This year’s NFL free agency period has been predictability slow for the Philadelphia Eagles due to their loaded roster and tight salary cap situation. But the Birds might not be done just yet.
While the big names typically go off the board early in free agency, there are still some valuable depth players on the market. We saw the importance of such players last season. The Eagles signed Chris Long and Patrick Robinson several weeks after the new league year began. Then they signed their 2017 leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, in mid-May.
It’s hard to count on the Eagles replicating the same kind of impact with free agent signings this late in the process, but at the very least they can add some quality depth. Here’s a look at some of their best remaining offensive options. We’ll look at defensive options later this week.
STATE OF THE POSITION
Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are locks to make the team in 2018. Wendell Smallwood and Donnel Pumphrey are competing for roster spots after being viewed as disappointments last year. The Eagles have been doing their homework in running back prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS
Darren Sproles - Doug Pederson was asked about Sproles at the NFL owners meetings last week. He told reporters that he wants Sproles to be an Eagle in 2018. It’d be great to have Sproles back in 2018 due to his presence in the screen game and his value as a dynamic punt returner. The price tag, as is often the case, could be the point of contention here. Sproles had his season cut short in 2017 when he suffered an ACL tear and a broken arm in Week 3. He turn 35 years old this offseason. The Eagles certainly value Sproles but it’s not like they’re going to be able to hand him a blank check. I imagine Sproles might prefer to skip OTAs so I don’t think we’ll see him make a decision too soon.
STATE OF THE POSITION
Zach Ertz is the only tight end on the Eagles’ Super Bowl winning roster currently set to return in 2018. Brent Celek was released and Trey Burton signed a big deal with the Chicago Bears. The Eagles do have some fringe bodies at tight end but none of them are even guaranteed to make the team: Billy Brown, Adam Zaruba, and Joshua Perkins. Philly could afford to add a veteran at this position.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS
Brent Celek - Would the Eagles bring Celek back after cutting him? Pederson didn’t rule it out, but the feeling here is that ship has sailed. The messaging in his sendoff didn’t include mention of a possible reunion. That doesn’t mean everything but I think back to when the Eagles cut Trent Cole in 2015 and they mentioned they might bring him back at a lower salary. It didn’t happen, but they at least publicly kept that avenue open. That hasn’t been the case with Celek. Maybe the 33-year-old will come back on a vet minimum deal, if anything.
Marcedes Lewis - Arguably the best available tight end left on the market. Lewis was a bit of a surprise cut by the Jaguars since Jacksonsville had originally picked up his option for 2018. It turns out that option wasn’t guaranteed at the time they picked it up, however, so the Jags cut him after adding Niles Paul and Austin Seferian-Jenkins in free agency. Lewis has basically been the Jaguars’ version of Celek as a veteran blocking tight end. With that said, the 33-year-old did have 24 receptions for 318 yards (13.3 average) and five touchdowns last season. So he might be a little bit of an upgrade on Celek as a pass-catcher. Note that signing Lewis wouldn’t cost the Eagles a compensatory pick since he was released.
Troy Niklas - The 25-year-old Niklas is a rare young tight end on the market. The reason why the 2014 second-round pick is available is because he has an extensive injury history. Niklas has only played in 41 out of 64 possible games in his four-year career. Given his reptuation as a blocker, Niklas fits the mold of what the Eagles could use in a second or third tight end. But they also need someone durable and Niklas is unreliable in that regard.
Chris Gragg - Who? Fair question. Gragg is incredibly far from being a recognizable name, but he’s at least a little interesting. The 6-3, 244 pound seventh tested as a great athlete prior to being selected by the Bills with a seventh-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Gragg has failed to produce much at the NFL level (251 career receiving yards) but it might be worth taking a vet minimum flier on him as a potential Burton replacement.
Richard Rodgers - Who needs that Rodgers guy from the Packers when they already have Carson Wentz? Oh, sorry, RICHARD Rodgers. Yeah, he’s nothing special, but nothing terrible. As our friends over at Acme Packing Company recently laid out, he’s a quality No. 3 tight end. He’s not known for his blocking but he can catch so he might be ideal for the old Burton role. The 26-year-old has only missed one game in his career so he’s durable as well.
Anthony Fasano - I first mentioned Fasano as a potential Eagles target about a month ago. Here’s what I wrote at the time: “Fasano spent two seasons (2014-2015) with Pederson in Kansas City. The 33-year-old could be a cheap option if Brent Celek retires. Like Celek, Fasano doesn’t offer much as a pass-catcher, but he’s one of the better blocking tight ends in the league.” It seems like the Eagles might as well just bring Celek back if they wanted a guy like Fasano. But maybe Fasano is actually better at blocking. PFF’s grades indicate as much, for what it’s worth.