a terrific deal for the Eagles: Howard brings three years of NFL experience, he’s the kind of big, power back the running game lacked last year and he’s known as a great teammate and locker room presence. There’s more to the quality of this deal than immediately meets the eye, too.
By adding Howard, the Eagles have essentially set themselves up for the NFL Draft with about as complete a roster as you can find. There isn’t a single position on this roster that you can point to and say, “The Eagles really need to fill a hole here.” If you want to squint and talk about the offensive line in light of right guard Brandon Brooks’s injury, that’s fair. But note that the Eagles have been optimistic about his recovery from a torn Achilles’ tendon injury suffered in the playoff loss to New Orleans and, besides, they’re high on second-year man Matt Pryor and other young linemen to step up in Training Camp, anyway.
Otherwise, the Eagles have pieces in place. They shored up the secondary by re-structuring the contract for safety Rodney McLeod to assure his return this season, and they added depth there by signing veteran Andrew Sendejo in free agency. They surprised many by retaining cornerback Ronald Darby after free agency opened to retain a highly competitive dynamic in the cornerback room this summer. At linebacker, the Eagles have returning players like Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry, and they welcome back Paul Worrilow after his 2018 season ended before it started with a spring knee injury and then signed veteran L.J. Fort to provide more depth and competition. The defensive line has been fortified with the additions of tackle Malik Jackson and end Vinny Curry, along with the move to sign end Brandon Graham prior to the opening of free agency.
On the offensive side of the ball, DeSean Jackson makes a ton of difference at wide receiver and all of a sudden the Eagles have a dangerous and versatile threesome of Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. That’s about as good a three-deep receiving corps as I can ever remember in Philadelphia.
Bringing back Richard Rodgers at tight end complements a room that already featured Pro Bowler Zach Ertz and second-year man Dallas Goedert, a rising standout. Along with Joshua Perkins and Will Tye, the Eagles have a great group that goes five NFL-caliber players deep. How many teams can say that about their tight end room? The offensive line has to consider Brooks and his recovery from the injury, but the Eagles have options should Brooks need more time. Keeping Jason Peters gives the Eagles depth at left tackle and also affords them more time to develop a prospect like Jordan Mailata. This is a great place to be.
Quarterback? Carson Wentz and Nate Sudfeld at this stage of the offseason, and the Eagles are “excited” – a word head coach Doug Pederson used many times at the NFL Annual Meeting in Arizona earlier in the week – about the outlook there.
The specialists return intact with Jake Elliott as the placekicker, Cameron Johnston punter and Rick Lovato the long snapper. Exactly who the Eagles will feature as the punt return man is a bit of an unknown at the moment, but if the Eagles feel the need to turn to one of the all-time greats in DeSean Jackson, well, there are worse options. At some point, that position will offer more possibilities, but let’s say that for now, if the Eagles had to play tomorrow, they would be just fine in the return game – and at kickoff return, too.
Howard’s arrival at running back provides a new dimension the running back group. He’s been one of the most productive backs in the NFL in his three seasons. The Eagles scouted him thoroughly and think he’s an outstanding fit into everything they do. And while the whole depth-chart thing will work itself out, the Eagles have a proven back who enters the final season of his rookie contract and is ready to lead the way, if that’s what the Eagles ask of him.
So where are the glaring holes? There aren’t any.
And with the NFL Draft right around the corner, that’s the ideal position for the Eagles. They don’t have to “reach” to fill a position. That’s always the goal for every NFL team heading into the draft, but it’s often not attainable. This time, it is. In the days before free agency and certainly since free agency opened, the Eagles have made the most of their assets, using their salary-cap room wisely, accumulating future draft picks, striking early for impact players like Malik Jackson and DeSean Jackson and showing patience to allow the market to cool before signing players like Sendejo and Curry and trading for Howard. They had a vision before this all started and they went out and executed the plan and now the roster, pre-NFL Draft edition, has rounded out nicely.
So, in the first round of the NFL Draft, with the 25th pick, the Philadelphia Eagles select … Who? There is no “need” here. What you’re going to see in the next month are all of these mock draft throwing darts for the Eagles’ picks. They don’t “have” to get a left tackle, because they already have Peters, Halapouivaati Vaitai and Mailata ready to compete. There is no urgency to take a running back – as many mocks have already suggested – in Round 1 with Howard here and such a fine fit for the offense. Jackson takes care of the “speed element” at wide receiver. The defensive line already ranks as one of the best in the NFL and with a talent-rich draft class ahead, the Eagles have the opportunity to make the defensive line even better.
You get the point. If someone asks you, “What is the Eagles’ greatest need right now?” what would you say? Depth? Competition? Players to challenge those already in place? Yeah, those are the answers and that is music to the ears of Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl and the team’s college personnel staff, and to the ears of head coach Doug Pederson. The Eagles are going to dig in for the stretch prep run ahead of the NFL Draft understanding that they’ve got a roster that certainly needs to improve – every roster does – but there is no need to reach for a position that lacks talent. The Eagles have talent across the board.
Now they’re in the enviable position of boosting that talent, challenging positions, getting younger and drafting players who truly are the best players on their board.