No matter what happens during the season, the goal every offseason is to improve the team. That means signing impactful free agents, making wise draft picks, and possibly pulling off a smart trade or two.
There is another way for the Eagles to improve – Players who are already on the team need to get better.
Go back to the Super Bowl season of 2017. One of the big surprises that year was the emergence of Nelson Agholor as an offensive weapon. He caught eight touchdown passes. He made crucial catches and was involved in some amazing highlight plays.
Anyone who watched Agholor in 2015 and 2016 had serious reason to doubt that would ever happen. Like most receivers, Agholor struggled as a rookie. That wasn't a huge deal. The real concern came in 2016 when he didn't improve very much. Worse, he made some huge mistakes and his confidence eroded quickly.
The Eagles hired a new receivers coach in the 2017 offseason. Mike Groh came in and proved to be just what Agholor needed. Groh was demanding. He pushed his players hard. Agholor found a home in the slot and had the best year of his career. He suddenly looked like the player the Eagles expected when they spent a first-round pick on him.
The Eagles saw Isaac Seumalo take a big step forward last year. He started nine games and played well at left guard. Just as with Agholor, the Eagles finally started to see the player they envisioned when they drafted him.
Player development is crucial. Some players hit the ground running and play well right away. For example, Dallas Goedert looked like a natural as a rookie. So did Avonte Maddox. The Eagles got significant contributions from Corey Clement and Derek Barnett as rookies in 2017. They don't win the Super Bowl without those guys making critical plays.
While most of the focus will be on the draft and free agency, let's talk about some current Eagles who could take a big step forward and really help the team in 2019.
CB Sidney Jones
Sidney Jones feels like the headliner here. The Eagles spent a high second-round pick on the corner from the University of Washington with the hopes that he would become an impact player. That hasn't happened to this point.
Jones missed all but one game as a rookie because he was coming back from a major injury. The Eagles knew about it when they drafted him so the focus was really going to be on 2018, when Jones would be healthy.
Jones had a good offseason. He flashed serious talent and expectations were high going into the season. Jones played well early on. He was mostly in the slot and many people wanted him to move to the outside, where the Eagles were struggling a bit.
In Week 6, Jones hurt his hamstring and then missed the next three games. He came back against the Saints but reinjured the hamstring. He missed the next game. Jones came back for the next couple of games, but got hurt during the game in Dallas and really struggled. He just couldn't run. He didn't play anymore in 2018.
Jones showed some talent. The problem is that he only played in nine games. He has got to find a way to stay healthy. Jones' play dipped as the season went along. Part of that may be due to injury, but not all of it. He must get better, both in coverage and as a tackler.
If Jones can take a notable step forward like Agholor did, it would make the defense substantially better in 2019. Jones spent most of his time in the slot last year, but I'm guessing he plays mostly outside in the upcoming season. Anyone who watched Jones play in college knows the talent is there. He's got the potential. We just have to see if he can put it all together at the NFL level.
DE Josh Sweat
Another player with tremendous potential is young pass rusher Josh Sweat. He is a freaky athlete, but that hasn't translated to the football field just yet. Sweat was good at Florida State. Unfortunately, injuries slowed him down. He also played in a system that wasn't ideal for his talent.
Sweat didn't play much as a rookie, only getting 68 snaps on defense all year. He did have a couple of plays where you could see his raw talent. Sweat got a good hit on Drew Brees in the November loss to the Saints. He played end and tackle showing that he has the physical tools to be a good NFL player.
As with Jones, Sweat must stay healthy. He suffered an ankle injury and went on Injured Reserve in November. One of the keys with Sweat is that he won't turn 22 until March. This is a young man who can get bigger and stronger in the weight room and a lot better on the field.
Sweat didn't do enough last year for the team to count on him in a meaningful role this season. If he plays well in the spring and summer, the Eagles will find a way to use him in the fall. They love pass rushers and will use as many as they can.
WR Mack Hollins
Mack Hollins played well as a rookie, but got hurt last summer and never played in 2018. The Eagles were counting on him to be a part of the receiving corps so losing him really hurt. Hollins has the speed to stretch the field, something the Eagles lacked in 2018. He also used his size and was a physical receiver on short throws. Hollins was a terrific blocker and helped the Eagles' run game a lot as a rookie.
Hollins suffered a groin injury so he should be 100 percent this spring and ready to go. The passing game needs his speed and the run game could use his blocking.
T Jordan Mailata
Jordan Mailata gave up a sack on his first preseason snap and appeared lost. He looked like a future left tackle a couple of weeks later. I've never seen a player improve so quickly. I honestly don't know what to expect from Mailata this season.
The Eagles watched him in practice. They'll have a good feel for whether he's ready to compete for a starting job or still needs time as a backup. We're all excited to see what Mailata can do on the field. He has tremendous potential.
G Matt Pryor
Matt Pryor spent his rookie season watching and learning. Jeff Stoutland needs his blockers to be able to handle multiple positions. Pryor is a natural at right tackle but spent last summer focusing on the right guard position. With Brandon Brooks coming off an injury, Pryor could get a lot of practice reps at guard.
S Tre Sullivan
Tre Sullivan spent time on the practice squad as a rookie in 2017. He was able to earn a roster spot in 2018 and eventually found a role on defense as the third safety. Sullivan got better as the year went along.
The Eagles need three good safeties for some of the looks Jim Schwartz likes to use. If Sullivan could take a step forward, that would help quite a bit. The more he played, the better he got so that is encouraging. We know Sullivan can hit. He needs to work on his tackling a bit and he must get better with his cover skills. Being a hard hitter isn't enough in today's pass-happy league. You must make plays in coverage.
Player development is such an underrated part of success in the NFL. Organizations must know which guys are worth keeping around and given time to develop. They also must have good coaches who can get players to improve from year to year.
The Eagles need some of these players to take a big step forward if the team is going to keep playing football in mid-January or later.