Saturday, May 21, 2022

Five moves Eagles should make in offseason, free agency: Take care of draft capital, build around Jalen Hurts

The Philadelphia Eagles were one of the surprising teams in the NFL last season, with an unexpected winning season and a playoff berth. Coming off a 4-11-1 season, first-year head coach Nick Sirianni and starting quarterback Jalen Hurts (in his first year as a starter) led the Eagles to a 9-8-1 record — and clinched a playoff berth before the final week of the season.

The wild card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers exposed all the Eagles’ flaws, from Hurts needing more seasoning in his development to a defense that couldn’t get off the field and a lack of playmaking wide receivers. Philadelphia has plenty of issues to address this offseason if the Eagles want to emerge as NFC contenders over the next year and beyond. 

Fortunately, the Eagles have three first-round draft picks and an estimated $17.3 million in salary cap space to improve their roster. These are five moves the Eagles should make this offseason in order to emerge as a contender in the NFC. 

1. Keep the draft capital

The Eagles have three first-round picks (No. 15, No. 16, and No. 19) at their disposal, one of just 16 teams since the merger to have that many picks in the first round. As history shows, keeping those picks can land a franchise two impact players that can emerge as franchise cornerstones for the next several years. 

Philadelphia needs to improve the defense in all three phases (pass rush, linebacker, and secondary) and needs another playmaking wide receiver to help out Hurts (or whoever the quarterback is) in 2022. There are too many opportunities to make the roster significantly better by using this premium draft capital. 

Just because the Eagles have the assets doesn’t mean they should trade them away for a franchise quarterback, especially ones that have to actually waive their no-trade clause to come to Philadelphia (Russell Wilson said “no”). 

The Eagles don’t have to keep all their first-round picks, but should retain at least two of them. 

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2. Commit to Jalen Hurts — for 2022

This one goes in hand with keeping the first-round picks. Hurts is the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in his first 20 career starts (he’s started only 19 games) and he’s 23 years old. There’s plenty of room to grow and develop in another year with Sirianni’s offense. Hurts will have the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time in the college or professional ranks, so ponder that when evaluating him. 

Hurts completed 61.3% of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions for an 87.2 rating last season, and he’s just the second quarterback in Eagles history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 750 yards in a season — and the eighth to reach those numbers in NFL history. He improved as the season went on, completing a season-high 66.7% of his passes for 709 yards with three touchdowns to just one interception for a 101.3 passer rating in his last three regular season starts. 

The Eagles need to give Hurts another year of evaluation and see if he can improve with another year in that offense. If he can’t, the Eagles decision to move on will be much easier. 

3. Add a veteran wide receiver in free agency

Philadelphia needs wide receiver help in the worst way, someone to take the pressure off emerging young targets DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert. Smith (916 yards), Goedert (830) and Quez Watkins (647 yards) were the only Eagles receivers to surpass 300 yards in 2021, so there’s an immediate need to improve the pass catchers. 

Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside were missed draft picks, putting the Eagles in this hole. General manager Howie Roseman can cover that up by adding a veteran wide receiver in a deep free agent class. Smith can still be the No. 1 option while Goedert can continue to emerge in the middle of the field as the No. 1 tight end. Watkins can became a huge asset as a No. 3 wide receiver with his burning speed and his big-play ability.

The Eagles have the cap space to get one of the top free agent options. Philadelphia should have interest in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson in the coming days, as either of those options would thrive in Sirianni’s offense. 

They also could use one of those first-round picks and trade for a veteran receiver. DK Metcalf is worth that premium price. 

4. Improve the pass rush

The Eagles had just 29 sacks last year (tied for second-fewest in the NFL), despite finishing tied for 15th in pressures with 197. This is a unit that needs to thrive if Jonathan Gannon’s defense is to be elite — and the Eagles simply don’t have enough personnel to get to the quarterback. 

Josh Sweat (7.5 sacks, 43 pressures, 13 quarterback hits) and Javon Hargrave (7.5 sacks, 58 pressures, 18 quarterback hits) are returning to anchor the unit — with Brandon Graham also back from a season-ending Achilles injury. Fletcher Cox (3.5 sacks, 41 pressures, 12 quarterback hits) should also be back, but the Eagles need an impact pass rusher or two to get to the quarterback more consistently. 

Philadelphia could go the free agent route here, by pursuing Haason Reddick or second-tier options like Charles Harris or Rasheem Green. The Eagles also have one of their three first-round draft picks to develop an edge rusher, as Michigan’s David Ojabo and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson would be fine selections in the mid teens. 

If the Eagles can get two edge rushers this offseason via free agency and the draft — great. They need to land at least one and get more pressure on the quarterback. 

5. Draft a linebacker in the first round — finally 

The Eagles haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since they selected Jerry Robinson in 1979, and Roseman has continued the organizational philosophy that hasn’t prioritized linebackers early in the draft. With Gannon as the defensive coordinator and how important he values linebackers in the defense, that priority has to change.

Philadelphia has two solid players in T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton, but neither of them are difference makers. Davion Taylor is still a project and has the athleticism to develop into a playmaker, but the Eagles have an opportunity to find that impact linebacker early in this draft. 

Georgia’s Nakobe Dean is an ideal fit in the Eagles defense, even if Philadelphia doesn’t prioritize off-ball linebackers. The Eagles need a playmaker at the MIKE, and would be foolish to pass on Dean at No. 15 or No. 16.  The game tape shows Dean can play, showcasing he’s the difference maker the defense needs. 

If the Eagles want to follow the pattern of finding a freak athlete, Utah’s Devin Lloyd is the pick (if he falls to No. 15). Lloyd is another off-ball linebacker the Eagles should covet and immensely improves a defense that needs players in the middle of the field. 

The Eagles can’t go wrong with Dean or Lloyd. If either of them are at No. 15, they have to draft them and break this linebacker streak. 

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