You don’t go from 7-9 to 13-3 and hosting the NFC Championship Game without hitting the jackpot on a few offseason moves. And last offseason, Howie certainly did that. Here are the 5 most valuable offseason acquisitions of 2017 for the Eagles:
I was torn between ranking Long and Darby at this spot as the case can be made for both. While it’s easier to say that Darby gave this team a legitimate boundary corner, the argument could be made that the added weapons along the defensive front – Long, Barnett, and Jernigan (more on him later) – went much further in helping this pass defense than Darby. I also believe this team could have found a way to survive without him at corner, with Jenkins taking more slot duties and Rasul Douglas a few more snaps. If you take any of these lineman out of the rotation then we wouldn’t have the league’s top run defense and our pass rush might have faded like it had last season. As the third defensive end in a rotation that requires depth and versatility, Long was an invaluable addition for Jim Schwartz’ system and a big reason why our D made the leap from good to elite.
I think the argument could be made for the any of these last four to be #1, but it’s hard to argue that these aren’t the four most valuable acquisitions of the offseason. I’m ranking Jeffrey here in the context of a healthy Carson Wentz; if you consider this situation as it applies to Foles then Jeffrey is by far the most valuable, but with a healthy Wentz the argument could be made that this team would still be 13-3 without Alshon. In my opinion, I don’t think that same argument can be applied to the final three players on this list. With all that said, Jeffrey demands attention from opposing defenses every week, and he gives the Eagles the true number one receiver they’ve been searching for. The recent 4-year $52 million extension he signed in December is proof of that.
This is probably the most controversial ranking because conventional wisdom would have you wondering why adding our nickel-corner is more valuable than adding a number one outside-corner (Darby). But today’s NFL sees a lot of offenses leaving three receivers on the field at a time and putting increasingly dynamic pass-catchers in the slot, which has blurred the value gap between slot and boundary corners in recent years. (It should be noted the Birds use a nickel package as their base defense). Slot corners also require a slightly different skillset than those on the outside. It demands more lateral quickness and the willingness to get involved in the run game – something most corners are reluctant to do. But beyond dispelling the notion that nickel corners are just backups, Robinson has actually been the Eagles best cover man all season. Pro Football Focus gives him the sixth highest grade out of every corner in the NFL, and the passer rating of opposing quarterbacks when targeting him is just 65.2 – good for the third best in the league. While Robinson’s addition may not be a mainstream pick, he’s low key been one of the most valuable additions to this Eagle team.
With the Eagles defensive line being their bread and butter, it’s impossible not to rank Jernigan in our top-3 offseason additions. With Bennie Logan leaving in free agency, our line was left with a serious hole at tackle that Jernigan seamlessly filled in. In reality, he’s actually a more versatile talent than the player he replaced. While he’s proven to be equally as effective a run-stopper as Logan, he gives this line another capable interior pass-rusher to compliment Fletcher Cox. In short, he’s made opposing teams pay for double teaming Cox more so than Bennie ever could. Last offseason Howie was both unable and unwilling to pay Logan premier d-tackle money. He didn’t have those same feelings on Jernigan, whom he didn’t hesitate to give a 4-year $48 million extension this November. Outside of Wentz, the biggest reason for the Birds success is their league leading run defense, and Timmy Jernigan has had a lot to do with that.
Out of all the successful moves we made this offseason, who would have thought the most important one would be bringing back Nick Foles as the second-string quarterback. While the question of if Foles was capable of leading this team anywhere meaningful was hotly debated (and put to rest), nobody would have argued that Chase Daniel was a capable backup. Had we simply held onto him and not signed Foles our season would have ended the second Wentz went down. Chase Daniel barely got the opportunity to start in this league and there’s good reason for that; Foles on the other hand has started for multiple teams and led this very franchise to their last playoff appearance in 2013. Anyone who follows the game knows that Nick Foles was one of the top backup quarterbacks in the league this year, and he’s proved that with his play replacing Wentz. For all the value of each of the acquisitions Howie made this offseason, none of them would have mattered had we not brought him back. In fact, had it not been for Foles, our 2018 offseason would more than likely have begun on December 10 – instead we’re hosting the NFC Championship Game at the Linc this Sunday.
Honorable Mention: Ronald Darby, LeGarette Blount