There aren’t any glaring holes that the Birds need to fill this offseason, but there are a handful of positions that could use some help. With free agency right around the corner and the draft shortly after, Howie will be busy at work trying to fill out the roster. Here are the top three biggest needs facing the Eagles this offseason.
3.) Running Back
As of right now it doesn’t seem like the Eagles are going to bring back soon to be free agent Jay Ajayi. Ajayi missed nearly all of last season with a torn ACL and has dealt with knee problems his entire career. Bringing him back on a one-year deal would make some sense for the Birds, but Ajayi will likely be looking for a longer deal than that. And I don’t think signing someone who’s as injury prone as Ajayi to a long-term deal is in the Eagles’ best interest.
If Ajayi walks, that leaves Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams as the only backs on the roster. That won’t cut it and I’m sure Howie realizes that.
There’s one huge name on the open market and I’m sure if you’re reading this you already know who I’m talking about. Le’Veon Bell is a top-5 back in this league and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in just about a week. Rumors about bringing in Bell have been swirling since last season’s trade deadline and they’ve only gotten louder since. Bell stirred the pot a bit this past weekend when he posted a screen shot to his Instagram story of a DM conversation with newly acquired Phillie Bryce Harper, where Harper urged Bell to come join him in Philly.
I’m sure Bell would love to come here and play for the Eagles. We have one of the best offensive minds in football in Doug Pederson, who could probably think of a thousand different ways to use Bell and maximize his abilities.
I wouldn’t be mad or disappointed if the Birds ended up signing the star running back, but I just don’t see Howie making that kind of move.
First off, Howie has never thrown huge contracts at running backs. And based on reports, it seems like one of the major problems Bell had with Pittsburgh was their unwillingness to give him a big contract. If Howie can manipulate the cap to get a deal done and still have some money left over to address other needs, I say why not. But if signing Bell leaves the Eagles strapped for cash, I don’t think Howie will do it.
If this ends up being the case, I could see the Eagles going after someone like Tevin Coleman or Mark Ingram. Both are versatile backs who are used to playing in a committee backfield. Ingram will cost more than Coleman, but neither would cost nearly as much as Bell would.
If neither of these guys intrigue the Eagles, they could also address running back through the draft. I don’t think they would target one in the first round; that isn’t really Howie’s style. But they do have two second round and two fourth round picks that they could use one on. Two guys to look out for are Damien Harris out of Alabama and Miles Sanders out of Penn State. They’re both powerful backs who have good vision and they have the patience to allow holes to open before making a cut upfield. They both need to work on their pass catching ability and pass blocking, but those two traits usually develop at the next level anyway.
Whichever route the Eagles decide to take, adding a running back will be a necessity this offseason.
2.) Defensive Tackle
If the Eagles don’t pick up Timmy Jernigan’s option come March 13th, as reports have suggested, they’ll be in the market for a new D-Tackle. Bringing Jernigan back at a lower salary is still a possibility, but his current cap hit of $13 million for 2019 is just too high for the Eagles to afford.
Fletcher Cox is coming off his best season as a pro and proved he doesn’t necessarily need another dominant force next to him to succeed. Jernigan missed more than half of last season, leaving Haloti Ngata and Treyvon Hester to split reps. Cox still dominated during Jernigan’s absence, so I don’t think Howie will go out and sign someone who can be an immediate difference maker. Rather, I think Howie will address this hole through the draft.
This year’s draft class has several top-tier defensive tackle prospects to choose from. There could be four or five interior linemen taken in the first round this year, that’s unheard of. Unfortunately for the Eagles, most of these top-tier prospects will likely be gone by the time they’re on the clock. So I wouldn’t be shocked to see Howie trade up in the first to snag someone to pair with Cox. They have two second round and two fourth round picks to play with, so a combination of one of those picks with their first-round selection should be able to get a deal done. I’m not sure if they’ll be willing to trade up all the way to the top 10 for a D-Tackle, but I think anywhere in the 12-15 range would make sense, and they’d still likely be in a position to draft a solid prospect.
If they were to trade up into that 12-15 range, I’d like to see them take Christian Wilkins out of Clemson if he’s available. Right now, he’s projected to be an early to mid-first round pick, so anywhere from the 12th to the 15th pick would be perfect.
Wilkins doesn’t possess the greatest strength in the world, but his motor is unmatched. He gets after it on each and every down, he has great awareness when it comes to reading his keys, and he has the hands to shed blocks when he makes his reads. At 6’4’’ and 315 pounds, he’s an absolute unit and he’s relatively athletic for his size.
Putting Wilkins next to Cox would immediately improve the defensive line. Like I said earlier, Cox just had the best season of his career and he did it with little help from his other D-Tackles. Insert a talent like Wilkins, and Cox may have an even better season in 2019. Pairing these two would cause nightmares for opposing offensive lines.
1.) Offensive Guard
With Brandon Brooks slated to miss significant time next season due to a torn Achilles, guard is the biggest area of need. Not to mention that the guard position opposite of Brooks hasn’t been solidified for a few years now — it seems like Wisniewski and Seumalo have been taking turns getting benched over the past two seasons.
Solidifying the offensive line should be at the top of Howie’s priority list this offseason, especially if he wants Wentz to stay up right for the whole year. He’s the most important player on the team, so obviously his health is a top priority.
Not only that, but it will also help the Eagles rushing attack. In 2017, the Birds had the 3rd best running game in the NFL. In 2018, that rushing attack fell to 28th. The consensus on the Eagles offense seems to be that it’s a pass happy system. Although Doug does tend to rely on the pass more than he should at times, his offense is at its best when he employs a balanced attack. The offensive line under performed at the beginning of last season, especially in the running game. If they go into next season without an adequate replacement for Brooks, we could see the same thing happen in 2019.
I would imagine that offensive line will be one of the Eagles first selections in this upcoming draft. Although Brooks will miss a significant portion of next season (if not the entire year), he should come back at full strength once he’s recovered. He’ll be 30 heading into next season, so his career is far from over. Drafting a guard would help remedy that position while Brooks is sidelined, and once he’s back, that player could move to the opposite guard spot to help solidify that side of the line.
This class of offensive guards isn’t very top heavy, but there are a handful of prospects that would make sense for the Eagles at 25 or one of their two second round picks. Some players to keep an eye on are Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, Mississippi State’s Elgton Jenkins, Wisconsin’s Beau Benzschawal and NC State’s Terronne Prescod.
Most of these guys will likely go in round one, but Terronne Prescod could be an intriguing name to watch out for if the Eagles don’t go guard in the first round. Prescod didn’t get an invite to the combine, but he’s no slouch. He stands at 6’5’’ and 330 pounds and has exceptional lateral quickness given his size; his style of play is very comparable to Brooks actually. If the Birds don’t go guard with their first pick, don’t be surprised if you hear this guy’s name called when the Eagles are on the clock in the second.