The Real State of the Eagles

Football Outsiders has a feature where Andy Benoit goes over every roster position by position and grades each player and comments on the various units, calling it “The State of the Team.” It’s a good concept, but it’s horribly executed, because Benoit is a poor writer. He thinks among other things that Joe Flacco and Antonio Brown are elite players and that Nnamdi Asomugha and Steven Jackson are good players. Take a look for yourself, there are plenty of legitimate complains in the comments sections. The player rating system is poorly defined and inconsistent, and it’s labels of “star” and “good” and “adequate” pushes the conversation towards nitpicking that this player is good and that player is adequate. That these are all being done before the draft sets the table for discussion of what each team should do in the draft, but instead little mention is made about it. The Eagles one is particularly bad, listing Stanley Havili, who was traded weeks ago, and not listing Riley Cooper, who’s been on the team for years. Then there’s his comment on Evan Mathis, both petty and ignorant. But the biggest problem is that Benoit treats all teams equal. Every team is judged on how they stand for the 2013 season, which is a narrow way of thinking. The Falcons and Broncos are trying to win a Super Bowl this year, they should be judged against that. But the Raiders and Jets are building for the future and should be judged accordingly. But Benoit doesn’t care, or didn’t think to do it that way. He doesn’t account for age, contract or the options the team had in free agency. So how about an Eagles fan gives a real run down on the roster? With better and better defined ratings and a look towards the draft and the future? Let’s do it.

The Off-Season

Like any 4-12 team, or any team changing head coach, or any team transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, the Eagles are going through changes. And since they are all three of those things, they are undergoing quite a lot of changes.


Yeah, no way I’m going with David Bowie when Sabbath is on the table.

I’ve been skeptical of Howie Roseman and the rest of the front office, but he is beginning to win me over. The wooing of Chip Kelly is an obvious feather in his cap, and I really like what the Eagles have done in free agency, the roster is set up nicely for building for the future. Nearly all of the free agency signings are short term patch work, one to three year deals that don’t tie their hands down. If only by default some of the signings are upgrades on the current roster, but no one is good enough or on a contract that precludes the Eagles from drafting any position. There are plenty of upgrades to be made, but no position needs to be addressed in the draft, there’s 22 starting spots accounted for at the moment. Build through the draft and compliment, not supplement, in free agency. This is how long term success is built.

So I’m excited to see what happens this weekend. With the flexibility they have, I’m in the camp of people who think the Eagles should trade back in the first and/or second round. Right now they have nine picks, one each in the 1st through the 5th and then four 7th rounders, but they have more than nine needs to address in the draft. Picking up an extra 2nd and/or 3rd and/or 4th would be beneficial, if only it was that easy. When it’s a great draft to trade back in, that means it’s probably a terrible draft to trade up in. Don’t be surprised if they wind up sitting at #4 because no one offers the value they want and then trade back in the 2nd.

The Roster

Unless you’re a veteran team who hired a coach to take them over the hump, the first year of a new head coach should be given a bit of a pass. Look at it like a tryout of sorts for the next season. The Eagles turned around under Andy Reid in year two, so did the Patriots under Belichick, in part because they flushed out the flotsam and jetsam in that first year. Many of the players on this roster won’t be here next year, and while you and I and the coaching staff have an idea who, there’s only one way to find out: the hard way. This off-season they’ve already cleared out some dead weight and even more will be jettisoned next off-season. The worst parts of the 2013 season will probably happen by players who won’t be on the 2014 team. So instead of worrying about the mistakes made by the players who are just keeping the seat warm until their replacement arrives, enjoy that the best parts that will mostly happen by the players that will be part of the future. But who are they? Let’s take a look at the roster from a much better angle than Football Outsiders did, taking into account that the Eagles are looking to the future with every move they make.

  • Definitely on the 2014 team and beyond
  • Definitely on the 2014 team but will need draft replacement
  • Possibly on the 2014 team but needs draft or free agent replacement
  • Possibly on the 2014 team, but needs to earn it
  • Replacement level player, must fight for 2014 roster spot, possibly for a 2013 spot
  • On the bubble for 2013

Offense

The Eagles probably won’t be good next year. But they could be fun. If you saw Oregon play the past few years, and they were one of the teams I made it a point to watch, you know they were exciting to watch. Big plays followed by even bigger plays, and embarrassing rivals and a high profile former NFL defensive coordinator who now coaches for the Cowboys. This year, just sit back and enjoy the good times. The defense will blow a few leads, Vick will make a few awful turnovers and Bryce Brown will fumble the ball, but in between it we’ll have some fun.

Quarterbacks: Michael Vick; Nick Foles; Dennis Dixon, GJ Kinne

I’m completely on board with the re-signing of Vick. Quite simply, there wasn’t a better QB available in free agency at all, and not a better one ideal for Chip Kelly. It would have been foolish for the Eagles to trade for one (Alex Smith is a terrible QB without Jim Harbaugh and a waste of a 2nd round pick), and re-signing Vick doesn’t prevent them from drafting a QB. I would prefer to see Foles start, I don’t think he is the real deal but I would like to find out; if he isn’t then that will help them be in position in the 2014 draft to get a QB. But Vick will probably get the job until he of course gets hurt. Dixon is fine as the 3rd string QB. If you’re making a big deal out of the 3rd QB then you are either worrying for the sake of worrying or you are the Washington Redskins.

Draft need: Low. Some people want Geno Smith or EJ Manuel, but I’m not one of them. I would prefer, if the Eagles take a QB at all, a late rounder to compete with Dixon for the 3rd spot and then next year, when the QB class doesn’t resemble 2007’s like this one’s does, take a top player. I’m in the Ron Wolf “Draft A QB Every Year” school of thinking. You’ll hit on one every few years, even if it’s just a series of backups which you can then sell for a good return. (Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks). Especially since Vick is going to get hurt. Cut Dixon at the end of camp and hope he passes through waivers (which he probably will) then sign him as the #3 when Vick eventually goes down.

Running backs: LeSean McCoy; Bryce Brown, Chris Polk; Emil Igwenagu

Shady is of course one of the best RBs in the league, what is there to be said that hasn’t already been. Brown looked good for a month, but plenty of guys have looked good for a whole year and then did nothing, so the jury is still out on him. Polk will probably make the roster along with a rookie, I see Chip Kelly carrying four running backs. The Eagles are going to run the ball more this year, so everyone will get a chance, and with McCoy being the elder statesman at 25, it’s all upside. Igwenagu is a camp body.

Draft need: Low. They’ll definitely bring in another running back, but with it being a low priority and running backs easily availble, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just bring in a few UDFAs.

Offensive line: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans; Danny Watkins, Dennis Kelly, Ed Wang, Dallas Reynolds; Allen Barbe, Matt Kopa, Matt Reynolds, Nate Menkin, Julian Vandervelde, Matt Tennant

Assuming everyone is healthy (a reasonable assumption) and picks up where they left off (a larger assumption), the line should be very good, save for the weak spot you could drive a firetruck through. Luckily help is on the way. With no depth and Peters, Mathis and Herremans all over 30, they will certainly draft at least one lineman. Kelly did a fine job being thrown into the fire but at this point is just a guy but with some upside; everyone else on the roster is a warm body.

Draft need: Guaranteed, it’s just a question of what and when. Drafting a tackle is an obvious move, Peters and Herremans can hold the ends down, but Peters’ contract is up after 2014 and that’s also when cutting Herreman will saving them money. While they still have tread on the tire, by then they’ll be 33 and 32, respectively. But in the short term guard is the bigger need and it’s a need long term too, I can see a scenario where they take a guard in the first half of the draft and then take a project tackle late. Brandon Lee’s BGN post has me thinking that not taking a tackle at 4 is a good option.

Tight ends: Brent Celek, James Casey; Clay Harbour, Derek Carrier, Evan Moore

Celek and Casey are good, reliable players and Kelly is going to get them both a lot of playing time, so I list them both as starters. I’m really looking forward to how Kelly them, particularly the versatile Casey. But neither are young and Kelly has stated he likes tight ends, which I hope was a statement of football but if he wants to be in charge of the cheerleaders too that’s okay with me. So I expect them to draft a tight end. Celek can be cut after this year for no cap hit, so if he has to perform well to earn a spot in 2014. Harbour does nothing for me and this is the last year of his contract, Carrier and Moore are camp bodies, if they even make it that far.

Draft need: Medium. It looks like a number of good tight ends will available in the 2nd round, but is that a good use of a player who will be #3 on the depth chart this year?

Wide Receivers: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant; Arrelious Benn, Riley Cooper, Damarius Johnson, BJ Cunningham, Nick Miller, Marvin McNutt, Ifeayni Momah, Greg Salas, DeMarco Sampson

The Eagles have twelve receivers on the roster at the moment, and I see Jackson as the only one guaranteed a job in 2014. Maclin, as we all know, is on the last year of his contract. I would not be opposed to trading him if the value is good (at least a 3rd, ideally a 3rd and another pick, but I doubt that will happen). I wouldn’t be stunned to see Avant not make the final roster, especially if they draft someone. His hands are still outstanding but he was never that fast and at age 30 has lost a step. The arrival of Benn means Cooper is on the bubble, but Benn’s spot isn’t secure either. Everyone else is camp fodder.

Draft need: Uncertain. I don’t know what to make of this position for the draft. I don’t think they can sit on WR, but as I said they only have nine picks and have more than nine draft needs. Just on the offense there are as many as six positions they could draft someone at, so some of these positions will have to be put on the back burner. Wide receiver could be one if they don’t trade back and add some picks.

Defense

The transition to 3-4 means there are going to be growing pains. Only three starters on the front seven have even played in a 3-4, so there is a lot of projecting going on with the depth chart. Expect a lot of 4-3 Under to be played to help bridge the transition and utilize the roster. Make do with what you have, take what you can get. And what the Eagles have right now is a lot of average players. This is the clearest example of the roster giving them draft flexibility. Right now they have 11 guys they could start if they had to, but it would be ugly. They’re obviously going to draft a few defensive players, but they could go anywhere with it. Stick to the board.

Defensive Line: Fletcher Cox, Isaac Sopoaga, Cedrick Thornton; Vinny Curry, Antonio Dixon, Everette Brown, Clifton Geathers, Ronnie Cameron

Cox had a very good rookie season and there’s every reason to think he can be a very good 3-4 DE with proper coaching, and DL coach Jerry Azzinaro has a history of developing 3-4 DEs. That also bodes well for Thornton, who along with Curry will be a project for Azzinaro. Sopoaga is on the downside but was as good an option as there was available to be a seat warmer for 2013. Dixon could be challenged by a rookie depending on what they do in the draft, as they don’t think he can start at NT. There’s plenty of upside on the line but I can’t say I’m optimistic.

Draft need: High. They need a DE and a NT for the long term, so I would expect at least one of these to be addressed. Cox is the only lineman on the roster you can safely project on the 2015 Eagles, and maybe even the 2014 team.

Linebackers: Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Graham, Trent Cole; Jason Phillips, Jamar Chaney, Emmanuel Acho, Casey Matthews, Chris McCoy, Phillip Hunt

The Eagles spent years under Andy Reid struggling to find two good linebackers let alone three, they finally do with Ryans and Kendricks and then of course they change it all up and go to the 3-4 and they’re back to the drawing board. Ryans struggled with the 3-4 in Houston but he should be cut some slack because he was coming off major injury and with Brian Cushing on the roster you’d take Ryans off the field in nickle too. Kendricks is small for an ILB but he should be fine, he’s a good player and he’s got the 4-3 Under WLB locked down. Connor Barwin doesn’t impress me. He’s not a true SAM and his 2011 sack total is likely an outlier. 9.5 of his sacks that year came against bad quarterbacks, four of them came in one game against the great Blaine Gabbert. Colt McCoy, Chad Henne, Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton and Dan Orlovsky accounted for 5.5 sacks. That’s not an impressive list of targets. Graham, Cole and Hunt face the unenviable task of learning how to turn into a 3-4 OLB or be cut (in 2014), which for Cole could mean the end of his career because unproductive players in their 30s aren’t about to become in demand. Matthews, reunited with some of his old coaches, will get a chance to troll all of us by turning his career around. Chaney, it was nice knowing you, you were great that one game two years ago. The trade for Acho, an ILB, means they have one less need to address on day three. In exchange for a 4th RB, that’s not a bad return.

Draft need: High. They need a legit SAM and another pass rusher to groom for 2014 when cutting Cole will save them money. Like the line, there’s a good chance that nearly every player here isn’t on the 2015 Eagles.

Defensive Backs: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips; Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes, Trevard Lindley, Eddie Whitley, Nate Allen, Colt Anderson, David Sims, Kurt Coleman

I’m so sick and tired of the players from the 2011 and 2012 secondary stinking up the joint that I’m welcoming the chance to get endlessly frustrated by a whole new set of names and faces. So long as they aren’t continuously beaten deep, consistently out of position and aren’t looking around confused like they just accidentally traveled to an alternate universe, Williams and Fletcher should be visual upgrades from Asomugha and DRC. Boykin looked fine for a rookie but he’s still going to have to earn his playing time, unless it’s handed to him when Fletcher goes down with another injury. Which is a good reason why this is another position that could be addressed in the draft. Curtis Marsh will continue to do whatever it is Curtis Marsh does, Hughes and Lindley will battle it out to be cut last. I’m not a fan of Chung but he’ll bump Coleman out of the lineup, which is good enough for me. I would have cut Coleman by now, he’s truly terrible. Phillips is probably broken down so safety is still a need. Nate Allen gets one more shot to show that coaching, and not his inability to play football, was dragging him down. The focus on special teams means Anderson has an edge on Coleman and Sims, but if they draft a safety then he’s potentially on the bubble.

Draft need: High. Just like nearly every position, a corner and a safety should be on the list.

So what is the state of the Eagles?

In a word, transitional. The 2013 Eagles team is pretty straightforward, they’re building for 2014 and beyond. The defense lacks playmakers and the offense is for the most part aging. They’re better than last year’s injury plagued 4-12 record, but they’re far from a contender. Help is needed nearly everywhere. The future of this team will be a little clearer after the draft, which this year looks fairly suspenseful. You know all the options. Will they trade back? Or will they stay at #4 overall? At #4 they will be able to draft a OL, a DT or a pass rusher. All three are needs for 2014 but the team can survive 2013 without a top pick at any of them. The second round looks like good value for safeties and tight ends, two more positions of need that they can survive passing on if if there’s better value elsewhere. If they take Dion Jordan and a TE with their first two picks, that’s fine. If they take Eric Fisher and a S, that works for me. Star Lotulelei and a lineman, okay. If they trade back and add some depth of picks, that’s great too. So many options, and all of them are reasonable. That’s exciting to me. Hopefully we can look back a year from now and say it was.

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