Philadelphia Eagles 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Cornerback

Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher both graded out below average this season as the Eagles’ starting cornerbacks. Williams graded out 49th out of 108 eligible, while Fletcher graded out 92nd. Fletcher is a free agent and won’t be back as a starter, while Williams could be a cap casualty, owed a non-guaranteed 6.5 million in 2015. He’s not terrible, but they could just find that too rich for a cornerback of his caliber. That would leave them with Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll. Carroll, their 4th cornerback last season, has some starting experience and Boykin is a fantastic slot cornerback, but they’d need another cornerback in that situation. Even if Williams is brought back, they still should add another cornerback to the mix at some point.

Wide Receiver

Jeremy Maclin was fantastic last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked wide receiver. Riley Cooper was the opposite, grading out dead last in the first year of a 5-year, 22.5 million dollar deal he signed the previous off-season. Even if Maclin is re-signed, they’ll need help at the position. They can’t really cut Riley Cooper because doing so would cost them on the cap, but they need competition for him as the 3rd receiver behind Maclin and Jordan Matthews, a 2014 2nd round pick who showed a lot of promise as a rookie. If Maclin isn’t re-signed, this becomes a much bigger issue.

Quarterback

The Eagles thought they had their quarterback of the future when Nick Foles completed 64.0% of his passes for an average of 9.12 YPA, 27 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in 2013 in his first year as a starter, but those numbers slipped to 59.8% completion, 6.96 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in 2014. Much of Foles’ strong production in 2013 was as a result of the scheme, as he only graded out 17th at his position on Pro Football Focus. As you can imagine, that slipped to 25th out of 39 eligible in 2014, barely better than backup Mark Sanchez (27th), who made 8 starts in Foles’ absence. The fact that their offense wasn’t significantly worse with Sanchez under center is a concern. Sanchez is a free agent this off-season. He’s not a long-term solution either, but the Eagles could bring him back as competition for Foles because he might be the best option they have, given the free agency market and where they’re picking in the draft. Even if it’s not Sanchez, I expect them to bring in some competition for Foles this off-season.

Middle Linebacker

DeMeco Ryans was limited to 8 games by injury this season and the Eagles really struggled at middle linebacker in his absence as Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho, and Marcus Smith (their 1st round pick and a converted outside linebacker) all graded out below average in his absence. Smith is moving back to outside linebacker in 2015 and neither of the other two is a long term option. If the Eagles cut Ryans this off-season, which they easily could, as he’s owed a non-guaranteed 6.9 million in his age 31 season in 2015, they’ll need a long-term solution inside next to Mychal Kendricks.

Guard

Evan Mathis is still fantastic at left guard, but the Eagles have an issue at right guard. Todd Herremans was limited to 585 snaps and 8 starts by injuries and he was horrible, grading out 57th out of 78 eligible guards, despite limited playing time. He’s expected to be a cap casualty going into his age 33 season and Andrew Gardner wasn’t really that impressive in his absence. Competition for Gardner is needed.

Safety

Malcolm Jenkins and Nate Allen both played well at safety for the Eagles last season, but Allen is a free agent this off-season and, if he’s not re-signed, the Eagles will need to find a replacement because they don’t really have an internal one.

Key Free Agents

WR Jeremy Maclin

Jeremy Maclin missed all of 2013 with injury and was terrible in 2012, grading out 101st out of 105 eligible, but he bet on himself with a 1-year, 5.5 million dollar deal in free agency last year and it paid off in a big way. Maclin had career highs across the board in Chip Kelly’s offense, despite quarterback problems, catching 85 passes for 1318 yards and 10 touchdowns, while grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked wide receiver. He’s still a bit of a one year wonder in terms of being a top level receiver so the franchise tag could be a nice middle ground for the Eagles between letting him leave and giving him a huge extension, but, either way, Maclin will get a good amount of money this off-season.

OLB Brandon Graham

Graham was a first round pick by the Eagles in 2010, but he was limited to 491 snaps in his first 2 seasons combined by injuries. However, he played well when on the field in those 2 seasons and he had somewhat of a breakout year in 2012. He didn’t get a ton of playing time (435 snaps), which is why it’s hard to call it a true breakout year, but he still graded out 2nd among 4-3 defensive ends that season, despite the limited playing time. The Eagles moved to a 3-4 in 2013, which Graham wasn’t seen as a good fit for, so he only saw 331 snaps, but he still graded out 15th at his position, making it two straight years where no one played fewer snaps than him and graded out better at his position. In 2014, he was still the 3rd outside linebacker, but he played ahead of 1st round pick Marcus Smith all year, set a career high in snaps played with 524 snaps and graded out 3rd among 3-4 outside linebackers. For the third straight year, no one graded out better at his position on fewer snaps. Now he hits free agency with scheme versatility on his resume and the potential to become one of the best edge rushers in the NFL if he’s finally given regular playing time. He’s the type of player who you could sign to a 5-year, 30 million dollar deal and watch it become a bargain over the next couple of years.

S Nate Allen

Nate Allen has been a starter with the Eagles for 5 seasons since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2010. Over that period of time, he’s played 74 of a possible 80 games, including 70 starts, but he has been up and down, grading out below average in 3 of 5 seasons and never having back-to-back above average seasons. His worst year came in 2012, when he graded out 84th out of 88 eligible safeties. However, he graded out above average last season (28th), his terrible 2012 is more than 2 years ago, and he’s an experienced starter, so he should get solid starter’s money on the open market this off-season, if the Eagles are unable to re-sign him prior to that. A recent arrest complicates matters a bit.

CB Bradley Fletcher

Bradley Fletcher started all 16 games at cornerback last season for the Eagles, but he was horrible, grading out 92nd out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. Fletcher was a 3rd round pick of the Rams’ in 2009, but last season was the first season in his career that he made all 16 starts and, though he’s had decent success as a reserve in his career, he’s not a starting caliber cornerback. He’s a depth cornerback at best and not a very reliable one, as he’s missed 25 games in 6 seasons in the NFL.

QB Mark Sanchez

Everyone was quick to say that Mark Sanchez had turned it around in Philadelphia last year working with Chip Kelly instead of Rex Ryan, but Sanchez was still a backup caliber quarterback. The Eagles moved the chains at a 72.34% rate with Nick Foles and a 72.49% rate with Mark Sanchez, even though Sanchez had a much stronger offensive line and running game in front of him. The fact that Sanchez was worse than Foles last season and Foles was having a bad year shows that, overall, he really didn’t turn it around. He completed 64.1% of his passes for an average of 7.83 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions, mediocre numbers in today’s NFL. Out of the league in 2013 because of injury, Sanchez has ranked 27th (2014), 37th (2012), 36th (2011), 27th (2010), and 39th (2009) on Pro Football Focus since being drafted in 2009. He’s somehow made 76 starts over that period of time, but any team he makes starts for next season is probably not making the playoffs. He’ll get a decent amount of money on a weak quarterback market.

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB DeMeco Ryans

There are five things I look at to determine whether or not a player will become a cap casualty and DeMeco Ryans meets four of them. He’s aging, expensive, declining, and coming off of a significant injury. The only thing is the Eagles won’t be able to find a replacement that easily, but I still expect them to let him go. He missed 8 games with a torn Achilles last season, is going into his age 31 season, is owed 6.9 million non-guaranteed (all of which they can save on the cap by letting him go), and, in his last full season as a starter in 2013, he was horrible, grading out 53rd out of 55 eligible middle linebackers. While it will be hard to find a starting caliber middle linebacker to replace him inside next to Mychal Kendricks, Ryans isn’t a starting caliber middle linebacker either and he’s definitely not worth his salary.

TE James Casey

When the Eagles signed James Casey to a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago, they envisioned the fullback/tight end as a jack of all traits matchup nightmare. That vision hasn’t become a reality though as he’s played just 330 snaps on offense in his first 2 seasons in Philadelphia. The Eagles don’t need to be paying him 4 million dollars non-guaranteed in 2015 to be a de facto #3 tight end behind Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. The Eagles would save that full amount on the cap by letting him go.

G Todd Herremans

Todd Herremans was limited to 8 games by injuries in 2014 (7 at right guard, 1 at right tackle) and he graded out Pro Football Focus’ 57th ranked guard out of 78 eligible. He’s now going into his age 33 season, owed a non-guaranteed 4 million. He was a solid starter in 2013 and he has good versatility, but the Eagles may opt to move on from the aging veteran in favor of finding a younger option at right guard. The Eagles would immediately save 2.8 million on the cap by letting him go.

OLB Trent Cole

There’s been talk of the Eagles releasing Trent Cole this off-season since Chip Kelly showed up. Cole was never seen as a great fit for the Eagles’ 3-4, but his contract didn’t let them get any sort of real cap relief by cutting or trading him in either of the last 2 off-seasons so the rumored plan has always been to cut him this off-season. Doing so would save them 10.025 million in cash and 8.425 million immediately on the cap and Cole is going into his age 33 season. Cole has been solid in 2013 and 2014 in the 3-4, grading out 7th in 2013 and 19th in 2014, but the Eagles already have Connor Barwin and Marcus Smith and might prefer to cut Cole to free up cap space to re-sign Brandon Graham.

CB Cary Williams

Cary Williams has made all 32 starts for the Eagles at cornerback over the last 2 seasons, but he’s graded out below average in each of them. Even though he wasn’t that bad in 2014 (49th out of 108 eligible), the Eagles might cut him anyway. His salary for 2015 is 6.5 million non-guaranteed and they can save that entire amount on the cap by letting him go. There are better cornerbacks to be had for that price.

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