Virtually everything the Eagles touched in 2017 turned to
gold silver. With free agency around the corner and the draft to follow, we look back at the top 10 moves the Eagles made on their path to the Super Bowl.
When the Eagles set about remaking their roster in the spring of 2017, defensive tackle was certainly a need to be addressed. When the team let Bennie Logan walk in free agency and didn’t sign a replacement, the logical conclusion was that they would fill the position in the draft. But the Eagles spent the whole season defying conventional wisdom, and were richly rewarded for it. The Eagles did use some draft capital to get a DT. They just did it in unorthodox way.
Trades for players in the NFL are rare, making them an area a team can exploit. Howie Roseman is the best in the NFL at this, and 2017 was his masterpiece with Ronald Darby, Timmy Jernigan and Jay Ajayi. But the Jernigan trade was different. For Darby and Ajayi, the Eagles gave up a pick (and Jordan Matthews) and only got a player in return. For Jernigan, they did a pick swap. Pick swaps in player trades aren’t anything new, but they always involve either trading up or down at least one round, or a swap of 7th rounders. This one didn’t. Only one other trade in the last 5 years involved a player and an in-round swap within the 1st, 2nd or 3rd rounds: when the Eagles traded Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell and the 13th pick for the 8th pick in 2016. For a team a little low on draft picks after the Carson Wentz trade, picking up a starter and only moving back 25 spots in a round rather than just giving up the equivalent in a pick (in this case, a 5th rounder) or back an entire round was a brilliant move.
And it paid off immediately. On the first drive of the season Jernigan had a tackle for loss, and later in the game recorded a sack as the Eagles ended their five game losing streak to the Redskins. Brought in to improve the pass rush, surprisingly and disappointingly, he matched Bennie Logans’ pass rush production from 2016. Both played 15 games, had 2.5 sacks and were credited by Football Outsiders with 9 pass pressures, both career lows for Jernigan. Equally surprising but welcome, as he was seen as an inferior run defender to Logan, but the Eagles run defense was unstoppable with him. In 2016 the Eagles run defense was 16th in yards per attempt and 13th in DVOA, in 2017 with Jernigan the only major change on the DL in run situations (and without Jordan Hicks for half the season), they improved to 6th in yards per attempt and 3rd in DVOA. And just as important, when Fletcher Cox missed two games early in the season, the defense barely skipped a beat, giving up 89 total rushing yards and recording four sacks. The 2016 Eagles would have struggled. At the cost of just 25 spots in the 3rd round. He also added some pretty good dance moves for a big guy.
There is a note of concern though. Over the second half of the season, Jernigan’s play appeared to drop, and he lost playing time. In the first two games of the season he played 64% and 62% of snaps, after Cox returned from injury he played at least 50% only thrice. This appears to have been simply from Jim Schwartz playing a 3rd DE instead of a 2nd DT, because after the first couple of games when Cox returned, he didn’t lose playing time to Beau Allen.
But as Bill Belichick said to Doug Pederson before the Super Bowl, it was hard to find games where the Eagles were behind. Perhaps the drop in play, or appearance of drop in play, was simply because he wasn’t seeing the field as much because the Eagles didn’t need him. Fletcher Cox was great in the playoffs, and his jump in playing time was a contributing factor. The more you’re on the field, the opportunities you get to make plays, and vice versa.
So Jernigan, who is tied for 10th with on our list of top acquisitions with Ronald Darby, might not have seen the field a lot or ranked high on our list, was “merely” good enough to win a Super Bowl. Also like Darby, he was already a legit starter before joining the Eagles, and at 25 he’s entering his prime, so there’s little concern going forward and an improvement in 2018 isn’t out of the question. Not bad for 25 spots in the 3rd round.