Philadelphia Eagles 2014 Off-Season Report

2013 Recap

The Eagles were one of the NFL’s most improved teams last season, going from 4 wins in 2012 to 10 wins in 2013. The influence of new head coach Chip Kelly was apparent. It’s not that Andy Reid was a bad offensive head coach, as was proven by the work he did in Kansas City in his first year on the job this year, but his message had grown stale in that locker room. Kelly came in with a fresh offensive playbook and vision, not just fresh to the Eagles, but really to the entire NFL.

Chip Kelly seemed to revitalize the career of Michael Vick early on, as Vick produced some of the better numbers he had put up in years, completing 54.6% of his passes for an average of 8.62 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while rushing for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns on 36 carries in 7 games. Film study suggested that he was made to look better by Chip Kelly’s scheme and that was basically confirmed when Vick got hurt, as he always does. Nick Foles took over as the starter and never looked back as the 2012 3rd round pick and little-thought-of backup set the NFL on fire.

Foles completed 64.0% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He probably won’t be that good every season, but he established himself as a franchise quarterback in Chip Kelly’s scheme. With a punishing offensive line and offensive playmakers like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Riley Cooper, Foles led the Eagles’ offense to a 78.69% rate of moving the chains in games in which he started and finished, which would have been 2nd only to Denver over the whole season. With a full season of Foles and Jeremy Maclin returning from injury next season, this offense has the ability to be a top-5 unit in 2014.

The defense was the problem. They weren’t as bad as they had been over the past 2 years, as they were able to force 31 takeaways, after forcing 37 the previous two seasons combined. They also got breakout years from defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton, who, along with Trent Cole, led a fairly solid front 7. However, they still had major issues at middle linebacker and in the secondary, as their secondary overhaul from last season didn’t really fix the problem. Their defense allowed opponents to move the chains at a 73.10% rate that was 22nd in the NFL. That will have to be fixed if they’re going to take the next step.

Positional Needs

Safety

Needing to fix the safety position last off-season, the Eagles went dumpster diving for injury plagued safeties Patrick Chung and Kenny Phillips and used a 5th round pick on Earl Wolff. Phillips was cut even before final cuts, while Chung struggled when on the field and missed 4 games with injury. Nate Allen had to stay on as the starter next to Chung and, while he wasn’t as bad as he was in 2012, when he was Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst ranked safety, he wasn’t great. He’s a free agent this off-season and should not be seen as a long-term starter. Chung, meanwhile, will likely be a cap casualty this off-season, which would save the Eagles 3.25 million on the cap. Wolff will probably get a chance to be a starter in 2014, but they need at least one new safety, if not two this off-season. If either HaHa Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor falls to them at #22 overall, expect them to get snatched up.

Middle Linebacker

DeMeco Ryans was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked middle linebacker last season and the aging soon-to-be 30 middle linebacker has never fit a 3-4 defense. The Eagles can save 6.9 million in cash and cap space cutting him this off-season, but they seem prepared to stubbornly stick with him because he’s their defensive signal caller. Mychal Kendricks, meanwhile, is a media darling for some reason (Cris Collinsworth wouldn’t shut up about him), but he led middle linebackers in missed tackles and receiving yards allowed, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 36th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible in the process. They probably won’t do anything at the position, but they should.

Cornerback

Brandon Boykin was the only Eagles defensive back to grade out above average in coverage on Pro Football Focus, though he did grade out as Pro Football Focus’ #1 cornerback in coverage. He’s just a slot cornerback though and their outside cornerbacks need to be upgraded, especially Cary Williams, who was Pro Football Focus’ 92nd ranked cornerback in coverage grade out of 110 eligible. Williams could be a cap casualty, though it’s unlikely because they just signed him last off-season and because he led their secondary in snaps played last season. Either way, they should add another cornerback to the mix this off-season.

Defensive Tackle

Fletcher Cox has blossomed into the type of every down defensive lineman the Eagles envisioned when they took him in the 1st round in 2012 and Cedric Thornton was a pleasant surprise this season, excelling as a run stuffer. He didn’t get much pass rush, but at the very least, he’s a very valuable two-down defensive lineman. Either way, they could use another starter on the defensive line. They could upgrade Bennie Logan, a 2013 3rd round pick and an undersized nose tackle at 6-3 309 who struggled a bit as a rookie and would be best suited as a rotational backup. They could definitely stand to add more muscle upfront.

Guard

Todd Herremans could be a cap casualty this off-season, going into his age 32 season. Cutting him would only save 600K on the cap, but it would save them 3 million in cash and they’d avoid future cap hits. Herremans was a punishing run blocker last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd best run blocker, but struggling mightily in pass protection, grading out as their 3rd worst pass protector. As we know, this is a passing league so pass protection is more important. He probably won’t be cut this off-season, but he doesn’t have much longer in Philadelphia unless he takes a pay cut. Bringing in a developmental young guard behind him wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially because, as good as Evan Mathis is, he’ll be going into his age 33 season in 2014.

Punter

Donnie Jones is a free agent. They’ll need a new punter if he can’t be retained.

Key Free Agents

QB Michael Vick

Michael Vick has been on the decline in every season since 2010, which makes sense considering how reliant he is on his legs and how many injuries he’s suffered in the past. He put up decent numbers in 7 games last season, completing 54.6% of his passes for an average of 8.62 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions, while rushing for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns on 36 carries. However, a closer examination shows that much of that was Chip Kelly’s system making him look better than he was, much like it did with Nick Foles. In 2012, he completed 58.1% of his passes for an average of 6.73 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 332 yards and a touchdown on 62 carries. That’s probably more accurate and now he’s two years older, going into his age 34 season. He’s played all 16 games once in 10 seasons in the NFL and has missed 22 games over the past 4 seasons. He might still be one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the NFL, but anyone looking at him as anything more than stopgap starter is in trouble. There’s also a chance he’s retained in Philadelphia as Nick Foles’ backup, a role he grew to embrace as the season went on.

S Nate Allen

Nate Allen was Pro Football Focus’ 5th worst ranked safety in 2012, which is why the Eagles brought in Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips, and Earl Wolff last off-season. The oft injured Phillips couldn’t even make it to final cuts, while the 5th round rookie Wolff was not ready to be a week 1 starter. Allen was able to reclaim his starting job and, while he wasn’t as bad as he was in 2012, he still wasn’t great. He shouldn’t be looked at as a sure starter on the open market. He may have to settle for a one year prove it deal with an opportunity to compete for the starting job.

P Donnie Jones

Donnie Jones has been one of the better punters in the NFL for the better part of a decade, averaging 45.5 yards per punt, 40.7 yards net, and 31.7% inside the 20 for his career. Last season, he was right around those averages. 44.9 yards per punt isn’t that impressive, but he hit 40.2% of them inside the 20 and averaged 40.5 yards net. He’ll find punting work fairly easily this off-season.

Cap Casualty Candidates

WR Jason Avant

The Eagles can save 3.25 million on the cap by cutting Avant, going into his age 31 season. That would make a lot of sense as the 38 passes he caught in 2013 were his lowest since 2008 and because the Eagles already have 5+ million dollars in annual salary committed to their top-3 wide receivers, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Riley Cooper. It sounds like he’ll be gone.

S Patrick Chung

The safety needy Eagles took a chance on the oft injured Patrick Chung last off-season, after he missed 14 games combined from 2010-2012. The 2009 2nd round pick didn’t really pan out for the Eagles, as he missed another 4 games and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 71st ranked safety out of 86 eligible. The Eagles can save 3.25 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season.

WR Arrelious Benn

The Eagles traded a late round pick for Arrelious Benn last off-season, but he didn’t play a snap for them because he tore his ACL before the start of the season. The bust of a 2010 2nd round pick only played 79 snaps in 2012 for the Buccaneers and has never caught more than 30 passes for 441 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Eagles can save 1 million in cash and cap space by cutting him and there really isn’t any reason to keep him around.

WR Brad Smith

Brad Smith is just a gimmick player who played 20 snaps on offense last season, is heavily reliant on speed, and is going into his age 31 season. The Eagles don’t have much need for him and can save 1.5 million in cap space by cutting him.

TE James Casey

James Casey is set to make close to 4 million in salary next season and the Eagles can save 2 million on the cap by cutting him. He’s a fine player, but that’s a lot of money to pay to a 3rd string tight end, especially on a team that has as much money committed to 3 wide receivers as they do. He played just 157 snaps in 2013 and I don’t foresee him having much of a bigger role in 2014, with Zach Ertz developing and Jeremy Maclin healthy. He’s not worth it.

G Todd Herremans

Todd Herremans could be a cap casualty this off-season, going into his age 32 season. Cutting him would only save 600K on the cap, but it would save them 3 million in cash and they’d avoid future cap hits. Herremans was a punishing run blocker last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd best run blocker, but struggling mightily in pass protection, grading out as their 3rd worst pass protector. As we know, this is a passing league so pass protection is more important.

TE Brent Celek

Another tight end the Eagles could cut is Brent Celek. It’s far less likely that they cut Celek because he’s still a very solid player, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked tight end, thanks to his pass catching and run blocking ability. However, they would save 4 million in cash and cap space by cutting him and they do have 3 highly paid wide receivers and a budding young tight end in Zach Ertz. Ertz 2013 2nd round pick who graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 8th ranked tight end last season, despite limited playing time, showing himself to be a mini-Celek with his all-around ability.

MLB DeMeco Ryans

DeMeco Ryans was Pro Football Focus’ 2nd worst ranked middle linebacker last season and the aging soon-to-be 30 middle linebacker has never fit a 3-4 defense. The Eagles can save 6.9 million in cash and cap space cutting him this off-season, but they seem prepared to stubbornly stick with him because he’s their signal caller.

CB Cary Williams

Cary Williams is owed about 4.75 million in cash for 2014 and the Eagles can save over 3 million on the cap by letting him go. It probably won’t happen because they just signed him last off-season and because he led their secondary in snaps played last season, but he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 92nd ranked cornerback in coverage grade out of 110 eligible, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to cut him and bring in someone else at cornerback.

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