Christmas for the Philadelphia Eagles comes in the form of free agency. This year, Santa has delivered some big name gifts.
NFL free agency is usually a whirlwind of activity. Big name players like, for example, Tony Romo, won’t be with their teams anymore and need a new home. Teams with no hope have a chance to add a player who will help the team go from NFL JV to Super Bowl contender. The Philadelphia Eagles weren’t a squad that languished at the bottom of the league. They’ve safely been hovering in the middle. Quarterback Carson Wentz did a decent job in his first year with the team. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was subject to harsh questions but, for the most part, held his own on the field.
Yet there were problems that sneaked through the cracks. Wentz had no one on the field he could rely on to make plays. Their offensive line was always in a state of varying shambles. Defensively, the team had its veterans like Fletcher Cox but it lacked the consistency to really be a strong force. No good receivers + bad O-line + mediocre defense = problems.
Enter the free agency period in the NFL. The Eagles have a chance here to fix their mistakes and find solutions to problems before the 2017 NFL Draft on April 27. Draftees are great for any NFL organization but for the Eagles, they need veterans who can adapt quickly to Pederson’s system. Fortunately, the Eagles have been busy in the past week and a half. Now it’s time to see what the Eagles have managed to fulfill in their wide range of needs.
Finding elusive wide receivers
Wide receivers for the Eagles were a must-have free agency item. The play-by-play announcer for the Birds, Merrill Reese, broke some news on the front March 9.
Adding Torrey Smith to the squad will prove to be a huge asset for Wentz. Smith was with the Baltimore Ravens for his first four seasons in the league before announcing in 2015 he was going to enter free agency. Then he spent the next two years with the San Francisco 49ers. There had been talk of signing Smith back in October 2016 but those rumors had gone silent. His arrival in Philadelphia was met with cautious optimism. According to 24/7 Sports, Smith said to SportsRadio 94 WIP that “I technically had more lucrative offers elsewhere, but it was just about being comfortable and being in right spot.” Smith isn’t as young, having turned 28 this year. Yet he brings a level of experience and depth to the position that the Eagles desperately need.
Strengths of receivers
One of Smith’s biggest strengths is his deep speed downfield. He’s able to get separation between him and coverage. That alone will help with a lack of deep targets for Wentz, who is capable of chucking the ball more than 15 yards. He’s fast on his feet and is able to create confusion on the field. Smith is a burner, an asset that last year’s receivers lacked. He’s able to break on a highly covered route and will fit in well with Pederson’s scheme. He’ll bring a man with a good sense of body control and is able to adjust to situations as they unfold. He’s a great acquisition but the Eagles will need more than just one stellar receiver for Wentz.
“I technically had more lucrative offers elsewhere, but it was just about being comfortable and being in right spot.”
However, Smith wasn’t the only wide receiver the Eagles managed to snag during free agency. Former Chicago Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery joined Philly and was instantly the darling of their entire free agency haul. His one-year, $9.5 million deal came in at the right price for the Birds. He’s a great addition for Wentz and is now going to complement Smith. Yet his health will be a question. Jeffery is aging and has been through some tough injuries. His contract is incentive to stay healthy and with both men in tip-top shape, the Eagles have added serious offensive weapons.
Backup to the rookie
A familiar face was seen around the Eagles’ facility this week.
Former starting quarterback Nick Foles is back with the organization. It might be a surprise after his quick stint with the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. But in all reality there were no opening jobs that made sense for Foles. He’s talented but not first-string talented. So he’s the new backup for Wentz in Philadelphia.
Under a new system and a new head coach, playing backup might just be what he needs. He only started in three games in Kansas City and had 11 poor performances in St. Louis. Yet he understands what its like to play in a city like Philadelphia. Fans are fickle whether the team wins or loses. That kind of environment at Lincoln Financial Field takes time to get accustomed to and former backup Chase Daniels didn’t have the time to do so. A colleague with similar experience will help Wentz as he graduates from rookie in the organization.
His experience will be valuable in case something bad does happen to Wentz. There won’t be a period of time where coaches will wonder how he’ll handle pressure in the pocket. He’s a great addition for the Eagles yet he’ll need to learn Pederson’s offensive style of play. But all-in-all, a backup quarterback, especially an experienced one, was a necessity for the team.
Underrated but perfect for the Eagles
There’s always one signing in free agency that makes people go “Huh?” Former Tennessee Titan Chance Warmack is that guy for the Eagles. He was given very high expectations when he was picked No. 10 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Warmack is also no small guy, coming in at 6’2″ and 323 pounds. Yet he wasn’t a great performer in Tennessee. He put up average numbers but an injury sidelined him for much of last season.
There’s potential for him with the Eagles. He was signed to a $500,000, one-year deal but there’s a potential for him to be part of a new O-line. Left tackle Jason Peters is 35 years old but the rest of the crew is significantly younger. Warmack is 25, right guard Brandon Brooks is 27, right tackle Lane Johnson is 26 and center Issac Seumalo is just 23. That’s a nice, young group of athletes who can really contribute to an fledgling Eagles organization.
Warmack has the experience of already playing in the NFL to lend himself a good asset. He played at Alabama and it may be a good sign that the Eagles’ offensive line coach is Jeff Stoutland. Stoutland was Warmack’s offensive line coach back at Alabama. Familiarity can be one of the best tools Warmack has at his disposal. Assuming that his injury is fully healed and can 100% play at his draft level, there’s a chance that this trial deal he signed could be a longer term option in the future.
Who’s missing from the Eagles roster?
While the Eagles having signed some big names to their team, there is still work to be done for the squad. They had limited salary cap space so there couldn’t be more expensive players signed. Yet free agency didn’t fix all of the issues for the team. They need cornerbacks, especially after the release of Nolan Carroll. He was a significant part of the squad and left a really big hole that the team needs to fill ASAP. The NFL Draft might be a better solution to find a cornerback who can grow with the team.
Running backs are also in limited supply for the Eagles. The team needs to upgrade their backfield and the NFL Draft may provide better options than free agency. Backs like Darren Sproles are only part-time workers and can’t always be relied on to work for Wentz. Trading up for a great running back is not going to be in the realm of possibility for the team. There had been rumors that Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey could go to Philadelphia. Those, for the most part, are likely to never come to fruition.
Regardless of how they join the team, there will still be issues to fix. But the Eagles seem to be headed in the right direction.