Eagles offseason recap: Linebacker, running back, wide receiver still areas of concern

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Now we are almost at the halfway point between the beginning of NFL free agency and the start of the 2017 draft, and league activity has slowed.The Eagles themselves have been silent since swapping Chase Daniel for Nick Foles on March 13 — the opposite of free agency’sopening day, when the Eagles upgraded one of their weakest positions with the best weapon available: Alshon Jeffery.

The focus the Eagles paid to receivers in free agency has assured that Carson Wentz will have real NFL receivers to target in 2017. Despite the resources already spent on the position, the Eagles appear to still be considering spending a high pick on a receiver. They’ve hosted private visits with Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, Washington’s John Ross, Clemson’s Mike Williams and Penn State’s Chris Godwin. The first three are generally expected to be among the first 20 names called at the draft, and Godwin shouldn’t last past the second round.

Is it foolish for the Eagles to still be considering wide receiver as one of their primary needs? It’s doubtful. Neither Jeffery or Jordan Matthews are under contract after this season, and it remains to be seen if Torrey Smith can recapture the form he showed in Baltimore. While the present is much brighter, the long-term future of the position is anything but assured at this point.

The Eagles’ other most notable signing came along the offensive line, where they added Chance Warmack, a former top-10 pick of the Titans who started 48 games at guard over four seasons in Tennessee. In Philadelphia he’ll be reunited with his college line coach, Jeff Stoutland. Stoutland and Warmack won two national titles together at Alabama.

They also re-signed center/guard Stefen Wisniewski, making sure they have plenty of depth on the interior of their line for the moment, with 2016 starters Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks all still in Philadelphia, and last year’s third round selection, Isaac Seumalo, awaiting his chance to compete for a starting job. Barbre was given permission to seek a trade, and it has been speculated the team will look to move on from Kelce, who has started at center since being drafted in 2011, and his salary.

The rest of the offseason has focused on subtraction. Salaries the team has already moved on from include Connor Barwin and Leodis McKelvin. Nolan Carroll and Bennie Logan have not been re-signed either. The deepest cornerback class in recent memory has most thinking the Eagles will focus on the draft when finding replacements for McKelvin and Carroll. But a corners may not come off the board as early as expected. Sidney Jones’ Achilles injury removes their most likely target at pick 14. Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey is another possibility, and has already visited the team.

As for Barwin, it would be fantastic if his replacement could come from in-house. Vinny Curry, now with his own expensive contract, had a disappointing 2.5 sacks in 2016 in a new system that was supposed to be better suited to him. At the same time, long-suffering first round selection Marcus Smith III matched that sack total in his best season yet. Edge rusher has been touted as a possible first-round target for the Eagles, but it would be nice if one of these formerly exciting players could return them to the feared pass-rush present when they ran a 3-4.

Backup Beau Allen should have the first shot to start in Logan’s abandoned position along the line, and he has been capable when called on before. One of the most prominent free agents still on the market however is Johnathan Hankins, a New York Giants defensive tackle the Eagles have been heavily connected to. If he does wind up in Philadelphia, it could be on the sizable long-term deal it’s now being reported Logan rejected mid-season.

Lastly, two more positions of concern remain unaddressed: running back and linebacker. Each spot has a player, Ryan Mathews and Mychal Kendricks, respectively, expected to be on the outs with no clear replacement. Mathews cannot be released by the Eagles while injured, but with only Darren Sproles and second-year rusher Wendell Smallwood on the depth chart behind him, expect the Eagles to add another back, either through the draft, or a possible low-risk, high-reward reunion between Doug Pederson and his former star Jamaal Charles.

At linebacker, the Eagles oft turned to two-linebacker sets last year with Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham, and Kendricks was the odd man out, playing under a third of the team’s snaps a year after he signed a hefty contract extension and was considered a foundation of the defense going forward. Off-the-field issues may eventually lead to a suspension for Bradham, and a Kendricks’ exit would leave the Eagles painfully thin at linebacker. It’s unclear if the Eagles want to use more linebackers on the field or not, but they’ve hosted Alabama linebacker and first round prospect Reuben Foster for a visit. It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t use him if they called his name.

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