January 1, 2017, Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles finished their 2016 season against the Dallas Cowboys, with a starting wide receiver corps of Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Paul Turner. Quarterback Carson Wentz averaged 5.2 yards on his 43 passing attempts, which is why the Eagles now have overturned their wide receiver depth chart.
Wentz and the passing game dinked and dunked on the way to a 27-13 victory, but it wasn't easy, even against the Cowboys' backup defense. Wentz didn't get much production from his wideouts that day, as Agholor was shut out (no targets), Green-Beckham had one reception for 15 yards on five targets and Turner caught two passes for 30 yards on four targets.
Instead of looking at his wide receivers, Wentz did what he did for much of the last half of the season: he went to his tight ends, a versatile group used creatively by the offensive coaching staff all season. Zach Ertz, targeted 16 times, had 13 receptions for 139 yards, and a pair of touchdowns. Trey Burton had five catches for 39 yards, and Brent Celek caught one pass for 9 yards.
The game was illustrative of the challenges the Eagles had with their wide receivers. Other than Jordan Matthews, who had 73 receptions and three touchdowns in 14 games, the wide receivers just didn't offer consistent production.
So the Eagles did something about it in the offseason.
"It was important for us to bring in as many good players in every phase, and we had some opportunities to address wide receiver," vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "We helped ourselves. I think what we have now is a really competitive situation at wide receiver. It should bring out the best in everyone."
Suddenly, the Eagles have a logjam at the position after signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, and adding Mack Hollins (fourth round) and Shelton Gibson (fifth round) in the draft. There is nothing etched in stone here and there are certainly no guarantees, but the Eagles have set up a situation where some "name" players are going to have to fight for jobs. Not all of them are going to make it.
If you consider Matthews, Agholor, and Green-Beckham as the three top holdovers from 2016, and then add the four newcomers of note, you're looking at seven players competing for, likely, five roster spots. Who stays? Who goes?
"We're not looking at numbers," Howie Roseman said last weekend in the draft wrap-up press conference. "We're not worried about what's going to happen in August. A lot is going to happen between now and August. The best situation we could have is have a lot of good players at a particular position."
Injuries will happen. Player performance won't necessarily go according to the blueprint. Surprises will emerge.
But the Eagles, after a year of being big-play challenged, have done exactly as they wanted in this offense at wide receiver. Jeffery is a true No. 1 receiver. Smith brings vertical speed and big-play ability. Hollins is big, fast and promising. Gibson is a burner who lit up West Virginia's passing game in college.
And the holdovers, Matthews, Agholor, and Green-Beckham, are on notice: Jobs are on the line in the spring and summer. That's a good thing for everyone.
, who could be a player to take a huge jump from Year 1 to Year 2, fit in? Does Chance Warmack push to become a starter at the guard spots? Who lines up behind Jason Peters and Lane Johnson at the tackle positions? If it all works out, the Eagles are going to be loaded up front.
Steven Daniels, acquired off of waivers from Washington a couple of days ago, instantly provides some competition at inside linebacker as the Eagles look for depth behind Jordan Hicks and Co. Both Daniels, who suffered a torn labrum muscle in Washington's Training Camp last year, and Joe Walker, coming off a torn ACL suffered in the Eagles' preseason, should be going man to man for a roster spot. Walker was very impressive in his rookie summer.
Wentz, talking about the news released this week that the sale of Carson Wentz Bobbleheads led the NFL in a period from December through February: "People must like my face," he said, laughing. "I have no idea why."
The Eagles did not add a safety in the draft, so that means players like Jaylen Watkins and Terrance Brooks have to step up and earn the trust of the coaching staff. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are the starters. Chris Maragos is going to be here as a reserve safety and a star on special teams. Watkins and Brooks need to continue to develop their coverage skills and their ability to help in the run game.