In Part 1 of my 2-Part series, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at the wide receiver position of the Philadelphia Eagles and giving my analysis on how they should address their needs this upcoming offseason. No other position had a steeper decline in terms of expectation throughout 2019 than the WR Corps. There was so much hype going into the season with the return of fan-favorite DeSean Jackson and the addition of 2nd round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside. Like many other positions on the roster, WR was looked at as a deep group that could be one of the best in the league. By the end of the season, however, it had become arguably the weakest link on either side of the ball. Injuries befell Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor, the top 3 WRs on the offense. And to top it off, JJAW was having a disappointing rookie season, often seeming lost in his route running and having a couple of bad drops. So, as the offseason approaches, WR is looked at as one of the Eagles’ biggest needs, if not the biggest.
A few weeks ago, I wrote in a previous article which WRs I believe will stay on the roster and which ones the Eagles will move on from.
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) January 17, 2020
Keep in mind that those were my predictions on what I believe the organization will decide to do. For this article, however, I am giving my take on what I believe the organization SHOULD do. I bring this up because of the case of Alshon Jeffery.
I cannot downplay how difficult it’s going to be to move Jeffery, and that is why I had him down as staying on the roster. His contract makes it tough to release him because his dead cap hit would be roughly $26 million. If you pair all that with his decline in play and injury history and that makes it tough to trade him to another team too. And it may not be even possible to do anything with him regardless until he passes a physical unless an injury settlement is reached.
But if there’s a way to do it, Howie Roseman must find it. It was his decision to restructure Jeffery’s contract last year, but if he can figure out a way to move on from the veteran WR it’ll go a long way in helping correct that mistake. No one knows for sure if Jeffery was Jocina Anderson’s anonymous source or not, but it’s hard not to have a serious suspicion that he was. And even though he’s still a good receiver despite his decline, this offense would be better off giving reps to younger guys. As I said before, it would be addition by subtraction. We’ll just have to wait and see if Roseman can pull it off. Just don’t be surprised to still see Jeffery on the roster in 2020.
As for everyone else, we know Nelson Agholor is as good as gone. A change of scenery will be good for him anyway. Jackson, JJAW, and Greg Ward aren’t going anywhere, nor should they. What we saw in Week 1 from Jackson is too tantalizing not to give it another try in 2020, even with the injury risk. And no matter what others may say, it is way too early to reach any type of final judgment on JJAW.
The interesting name here is Ward. In a season that ended up being devoid of WR talent by the end of it, he was the one guy who stepped up late and was the saving grace for the position group. While securing a spot as the offense’s permanent slot receiver in 2020 is far from a guarantee, Ward has at the very least earned the right to compete for it. And depending on who they bring in, I’d say his chances aren’t bad at all.
But just how good of a WR is he? Is he just an adequate player that shined because there was no one else that could, or is he developing into a quality starter? Honestly, it’s tough to say right now, especially since the sample size is small. Ward isn’t a standout athlete, nor does he possess any elite qualities. However, he’s a good, crisp route runner who has a feel for finding space in zone coverages (his experience as a college QB contributes to that). He’s also shown to have impressive hands and underrated ball skills. Ward is still relatively young and is developing good chemistry and trust with Carson Wentz. At worst he’s a high-end WR4 but his ceiling could be as a good slot, similar to what Jason Avant was for the Eagles years ago.
Watching Greg Ward continue to develop chemistry with Carson Wentz has been exciting. These guys were on the same page time and time again on Sunday night. Watch how early the ball is coming out on these throws and how little adjusting Ward has to do on the back end #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/tusSI77GKQ
— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) December 30, 2019
What Roseman does in free agency will be influenced by the whole Jeffery situation. If the Eagles have to keep him on the roster I have a hard time believing they’ll pay big money to one of the top free agent WRs, especially if they plan to draft a WR early on in the NFL Draft (which I fully expect them to do). But if they find a way to release or trade him then acquiring a top free agent WR would be more believable. Even that scenario doesn’t guarantee anything, though, as Jeffery’s $26 million dead cap hit if released would tie up a significant amount of cap space.
If Roseman tries to sign one of the top WRs hitting free agency this offseason, then the only ones I believe he should have interest in are Robby Anderson and Breshad Perriman.
Anderson has been a trade target of the Eagles for the past 2 seasons, and now that he is a free agent it’s just a matter of finding a price that works. He’d be just what the Eagles need on the outside as a dangerous deep threat and an insurance policy in case Jackson gets hurt again. He’s the most logical and obvious choice.
Perriman started to show glimpses of a player who was finally figuring out how to put it all together late in the 2019 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s a physical specimen with a rare blend of size, speed, and athletic ability, but he’s been very raw when it comes to route running and the nuances of the WR position. He’s also had issues with drops. Due to the small sample size of his success, there is a significant risk that comes with signing him to a big contract, but the reward is high as well.
Remember that almost all the top players in free agency are going to be “overpaid”. That’s the nature of the market. So, are Anderson and Perriman going to get more money than what their talent levels should dictate? Yes, they most likely will. The challenge will be for Howie to find a price that’s reasonable enough to justify acquiring a talent like Anderson or Perriman.
However, if Roseman ends up going the cheaper route then some other low-key names I like as rotational/depth guys are Kendrick Bourne, Keelan Cole, Damiere Byrd, and Tajae Sharpe. Signing someone like Bourne or Cole who have had experience as starters could end up being a more efficient way of spending money. Bourne and Cole have similar skillsets as solid athletes who are good route runners and have shown the ability to make some big plays. Bourne especially has made numerous big catches for the 49ers over the past few seasons. Byrd and Sharpe may not be starting level receivers, but they have skills that are useful with Byrd providing blazing speed and Sharpe being a sharp (pun intended) route runner with good hands. None of them are sexy names and wouldn’t “move the needle” much, but they’d still provide necessary yet reasonable upgrades to this receiving corps.
#49ers WR Kendrick Bourne is another low-usage statistical darling, finishing 1st in the NFL in 1st downs/target (52.3% on 44 targets) for players with 40+ targets.
Bourne is a very good route runner from inside and split out, has good hands, and has some YAC ability.
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) February 13, 2020
The 2020 WR Draft class is loaded with talent, which is very fortunate for the Eagles as it gives them flexibility on draft day.
I still haven’t finished studying all the prospects, but right now I have four with a Round 1 grade: CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Laviska Shenault, and Henry Ruggs. There is a slight chance that Shenault or Ruggs could fall to them at the 21st overall, and if that happens, I’d be shocked if Howie wasn’t hard-pressed to go in that direction. Either of them would be great picks for the Eagles. I may even be on board with trading up to land Lamb or Jeudy too if Roseman can pull it off.
After them, I have nine prospects with a Day 2 (Rounds 2 & 3) grade. This means that if the Eagles can’t get one of the top 4 wide receivers I mentioned previously, or if there’s a player at another position that is graded higher on their board, then they would be fine waiting on a WR in until the round 2. There likely would be plenty more prospects available to them there with high potential. Guys like Jalen Reagor (although he could go late 1st / early 2nd), KJ Hamler, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk are some guys I’d be happy to land in the 2nd round.
Also, depending on what they decide to do in free agency, it may be wise for them to double-dip. Pick one in the early rounds and then another one at some point on Day 3. Again, with the amount of talent there is in this class there’s bound to be a few highly graded names that end up falling.
I’ll get more in-depth with the draft and breaking down prospects over the next several weeks.
With the Eagles projected to have 10 total picks in this year’s NFL Draft I expect it to have priority over free agency. Even though Howie Roseman has put more of an emphasis on building through free agency for the past few years, this offseason is going to be different. Carson Wentz’s contract is going to balloon after this season from the extension that he received in 2019, which puts even more pressure on the organization to start building with young players, starting with giving Wentz a standout talent on the outside that he can depend on for years to come.