15 Burning Questions for the Philadelphia Eagles This Offseason
The dreaded offseason. It's here. For most NFL fans, this means months and months of speculation.
Who will be traded or released? How many players are re-signed through free agency? What are the most pressing draft needs? And most importantly, what needs to be done to make the 2014 season end with a Super Bowl title?
For the Eagles, that's exactly what I'll take a look at right here. The following slides will highlight, in no particular order, 15 of the most important questions for the Philadelphia Eagles to figure out over the next several months.
1. Has Nick Foles Set the Bar Too High?
Just look at some of the numbers Foles put up in 2013, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. He threw for 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He set a single-season record by averaging 10.50 adjusted yards per pass attempt. He set another record (minimum 10 starts) with a 0.6 percent interception rate. He led the NFL in yards per completion and yards per attempt. And his passer rating was the third-highest in a single season in history.
You can't say Foles didn't take chances. He threw 17.4 percent of his passes more than 20 yards downfield, the highest rate in the NFL for any quarterback in the past two seasons.
His only notable weaknesses were taking too many sacks and holding onto the football too long. He was also relatively inconsistent, especially in the last few games of the season.
Expect Foles to take a step backward in 2014. It's almost impossible for him to not. The big question is whether he can continue to improve on his weaknesses and solidify himself as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the game.
Or will he show that 2013 was just a one-year wonder, a la Josh Freeman in 2010?
2. Can Mike Vick Be Brought Back as a Backup in 2014?
Mike Vick has made it clear this offseason that he would like to enter the 2014 season as a starter for some NFL team. He'll probably get his wish too, as some team will bring him on as a veteran stopgap option while it grooms its potential franchise quarterback. Look for the Minnesota Vikings or New York Jets to consider giving the soon-to-be 34-year-old an opportunity.
But if Vick can't obtain a starting spot, he's expressed his willingness to return to the Eagles as a backup quarterback. That's an opportunity that the Eagles should jump on, if possible.
Vick has everything you'd want in a backup quarterback. He's a tremendous presence in a locker room, and he has proved that he's capable of coming in with no warning and playing at a high level for a number of games.
As a starter, it's impossible to trust him to stay healthy. But as a backup who could make a couple of starts in 2014, Vick would be a tremendous option.
3. Are Bryce Brown and Chris Polk Trustworthy Enough to Back Up McCoy in 2014?
LeSean McCoy had a monster year in 2013, carrying the ball 314 times for 1,607 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add 52 catches and you have a running back who touched the football 366 times, not including the team's lone playoff game.
Bryce Brown had a very inconsistent year, finishing with 4.2 yards per carry and two scores. Chris Polk carried just 11 times but averaged 8.9 yards per run, including three scores.
McCoy is going to need better contribution from his backups in 2014. The Eagles have this offseason to determine whether Brown and Polk are good enough to complement McCoy.
4. Will the Eagles Re-Sign Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Both or None?
Wide receiver is easily the biggest question mark for the Eagles this offseason. It's not even close.
The only thing set in stone is DeSean Jackson entering the 2014 season as the team's top receiver. Everything else is up in the air.
Jeremy Maclin, the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2009, is a free agent. It's unknown whether he will be re-signed or what kind of contract he will earn if he is brought back. He's been slightly disappointing since the Eagles took him with the 19th overall pick, but he's still a vital part of the offense. If he recovers fully from his ACL injury, and it sounds like he will, it makes sense to ink him to at least a one-year prove-it deal.
The other question is what to do with Riley Cooper. A year ago, this question would have been crazy. Drafted in the fifth round in 2010, Cooper really didn't produce much during his first three seasons in the leaue. He was arguably the worst starting receiver in the NFL through the first five weeks in 2013. Then Nick Foles happened.
Under the Eagles' new quarterback, Cooper flourished, finishing the season with 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. All three marks were higher than his previous three-year totals combined.
Foles had a 137.0 passer rating when throwing to Cooper in 2013. To call him Foles' favorite target is an understatement.
Cooper will likely command a three- or four-year deal worth several million per year, but his role in Chip Kelly's offense, not to mention his blocking, make it a necessity for him to return.
5. Does James Casey Make the 2014 Roster?
Kelly signed James Casey on the first day of free agency, planning to use the versatile tight end/fullback at a number of different positions and in a number of different formations.
Then Zach Ertz happened. When the Eagles selected the big tight end early in the second round of the draft, it completely changed Casey's role on the 2013 Eagles.
He ended up playing in just 157 offensive snaps this season, catching three passes for 31 yards. That's about what the Eagles expected from him per game this year.
In 2014, Casey is scheduled to earn $3.985 million. That's a lot of money for a backup tight end, let alone one who will be the third-string tight end.
The only reason the Eagles would keep him around is if Brent Celek is a surprise cut or Casey agrees to take a pay cut. After all, he still has potential and talent. He was just buried on the depth chart.
6. How Much Depth Do the Eagles Need on the Offensive Line?
The Eagles had the luxury of all five starters making all 16 starts in 2013. That's almost unprecedented, especially for a team that has three starters over the age of 30.
Obviously that can't be expected to happen again in 2014. Depth will be a necessity for the Eagles.
For the most part, the backup offensive linemen on the Eagles are untested. Using a mid- or low-round draft pick on a versatile tackle/guard combo would be beneficial for both 2014 and the future, as the Eagles will likely be looking for a couple of new starters on the offensive line in a few seasons.
7. Should the Eagles Use Bennie Logan at Nose Tackle?
The Eagles liked rookie defensive tackle Bennie Logan enough to trade away veteran Isaac Sopoaga midseason. Logan had a solid year, rating as a plus-3.1 by Pro Football Focus (subscription required), while playing in about 50 to 60 percent of the snaps down the stretch.
But Philadelphia's running defense was exposed in the playoff loss to the New Orleans Saints, as the Eagles surrendered 185 rushing yards, including a number of pivotal third-down conversions.
If the Eagles had a massive run-stuffing nose tackle in the middle of their defensive line, instead of a smaller, more athletic body like Logan, they might have been able to make the necessary plays on short-yardage downs.
Logan had a solid first season, but he's far from irreplaceable. A mid-round defensive tackle would be an excellent addition to the defensive line.
8. Is Fletcher Cox Due for a Breakout Season?
The former first-round draft pick had a great rookie season but struggled early in 2013 after switching to defensive end in a 3-4 defense. He finished strong, though, rating as the 13th-best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
But in 2014, Fletcher Cox is poised to become the best player on the Eagles defense. He's a threat against the run and as a pass-rusher.
With a little bit better supporting cast, Cox will become an absolute monster on the defensive line.
9. What Happens with Brandon Graham?
The Eagles need to figure out what to do with their Brandon Graham problem this offseason. The former first-round pick played sparingly in 2013, participating in just 27 percent of defensive snaps.
He did collect a respectable three sacks and 17 hurries, but it's a far cry below the exceptional numbers he tallied in 2012, when he collected seven sacks and 31 hurries in equally limited productivity.
As a backup, Graham is a solid player who is able to fill in in the event of an injury. However, he's slated to earn $3.378 million in 2014. It's not practical for him to remain on the roster unless he obtains a starting role.
It's possible he beats out veteran Trent Cole for a starting spot this offseason, but it's more likely that the Eagles target a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the draft and Graham remains a backup.
Speculation has circulated that the Eagles could trade Graham and their first-round pick for Dion Jordan, last year's No. 3 overall pick. Jordan already has a connection to Kelly, having attended Oregon. He's also better suited for a 3-4 defense. It's unlikely that the Eagles even attempt to pull off this trade. Teams just don't part with such high draft picks after one year (with the lone exception of Trent Richardson).
Expect the Eagles to trade Graham for a late-round draft pick. Chalk him up as yet another disappointing first-round draft pick by Andy Reid.
10. Who Will Be the Top Pass-Rusher in 2014?
It's impossible to predict whether any under-the-radar player, such as Joe Kruger, will emerge as an elite pass-rusher in 2014. In that case, the Eagles need to bring in at least one player who can get to the quarterback on a consistent basis.
Trent Cole was probably the best pass-rusher in 2014, and he turns 32 in the middle of next year. He can't be counted on to produce much more than seven or eight sacks.
The Eagles need a double-digit sack guy. They don't have one on their roster right now. They need to get one, whether it's via the draft or free agency.
11. Is DeMeco Ryans a Victim of the Salary Cap?
The Eagles had the best group of linebackers they've had in more than a decade in 2013. DeMeco Ryans was the veteran leader of the group, as the 29-year-old collected his second-most tackles in a season since he entered the NFL.
But he turns 30 years old this summer, and he's scheduled to earn $6.9 million in 2014. That means he'll be the fourth-highest-paid player on the team and the highest-paid player on the defense.
Ryans is definitely on the decline of his career, even if it is a gradual process, and if the Eagles can grab a playmaking linebacker early in the 2014 draft, don't be surprised to see Ryans fall victim to the salary cap.
12. Is Brandon Boykin the Nickel Cornerback Again?
The Eagles' second-year cornerback may have been the best defensive player on the team in 2013. He intercepted six passes, including two in the final minute to win the game, and he rated as the best cover corner in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also played in just 51 percent of the snaps on the defensive side of the ball. That number needs to change in 2014.
The big question for the Eagles is whether they stick with veterans Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher as their starters. Both had solid seasons, but an upgrade wouldn't be the worst idea at all.
Whether the Eagles draft a corner early in the draft, cut one of their starters to save cap space or add another player through free agency, Brandon Boykin needs to play more in 2014. He's not the third-best cornerback. That's a fact.
13. Does Alex Henery Enter 2014 as the Kicker?
The Eagles have a major problem at kicker.
It's not just about Alex Henery's miss from 48 yards in the Wild Card Game to the New Orleans Saints, a game the Eagles lost by two points.
It's about Henery's inability to kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. It's his inability to convert any field-goal attempt over 50 yards. Most of the time the Eagles don't even try because they know Henery doesn't have the range.
This is 2014, and kickers should be able to kick a field goal close to 60 yards if needed. Henery has made exactly two field goals longer than 50 yards in his three-year career.
Forget about Henery getting drafted in the fourth round. He's had three years to prove himself, and he's declined in each of the past two seasons. Kickers aren't easy to find, but Henery is totally replaceable.
14. Who Returns Kicks?
The Eagles haven't had a consistent kick returner since the days of Brian Mitchell. In fact, they've had a different player lead the team in kick returns for 11 consecutive seasons.
Damaris Johnson had the most kick returns on the team in 2013. The streak will undoubtedly hit 12 years in 2014.
The Eagles don't need to have Devin Hester or Trindon Holliday returning kicks, but it would help if they didn't have to rotate kick returners every year (and sometimes twice a year).
Brad Smith. Johnson. Neither is the answer at kick returner. Through the draft or free agency or even their current roster, the Eagles need to find a threat at returner.
15. Which Position Should the Eagles Target in the First Round of the Draft?
The Eagles have only one position on their team that would be classified as a glaring need, and that's safety. Every other position is at least adequate, although of course an upgrade could be recommended at a number of positions.
Don't expect general manager Howie Roseman to reach for a safety in the first round of this year's draft. He made that mistake in 2011, the infamous draft in which the Eagles selected Danny Watkins, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Curtis Marsh and Casey Matthews with their first four picks.
If a safety or pass-rushing outside linebacker is deemed by the team to be the best player available at pick No. 22, the Eagles will certainly pull the trigger. But if the best player available is a wide receiver, defensive end, cornerback or even an offensive tackle, expect the Eagles to also pull the trigger.
Depth is a necessity on any NFL team. No first-round pick is going to sit on the bench for an extended period of time. He'll get to play.