The Philadelphia Eagles first season under Chip Kelly surpassed just about every expectation we had for this franchise, and they should be even better in 2014 if they can bolster their defense and keep quality weapons around Nick Foles, who is unquestionably this team’s franchise quarterback. The argument that Foles is helped by Kelly’s scheme is true to an extent, but he also fits the scheme perfectly. I think people make too much of a big deal about how Chip likes running quarterbacks, because I think that’s categorically untrue. While he liked very mobile QBs at Oregon due to the added dimension they gave the offense (mostly keeping the D off-balanced and more likely to lose resources stopping playmakers in space whilst keying in on the possibility of a QB running), his QBs at Oregon weren’t trigger-happy with their legs. No, the most important things in Chip’s offense are quick decision-making and arm strength, and it’s clear to me that those are two defining characteristics of Foles’s game.
QB, OL, RB, and DL are four positions where the Eagles are pretty much set at, especially the first three positions. But how about the Eagles needs going into the 2014 season? Safety is obviously at the top of the list, but the Eagles have two free agent WRs to worry about and could also afford to bolster another position on the defensive side of the ball. They have plenty of cap space, so they should be able to make some big moves this offseason. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Starting with the easiest position is usually the best way to start, and it’s clear that safety is as unsafe of a position as it gets. The Eagles only have themselves to blame for the signing of Patrick Chung, because even hindsight dictates that it was an ill-advised move for a team that wanted and needed someone “safe” at the position. Chung hits hard and is a leader, but his reckless style leads to more missed tackles than big stops and more injuries than anyone would like. More importantly, Chung has always struggled mightily in coverage, so it was especially baffling for the Eagles to have mostly used him at free safety. Then again, the FS-SS roles have become blurred when teams don’t have a guy who is clearly great at deep coverage or clearly great in the box, and that’s exactly how things shook out for the Eagles.
These guys have so much cap space that signing Jairus Byrd would make perfect sense for them. He’s one of the league’s best safeties, and there probably isn’t a safety out there with his ball skills. Byrd is also an Oregon product, so that might count for something in Chip’s book. But more importantly, he would finally give the Eagles a safety who can actually cover downfield without embarrassing himself, and he would be the safest tackler the Eagles have had since Quintin Mikell was in his prime, patrolling the back end of Philly’s defensive backfield. Byrd isn’t going to be cheap, but the most worrisome thing for the Eagles is the fact that he might not even be available. The Buffalo Bills are going to do just about everything possible to keep the elite FS, and it’s important to keep a close eye on how talks develop.
The Eagles could also use an upgrade at strong safety, but getting a guy who can coverage downfield and play the role of the free safety is far more important to this team. They shouldn’t draft a safety in the first round, since there isn’t a true FS worth taking in that round. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will be a very good option if he slips to pick No. 22, but the real golden option is Northern Illinois’s Jimmie Ward, who would be an intriguing pick in the second round. That said, the Eagles also need to go after somebody established who can excel in coverage, and there isn’t anyone who stands out other than Byrd.
With the likes of Cedric Thornton, Fletcher Cox, Trent Cole, and Vinny Curry, the Eagles are pretty much set on the defensive line, but they could use some help at outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. I love Cole, but I’m not a big fan of Connor Barwin, who is a bit overrated and hasn’t played well these past two seasons. He can put up some decent-looking numbers, but he doesn’t put consistent pressure on the quarterback, which is something Billy Davis would probably like out of his edge rushers. OLB isn’t a pressing need since Barwin signed as a free agent last year, but the Eagles should strongly consider plucking Anthony Barr if he’s available with the 22nd pick, even if Barr is raw. I think he’s overrated as a top ten prospect, but he’s so talented that he’s worth selecting if he slips outside the top 20 (I have him around 20-25 in draft value right now).
This isn’t a “need to get” but rather a “need to keep”, even if the Eagles are a running offense behind offensive linemen like Evan Mathis and an elite running back in LeSean McCoy. Nick Foles needs his weapons, and Riley Cooper was one of his weapons of choice last season. Cooper isn’t nearly as impressive as DeSean Jackson (obviously), but he also averaged over ten yards per target and seems to fit Kelly’s scheme perfectly. Not only does Cooper excel as a blocker with his big body, but he’s also a big threat in the red zone and is amazing at stretching the field vertically. His ability to make plays downfield and show great chemistry with Foles make him a priority for the Eagles to keep, but Cooper will also be a hot commodity this offseason.
Jeremy Maclin is also set to hit free agency, and the Eagles would be wise to do whatever they can to re-sign both guys, as long as the prices are within reason. Maclin should come at a friendly price due to his ACL tear, and he probably won’t command anything more than a one-year deal. He seems to really want to stay in Philly, and I think he’ll most likely be back. This is a guy who can also stretch the field vertically, but he also has good enough hands and route-running ability to be a reliable intermediate target for Foles; he also fits Kelly’s offense. If the Eagles can’t keep both of them, then they should consider signing a quality target on the cheap or drafting a sleeper in May.
Brandon Boykin is one of the NFL’s best slot corner, and his rise last season was almost terrific to watch as Foles’s rise. This is a guy who plays his heart out on special teams, locks down just about everyone he faces in the slot, and he does a great job of making plays on the ball. The Eagles are also set at one outside corner position with Bradley Fletcher, who is a quality starter. Cary Williams signed a significant contract last season and seems to be locked in, but I’ve always disliked Williams as a player. The character concerns? Those aren’t my focus. When I watch Williams, I see a guy who clearly didn’t deserve to be the highest-paid corner last offseason, and the Eagles fell for the bait (the Indianapolis Colts almost did). He gives WRs way too much space at times and then gets overly physical later in an effort to change his game and send a message, misses too many tackles, and is far too inconsistent to be relied on.
I don’t think the Eagles will address corner this offseason, and they don’t need to. But I also don’t think it’s a position that’s set in stone, and it’s a need because of just how deep the Eagles roster is. I mean, they have so little positions where upgrades are truly needed, but this is where the mindset changes. Now that the Eagles are a playoff team and have proved that they have great coaching and talent on the roster, it’s up to the front office to shore up potential weaknesses and add playmakers. I abide by this rule: You can never have too much depth at CB. Safety is the incredibly important position to upgrade, and CB will take care of itself if the safety position is adequately addressed. But if the Eagles do add some competition at CB, then don’t act too surprised.