Offseason of Questions Face The Birds

January 13th, 2015 by Ryan Waterman | Filed under General.

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This season was a tough pill to swallow. Starting out at 9-3, the Eagles controlled their own destiny and had the chance to secure the teams’ first “free pass to the Divisional Round since the magical 2004-2005 season. However, those aspirations quickly turned to pleas for change. The Eagles moved forward losing 4 of their last 5, bouncing themselves right out of the playoffs. Following one of the most historic collapses in the history of the NFL, it became glaring obvious that this offseason would be an offseason of change. The issues that the Eagles face this offseason are their most significant challenges since the offseason that saw Chip Kelly become the first Eagles head coach not named Reid since 1995.

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie quickly took notice of that fact. As I returned from a family outing on Friday afternoon, I saw the news that Howie Roseman was relieved of his “General Managerial” duties, and that Chip Kelly would now be in charge of Player Personnel. I must admit that I was taken back at first, but it began to make sense after I thought about it. For the past two seasons, Chip has stated that “this team is not complete yet.” In order to make this a “complete team”, the only option was to put the ringleader in charge of recruiting the talent. The amount of power that Kelly now has is unprecedented. To my knowledge, Bill Belichick is the only other coach to possess the power, allowing him to determine who the team selects in the draft, in addition to hand-picking his own free agents. I’m not saying that other head coaches aren’t instrumental in their teams draft selections, and free-agent pickups, but not a lot of (if any) coaches have the amount of power that Bill and Chip do.

With the power that Kelly now possesses comes the responsibility. Chip is now the head honcho of player personnel, and controls who the team ships out, and brings in. That means, no more excuses of an “incomplete team”, as Kelly now has the ability to bring in the players that will improve this team, and make it complete. Howie Roseman no longer stands in the way, and no one can deny Chip. Roseman can only nod, and create the cap space/roster room to accommodate the moves. This shakeup now means that the dogs are loose in the front office, and the sky is the limit this offseason. I will use this article to take an in-depth look, and explain some potential moves that we Eagle fans could see from the team this year.

First up on the offseason agenda is the free-agency period. This is where I anticipate that the Birds will be the most aggressive. Corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are both expected to be let go, as is Nate Allen. In addition to “The Three Stooges”, the departures of Riley Cooper, Mark Sanchez, James Casey, and Trent Cole are also anticipated, three of the four as cap casualties. This would leave the Birds with holes at corner, wideout, and pass-rushing linebackers. Superstar names are very few and far between in the market this year, but there are plenty of attractive names out there. Let’s take a look at the top 10 free agents, that (if they hit the open market) I believe should be targeted by Captain Kelly and the “Starship Eagleprise.”

1.) Demariyus Thomas- With the anticipated departure of Riley Cooper, the Eagles will seemingly have a hole at WR. I don’t care what our top need may be, anytime a 6’3″ wideout that has hauled in 35 TDs over the last three seasons hits the open market, you must have interest. Thomas is one of those rare receivers that has incredible size, amazing speed, and the unbelievable talent to make him an absolute terror for opposing defenses. Hauling in over 4000 yards, and 35 TDs since the 2012 season, Thomas figures to be in for a pay day exceeding the $60 Million range. It may be questionable for the Birds to hand out a large amount of money to a wide receiver, when they have so many other needs. But, I think Thomas would be an incredible addition to an already dynamic offense.

2.) Darrelle Revis- Perhaps the savior of the defense? There is a chance that he stays in Foxboro. But, there’s also a chance that he hits the open market again. If that’s the case, Chip needs to go all out to bring Revis Island to the city of “Brotherly Love.” In 8 NFL season, Revis has become one of the top corners in the NFL. He has been with three different teams over his career. Drafted by the Jets, Revis left his mark by becoming the best corner in Jets history. Following a falling out with management, Revis was dealt to Tampa Bay. He spent only one season with the Bucs, before bolting for Foxboro.With 23 career INTs (3 of which were returned for TDs), and 123 passes defended, Revis has earned the title of a “Lockdown Corner.” Much like Thomas, Revis will command a large sum of cash. But, this splurge would make more sense for the Birds than Demariyus.

3.) Ndamukong Suh- It may not be the most glaring need for this team, but the Eagles significantly lack the nasty intensity that Suh brings to the field. Some of his tactics may go a bit far at times, but there’s no denying that Suh is one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL.  Lacking a “true” stopgap in the middle, this signing would make a bit of sense for Kelly and Co. In five NFL seasons, Suh has recorded 36 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 INT, and a TD. Those are pretty outstanding numbers when you consider that Suh is an interior lineman. Factor in his run stopping abilities, and Suh is recognizably known as one of the most balanced defensive lineman in today’s NFL. Reports have stated that Suh will demand a seven-figure contract, but that was to be expected, given his talent level. However, it would be a small price to pay in an effort to improve a stale, pushover of a defense.

4.) DeMarco Murray- Usually I wouldn’t condone the signing of a division rival. But, Murray’s case may be my first exception. It’s no secret that “Shady” McCoy hasn’t been living up to his self-proclaimed title of the “best running back in the NFL.”  It’s also no secret that McCoy is slated to make $11 Million next season. Most of the experts believe that LeSean must either restructure his current contract, or he’ll be in another jersey next year. Keeping that in mind, I could see the Birds turning to Murray in the event of a McCoy departure. DeMarco is a hard runner, a very hard runner. He proved that this season, when he ran for almost 2000 yards, breaking the Cowboys single-season rushing record. In four seasons, Murray has tallied over 4500 yards, and 24 TDs.  He’s a 2x Pro Bowler, and is a strong candidate for MVP this season. With Murray looking to cash in on his short success, I’m not saying it’ll happen.  However, if the circumstances break the right way, it wouldn’t shock me if the two parties became a match.

5.) Justin Houston- 22 sacks. 22 sacks in one season, need I say more? It’d be impossible to expect the same performance out of him every season, but Houston is a shoo-in to produce every season. At the ripe age of 25, Houston has tallied 48.5 sacks since entering the NFL back in 2011. The 3x Pro Bowler would add another dimension to the Birds defense. Not only would he compliment Connor Barwin in the pass rush department, but he’d also take some of the coverage pressure off of Mychael Kendricks.  Houston expects to fetch a deal in the $7-11 Million range.

6.) Kareem Jackson- I view Jackson as a bit of an “under the radar” type of signing. The former 1st-round pick has made a name for himself in Houston, alongside veteran corner Jonathan Joseph. While he has tallied 10 career INTs, most experts have projected Jackson as a “secondary” defender. I disagree however. Under the right circumstances, I believe that Jackson and his 37.5″ vertical jump would be able to cover the receivers like Calvin Johnson, and Dez Bryant. He would be a welcome addition to a horrific Eagles secondary. Jackson doesn’t expect to fetch a large contract, which would allow the Eagles to bring in additional secondary pieces.

7.) Byron Maxwell- Maxwell would be an “under-the-radar signing” similar to Jackson. Unlike Jackson, Maxwell has been a late bloomer. Drafted in 2011, Maxwell played behind Richard Sherman and the previously mentioned Brandon Browner for two seasons. It wasn’t until 2013 that Maxwell got his chance to start. He quickly made the most of his opportunity, recording 58 tackles, 6 INTs, and 2 forced fumbles in his two seasons starting alongside Sherman. With Seattle facing some money uncertainties this year, Maxwell may have played his last game with the “Legion of Boom.” Likely commanding a contract similar to Kareem Jackson, the Eagles could likely afford to sign both Jackson and Maxwell for the price of Darrelle Revis.

8.) Jason Worilds- The Birds were rumored to have strong interest in the linebacker last offseason, before he re-signed with the Steelers. Selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Worilds was another late blossom. Tallying only 38 tackles and 5 sacks in his first two seasons, he took over as a starter in 2012. Since then, Worilds has recorded 104 tackles, and 20.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Known to be more of a coverage linebacker, Worilds should once again garner strong interest from the Birds, being a New Jersey native. Projected to command a cheaper contract than Justin Houston, Worilds would provide the Eagles with insurance, in the event that DeMeco Ryans is unable to return.

9.) Torrey Smith- Something that the Eagles lacked this season was a home run threat at wide receiver, as Riley Cooper proved to be a waste of $25 million dollars. Smith has played extremely well during his stint with Baltimore. Draft in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Smith has piled up over 3,500 yards and 30 TDs in four seasons. Jeremy Maclin is a very good receiver, as is Jordan Matthews…but, Torrey Smith would provide the deep-threat that haunted the Eagles so many times this year. Coming off of his rookie contract, Smith is in-line for a significant raise, but he should still be very much in the price range of the Birds.

10.) Charles Woodson- I know what most of you are thinking, “he’s so old though!”  Well, you’re right, but Woodson would be a very good add to the secondary. He’s got the veteran leadership, postseason experience, and overall ability to compliment Malcolm Jenkins in the backend of the secondary. Spending the first eight seasons of his career in Oakland, Woodson was quickly deemed as one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. However, major injuries, and tension with Bill Callahan had marred the end his campaign in Oakland. On April 26, 2006, Woodson signed a 7-year deal in excess of $50 Million with the Green Bay Packers. It was in Green Bay that Woodson rejuvenated his career. In his seven years as a Packer, Woodson tallied 38 INTs, 12 sacks, and 15 forced fumbles. Following his stint with Green Bay, Woodson returned home to Oakland. Signing a one-year deal with the Raiders, Woodson quickly proved his worth. He had missed only seven (seven!) defensive snaps all season. Woodson also recorded 97 tackled, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, and a TD.  Pretty incredible stats for a 37-year old. While he may seem old, Woodson has proven that he is more than capable of playing at a high level for his age. So this begs the question, why not target Woodson?  He can’t be much worse than Nate Allen was.

Following free-agency, the front office will then set their sights on the NFL Draft. On paper, this draft has the potential to produce one of the deepest pools of talent in recent memory. From players like Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham, this talent pool seems to be “stacked.”  The Eagles currently hold eight picks in this draft, beginning with the 20th overall pick. In addition to 20th overall, the Birds also possess a second-rounder, third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, a fifth-rounder, a sixth-rounder, and a seventh-round selection. In recent memory, many successful players have been drafted with the No.20 selection. Players from Tamba Hali to Aqib Talib have all gone with the 20th overall pick. It is widely anticipated that Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes will be the pick when the Birds go on the clock in April. The 6’1″ 182-pound speedster has drawn comparisons to fellow former-Spartan Darqueze Dennard. Dennard was selected by the Bengals with the 24th overall pick in the 2014 draft.

In addition to Waynes, the Eagles are expected to keep a close eye on players such as; LB Vic Beasley from Clemson, LB Eric Kendricks from UCLA (Brother of Eagle LB Mychael), CB Ronald Darby out of Florida State, WR Sammie Coates from Auburn, and QB Marcus Mariota out of Oregon. The most interesting name out of this list, has to be Mariota. The most-recent Heisman Trophy winner has led his Oregon Ducks to the National Championship, where they will go toe-to-toe with the Ohio State Buckeyes on Monday Night. It has been speculated since Kelly became the Eagles coach, that the Eagles would pursue Mariota heavily, when he eventually declared for the draft. In his three seasons (to this point) at Oregon, Mariota owns a 36-4 record, with over 12,000 scrimmage yards, 134 total TDs, and 13 INTs.

Back in mid-November, Mariota was projected as the overwhelming No.1 pick, going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since than, many experts have questioned Mariota’s “pro-readiness”, causing teams to re-evaluate their scouting reports on him. Obviously nothing will be settled until Marcus takes the field in Indianapolis, but it seems reasonable to think that he could slip past the No.3 spot (Jacksonville). If that is the case, I could easily see Chip taking the gamble trading up for the Oregon junior. Reasonably, one would expect the Eagles to package multiple 1st round picks, and a grab bag of later picks/players (2nd-4th rounders, Riley Cooper-types) in an effort to entice a team.

If the Eagles were to acquire Mariota, their dangerous offense would become even more dangerous. Over the past two seasons, the Eagles haven’t had the best luck with their signal-callers. Nick Foles has the arm of an NFL QB, but lacks the mobility and pocket presence to succeed at a high level.  Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez has the mobility, and pocket presence. Yet, he lacks the cannon arm. In Mariota, the Eagles would get the “perfect QB.”  This kid has a cannon arm, WR speed, and incredible pocket-presence/field awareness/football IQ for his age. Adding him to this offense would create an incredible dimension, the likes of which the NFL has yet to see.

The coming months should provide fans an interesting peek into Chip Kelly’s mindset, as he begins placing his fingerprints on this team.  From the “Free-Agent Frenzy” to the NFL Draft, Kelly is going to have his hands full over the next 90 days or so. Personally, I’m not sure what to expect from Kelly’s first season at the helm. However, I can assure every one of one thing. This team will have a different look and swagger about it, come September. Enjoy the offseason Eagle fans!

 

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