I don’t have answers. Nobody does at this point in a league that continually looks ahead. I know this: Monday felt lousy. The Eagles returned from New Orleans at about 1 a.m. and then conducted a team meeting at 10 a.m. By 2 p.m., the locker room was cleaned out and vacated. The coaches were still busy at work. The offseason had started.
And the questions were well underway.
Don’t we all have a bunch of them? Everything from personnel questions to salary-cap status to draft … we are reminded of this, just 11 months after winning the Super Bowl: Only one team in the NFL is happy at the end of the season. The other 31 have questions. The Eagles are in that boat after an encouraging, roller-coaster ride of a season during which they overcame a sluggish start, inconsistency throughout, injuries all over the place, and a 4-6 midseason record to bounce back with five wins in the final six weeks of the regular season before a two-game postseason run.
Now what? Now come some very, very difficult decisions. And that’s why we have questions. Like …
1. What are the Eagles going to do at quarterback? That’s the obvious question, but it’s more than just the next step for Nick Foles and the offseason for Carson Wentz. How about Nate Sudfeld? He’s set to be a restricted free agent and the Eagles are going to have to tender him and that could be costly. What’s vital is how the Eagles see the market for Sudfeld. Are there other teams interested in signing him to a long-term contract? One that would be super-costly for the Eagles to keep him as a backup? And beyond that, do the Eagles address the position in the draft as they build the quarterback room for the future? When you consider everything – what happens with Foles, the future of Wentz, and the depth at the position – the quarterback questions are pretty complicated for the Eagles.
2. How highly do the Eagles rate the need at running back? How important is a three-down back for this offense? Jay Ajayi, coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Corey Clement is rehabbing a knee injury. Darren Sproles could retire. Wendell Smallwood played hard this year and gives the offense some punch, but is he a No. 1 back? Josh Adams has to take the next step in his development. Boston Scott is an interesting player to watch. Let’s be honest here: The Eagles would be much improved with a standout running back. How they go about improving the position is another key offseason question.
3. Let’s move to the offensive line, which has a multitude of questions. Jason Peters? Is he back? Great player, awesome player, and a fantastic leader. He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But he didn’t finish the game on Sunday because of a back injury so how much can the Eagles count on Peters next year? How long will it take for guard Brandon Brooks to recover from a torn Achilles tendon? Are the reports that center Jason Kelce is considering retirement legitimate? Will Jordan Mailata be ready to play next season? How much do the Eagles like guard Matt Pryor, a sixth-round draft pick in 2018?
4. At wide receiver, the Eagles need some speed, right? Where does that come from? Is Golden Tate, who said on Monday that if he reaches free agency he wants to be with a team that is contending, part of the plan for the future? Can Mack Hollins return from a groin injury that kept him on the sidelines the entire season? Having an explosive, deep wide receiver corps makes a difference, doesn’t it? Alshon Jeffery is a terrific player and Nelson Agholor is also a major contributor, but beyond that who can the Eagles count on for next season?
5. Would it surprise anyone if the Eagles go large in the 2019 NFL Draft along the defensive line? Brandon Graham and Chris Long are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. Are they back next season? Is Tim Jernigan going to be Fletcher Cox’s sidekick at tackle next year? How about Derek Barnett? Will he recover from his shoulder surgery and get back on the path upward? Can Josh Sweat take the next step? How about Michael Bennett? Great production, but he probably played too many snaps in the last two months of the season, right? What is the upside for Treyvon Hester? Can he be a major contributor? The draft is said to be deep along the defensive line. The Eagles have three picks in the first two rounds (their two plus Baltimore’s second-round pick). How much do the Eagles invest on the line of scrimmage high in the draft?
6. We haven’t even talked about the linebackers … so here we go. Jordan Hicks is a scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. Does he come back? Who plays the weak side? Maybe I’m crazy but all I’ve seen is Paul Worrilow in the weight room every day after tearing his ACL. Could he come back and compete for playing time? I understand that linebacker is a bit of a minimized group in the NFL, but the Eagles see that there are some teams in the NFL – namely Dallas – building its defense around linebacker speed.
7. Kudos to the special teams. I really have no questions about Jake Elliott, Cameron Johnston, and Rick Lovato. The return game could be more dynamic, but I would imagine that every team in the league says that.
8. OK, let’s finish with the secondary. Oh, the questions. Who’s playing cornerback next season? Is Sidney Jones going to be a great player here? He’s a second-round draft pick with a lot of talent who’s been injured for most of his two seasons. Year 3 is huge for him. Jalen Mills? Ronald Darby is scheduled to be a free agent. Is he coming back? Cre’Von LeBlanc has earned a place here, right? And Rasul Douglas, maybe the team’s most improved player? At safety, the Eagles have Malcolm Jenkins and they have Rodney McLeod, coming off his knee injury. Are they both back? And if not, who plays safety? Where do the Eagles feel Avonte Maddox best fits in? He’s a player and he has a terrific future. But where?
Those are just a few of my questions. I’m sure you have a bunch more. Always more. The offseason is filled with questions. The Eagles, over the course of the next few months, are going to give us the answers. It’s going to be such a long, long wait.
Locker Room Clean-Out: January 14
Take a look at the best photos from the locker room clean-out day after the loss in the Divisional Round.