The 2016 season is officially over, closed with one of the most memorable Super Bowls in recent history. If the Eagles’ goal is to be providing similar drama in the near future, we think following this shopping list is a pretty good start.
Sign Alshon Jeffery
Don’t just get Carson Wentz a weapon, get Carson Wentz the best weapon available. Don’t just reunite new receivers coach Dave Groh with a former player, reunite him with his best former wideout. Money is a hurdle, but we won’t bet against Howie Roseman finessing his cap to anything the Eagles need (more on that later).
Of course, free agency is a two way street and if the Eagles can’t bring Jeffery to town, they need to find a capable starter elsewhere. That could be DeSean Jackson; it could be Miami’s Kenny Stills, or someone else. What’s important is that the Eagles don’t enter the draft with no security beyond Jordan Matthews at the position. That would be begging to overdraft someone based on need. Also, unlike say cornerback, the Eagles don’t actually have a terrible track record when turning to free agency for agency at wide receiver. And this class features exactly what the Eagles need: deep threats.
We’re all familiar with Jackson’s particular talent for this, but he’s actually gotten better at it since leaving the Eagles: His three seasons in Washington have been three of his five best in terms of yards per catch. He has 22 receptions of 40-plus yards in those three seasons and averaged 19 YPC total over that span. Stills had four 40-plus receptions in 2016. The Eagles receivers combined for four total. In four seasons, Stills has 18 total, Jeffery 17 in five seasons.
You know the Eagles need to improve at cornerback. We know the Eagles need to improve at cornerback. Fingers crossed they know the Eagles need to improve at cornerback. We won’t rehash this here beyond this: Pro Football Focus ranked the Eagles secondary dead last in the NFL despite rating the safety play above average in 2016.
With signings like Byron Maxwell and Nnamdi Asomugha obscuring any good vibes about the free agent market brought on by memories of Asante Samuel and Troy Vincent, it makes sense for this to be the position the Eagles try to fill during the draft. Eric Rowe was the highest draft pick the Eagles spent on a cornerback since Lito Sheppard, and he just got a Super Bowl ring two days later.
The class is so deep they should be able to find an immediate upgrade even on day two, and their need is so great that if they take one in round one and see one they still like available when their name comes up again, no one will complain.
Coach up those cornerbacks
Let’s go back to that Rowe Super Bowl victory for a second. This offseason, after one largely positively reviewed season in midnight green, the new-old regime sent Rowe to New England for a fourth round pick. Next to him in the New England secondary, you may notice Patrick Chung, collecting his second ring.
You might notice Nate Allen starting games for the 12-4 Raiders, or perhaps you caught Kurt Coleman’s seven interceptions for the Super Bowl runner-up Panthers in 2015. Byron Maxwell improved in Miami this season, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks for the Giants.
As much as talent evaluation has hindered the Eagles in recent years, more often than not the Eagles’ trash has proven to be other (often more successful) teams’ treasure. Scheme and surrounding talent are the usual culprits, but it all comes down to putting players in a position to succeed, something the Eagles clearly haven’t been doing.
Assistant secondary coach Dino Vasso, whom Doug Pederson brought with him from Kansas City, was on the coaching staff for the East-West Shrine game. Hopefully he saw some players he could work with.
Fully embrace youth
This isn’t about tanking or rebuilding, but the Eagles aren’t “one player away” from a Super Bowl. They’re a team entering a new era under a young quarterback that needs to dedicate its time to finding out if the players they’ve added can play.
That means letting Isaac Seumalo take over one of the many positions he can play on the offensive line. It means giving Marcus Smith, who improved in 2016, more snaps and drafting cornerbacks and running backs instead of overpaying for stopgap veterans in free agency.
In several cases, these interests align with changes that will save the Eagles significant cap money and, in several cases, it’s unfortunately at the expense of players who have been good, dependable and sometimes elite members of the team over recent years. But the kids deserve a chance, and it’s providing that chance that will simultaneously free up the money for the Eagles to pursue a wide receiver like Jeffery.
Kelly green uniforms
Restoring the NFL’s best uniform will forever be priority No. 1.