Well, all good things must come to an end. And while this season was far from a ‘good thing’ about a month ago, Doug Pederson and company turned this season into something special. It may not have ended in a repeat like all of us hoped it would, but this team showed us the type of grit and resiliency that champions are made of. They’ll be in playoff and Super Bowl contention for years to come, there’s no doubt about that.
As we look forward to the offseason, the Eagles have several key players who are about to hit the open market once free agency rolls around. They have 18 total players with expiring contracts heading into this offseason. Let’s look at who’s most likely to stay next season and who’s most likely to leave.
Nick Foles: Leave
It’s no secret that the Eagles have a big decision to make regarding Foles and their QB situation. And all indications from the organization point to them moving forward with Wentz and either allowing Foles to walk, or sign him to a tender in order to trade him.
I understand the argument to keep him here as the backup again. A solid backup QB is essentially a need in today’s NFL, and especially in the Eagles’ case. Wentz hasn’t proven that he can be an elite QB for an entire 16 game season yet. But, it’s hard to justify signing a backup to a big contract, even if he did bring you a Super Bowl. If they are going to pay him, it’s going to be because they see him as their franchise QB. But I’m fairly certain they don’t view him in that light. Foles will always be revered as the first quarterback to ever bring the Lombardi Trophy to Philly, but sadly, his playing days in this city are probably over.
Brandon Graham: Stay
B.G. may not have had the season he was hoping for, but he finished strong down the stretch. He dealt with an injury through most of training camp and the preseason and wasn’t really effective until about half way through the season. If the Eagles decide to cut ties with Foles and some other veteran players like Jason Peters and Chris Long, they’ll most likely have the money to resign Graham. But that’s not a foregone conclusion just yet.
Derek Barnett should also be back next year at full strength, which could also play into Howie’s decision with Graham. I really believe he’s one of those players who just loves playing in Philly and would return on a team-friendly deal. I wouldn’t ask him to do that because he’s earned his money, I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose to do that to stay in Philly. He’s also a huge part of the defensive line rotation, so if he does walk the Eagles will have to spend money to replace him anyway. For that reason, I think B.G. stays.
Golden Tate: Leave
I really wish the Eagles can find a way to keep Tate around, but I don’t think it’s very likely. His first few games with the Birds were shaky, but he really stepped up his game as the season progressed and became a bigger part of the game plan each week. I would love to see what he can do in this offense given an entire offseason with the team. But with Nelson Agholor’s contract expiring next offseason, I understand letting Tate walk. He’ll be 31 heading into next season and will probably demand a solid amount of money. Plus, I don’t think Howie ever viewed Tate as anything more than a late season rental to aid our playoff run.
Tate and Agholor also essentially play the same role for the offense. They both are at their best when operating out of the slot, and Agholor has also proven that he can be a deep threat when called upon. When you have two players who are equally as talented, you always have to go with the one who’s younger and has more potential. That’s Agholor in this instance, and I’m sure that’s probably how the Eagles see it as well.
Jordan Matthews: Stay
Unlike Golden Tate, Jordan Matthews should be fairly cheap for the Eagles to bring back next season. He’s no game changer, but Matthews adds depth to the receiving corps and he’s a great guy to have in the locker room. He can do a little bit of everything and he proved that this season when the injuries started to pile up on offense. The organization seems to really like Matthews, so I would be surprised if he wasn’t brought back on a 1-2 year deal.
Jordan Hicks: Stay
Although Hicks didn’t have the great bounce back year this season that some of us thought he’d have, he still played well enough to solidify his spot on the team next season. His so-so play may end up being a good thing for the Eagles, because now he won’t demand as much money on the open market.
The Eagles are also very slim at linebacker, so letting a starting LB walk wouldn’t be the smartest move. I would imagine that Howie will sign Hicks to a 1-year prove yourself type of deal.
Hicks needs to prove that he can play at a high level for a full 16 games. He did it once in his career back in 2016, and he looked like he was on his way to another stellar season in 2017 before he tore his achilles. Hicks’ potential is still high despite his struggles to stay healthy, and I think Howie will likely give him the opportunity to prove himself in 2019.
Jay Ajayi: Leave
The Eagles learned their lesson this past season when it comes to running backs, so this offseason I think they’ll invest in someone who’s more reliable than Jay Ajayi. I’m not saying they’ll go out and get Lev Bell or someone like that. I think they’ll probably go after someone like T.J. Yeldon or Tevin Coleman, someone who’s versatile and durable. Ajayi was never either of those things.
I respect Ajayi and his contributions to the Super Bowl run, but he’s too injury prone to invest starting running back money into. And after missing essentially the entire season I just don’t see Howie bringing him back. It’s likely that we look to replace Ajayi in the draft.
Ronald Darby: Leave
The Eagles’ cornerback room looked so bleak at one point this season that I actually missed watching Darby play. But with the emergence of Avonte Maddox, Cre’Von Leblanc and Rasul Douglas late in the season, there’s just no room for Darby anymore. Especially with the amount of money he’s going to demand. The cornerback market this offseason won’t be that great, so Darby may end up getting more money than he’s actually worth. He’s only 25 years old and showed signs of being a solid corner back in his rookie season, so don’t be surprised if a team throws him a big contract just based off his potential. If Darby had stayed healthy for the whole season, I could have pictured a scenario where we brought him back, but at this point I just don’t see it.
Haloti Ngata: Leave
Ngata played better down the stretch than he did in the beginning of the season, but I don’t think he played well enough to warrant a long-term deal. The Eagles are already set at defensive tackle for the foreseeable future with Cox and Jernigan, and I would imagine that they’re going to continue developing Treyvon Hester to fill in as the third tackle. Haloti Nagata played well down the stretch and definitely helped the Eagles get into the playoffs, but he’s going to be 35 heading into next season and won’t be worth the money.
Darren Sproles: Stay (If he doesn’t retire)
Before the season began, Sproles announced that this would be his final season. Fast forward a few months and now he’s talking about sticking it out for one more year.
Sproles was injured for most of this past season, but once he came back, he was a key piece to the offensive turnaround. For that alone I think Howie will try to bring him back on another team-friendly deal. Doug loves finding ways to get Sproles the ball, and even at 34 he’s proved that he can still be a play maker. Howie will still have to find a running back who can compliment Sproles and take the bulk of the carries though. If he’s able to find a solid back in free agency or the draft, I think Sproles will be back next year for one last ride.
Chris Maragos: Leave
Maragos has made a living as the special teams ace under special team’s coordinator Dave Fipp. Being a special teams ace alone won’t warrant a multi-year deal though. In year’s past, Maragos also filled in on defense as the third safety. But with the emergence of some young promising players in the secondary, I don’t see the team prioritizing Maragos at all. Not to mention he’ll be 32 next year, Maragos will be gone in 2019.
Mike Wallace: Leave
Mike Wallace only played in two games for the Eagles this season before suffering a season ending leg injury. He was brought here to replace Torrey Smith and be a deep threat for the offense. Obviously, that never happened.
If Nelson Agholor didn’t emerge as a receiver who can take the top off a defense, I could see the Eagles bringing Wallace back to fill that role. But I think the Birds will bank on some of their homegrown talent to make an impact next season. Both Shelton Gibson and Mack Hollins seem to have potential and going into their third year with the team it’ll be time for them to put up or shut up. Gibson had a solid preseason and opened a lot of eyes in 2018. And while Hollins missed all of 2018 with injury, he should be primed to play a role in the offense next season. For those reasons, I don’t see Howie bringing Wallace back.
Corey Graham: Leave
Corey Graham wasn’t even supposed to be on the roster this season, but with all of the injuries in the secondary, Howie was forced to bring the veteran back. He played okay in McCleod’s absence this season, but he wasn’t close to what McCleod was for the defense. Malcolm Jenkins never left the field this season, and that’s in large part due to Graham’s inability to do everything that McCleod did. Towards the end of the season Tre Sullivan started to get more playing time as the third safety, and I would imagine that Schwartz envisions him as the potential future of that position. Graham’s best football is behind him, so unless the Eagles face a multitude of injuries again next season, we probably won’t see him in an Eagles uniform in 2019.
Richard Rodgers: Leave
Rodgers did little to nothing for the Eagles offense this past season, and with Ertz and Geodert getting the bulk of the snaps, I don’t see Howie bringing a veteran like Rodgers back.
Rick Lovato: Stay
Lovato proved to be a solid long snapper this year and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be brought back next season.
Chance Warmack: Leave
Ever since the Birds signed Warmack he’s been a huge disappointment. He was given several chances but failed to make the most of any of them. He won’t be back next season.
LaRoy Reynolds, Paul Worrilow and D.J. Alexander: Leave
Each of these players suffered an abundance of injuries this season and didn’t really make an impact anywhere else other than special teams. They’ll all likely be replaced next season by rookies.