I’m a believer that the best teams hit every position possible in an offseason, that challenging the roster is the way to go. Specific position targets only address part of the roster. For every NFL team, the entire roster needs to be addressed.
With that in mind, and with NFL free agency only weeks away – can it get here already!?!?! – here is a look at some of this roster’s top positions of need from this perspective. The Eagles have to wade through some tricky salary cap machinations before they get to free agency and the NFL Draft, so the picture could change, but here it is. A first look at the top of the position-by-position roster improvement the Eagles will undertake in the months to come …
1. Line Of Scrimmage
I’m talking about both sides of the line of scrimmage and lumping them into one. A big No. 1. The Eagles believe in building from the line of scrimmage out, so it makes sense to start here. Questions? Oh, there are a lot of them. You pretty much know all of them, but here goes a few: On the offensive side, the looming question is that of Brandon Brooks and his return to health after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the playoff loss at New Orleans. Can he return to Pro Bowl form at right guard in time for the 2019 regular season? How about left tackle, where Jason Peters worked so hard to stay on the field? He’ll be 37 years old this season and he’s got a high salary. It’s a question the Eagles have to answer.
On the defensive side, end Brandon Graham is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and there’s no word on whether the Eagles can bring him back. Same with defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who signed a one-year contract in the 2018 free agency period. Furthermore, the Eagles need to add to this position group – end to end. They need more to help Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle. They need more depth at defensive end – it will certainly help when Derek Barnett returns to full health.
The Eagles had waves of players get after it along the defensive line in 2017. Last year, injuries took their toll. There are some young players in the mix, including second-year man Josh Sweat, but you can expect the team to add significantly here in the offseason. You win at the line of scrimmage in this league. The Eagles want to be as good as they can be up front on both sides of the ball.
2. Running Back
This position could, when all is said and done, have about as complete a makeover as you can have from one year to the next. That’s because Jay Ajayi, still recovering from his torn ACL, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. And because Darren Sproles, considering retirement, is also set to become a UFA. And because Corey Clement is in the middle of rehab for his knee injury. Wendell Smallwood is under contract, so is Josh Adams, as is Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey, who ended his second season on the practice squad.
It won't be a huge shock if the Eagles address running back fairly impactfully in either free agency or the draft. The Eagles ranked 29th in the NFL with 94.6 rushing yards per game last season, down more than 36 yards per game from 2017. That’s a huge drop. Injuries played a big part, obviously. The question is, will the Eagles lean more on a running game headed by a single back, or will they continue to work in a rotation of backs? The draft is said to have quality throughout, so the Eagles will keep their eyes open during the seven rounds and, of course, after the draft.
With Ronald Darby slated to be an unrestricted free agent on March 13 as he rehabs his knee injury, and with Jalen Mills still on the mend following a foot injury that sidelined him for half of 2018, the Eagles have major needs here. They were encouraged by the progress made by Rasul Douglas in his first season with extended playing time and Cre’Von LeBlanc was a major contributor at the nickel position. Rookie Avonte Maddox showed that he can be a factor at every position in the secondary, but it’s undecided where the Eagles play him. Sidney Jones didn’t stay healthy long enough to take a step forward in his second NFL season.
So while there are reasons to be encouraged about the picture at cornerback, we all know that the NFL is a pass-first league and that teams can’t have enough good cover players. The Eagles have some promise at the position, but if they have a chance to nab a player they love, perhaps in the draft among those first three draft picks (of the top 57 players), they might very well consider it.
Every position is going to be addressed from March 13 through the NFL Draft. The Eagles want to get better at every spot. But the line of scrimmage, the running backs, and the cornerbacks deserve a special mention as the Eagles get into the nitty-gritty time of offseason roster planning.