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State of the Eagles: 2020 League Year Primer

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Happy New League Year, folks!

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Author’s Note: At the time this article was submitted for publishing, the NFL has not yet officially announced any delays in free agency due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s been a bit of a ride with the Eagles since my last State of the Eagles post here on BGN, with coaching hires, roster moves, and rumors abound. Now, as we quickly approach the new league year, I’ll offer some thoughts on what has transpired since the Eagles saw a quick playoff exit at the dirty hands of the Seattle Seahawks back in January.

Enough pleasantries - let’s move on to the meat and potatoes (there’s about 2900 words’ worth, so I hope you’re comfortable). In this article:

  • Some quick thoughts on the coaching staff, Andre Dillard situation, and more
  • My Plan A and B for the Eagles in free agency and the draft

Quick Hits: Offseason News

The NFL doesn’t really stop after the playoffs, and there’s been a lot of developments with the Eagles since the season ended. A lot could be considered old news now, so I’ll try not to beat a dead horse with some of this. Still I wanted to offer my takes on what has happened:

  • I think the concerns about the structure of the offensive coaching staff are overblown. It’s quite impressive how quickly we as a fan base can shift from bemoaning a “lack of outside perspective” to fretting about “too many cooks in the kitchen.” The recent return of Marty Mornhinwheg has done little to assuage that concern, but when you factor that Scangarello was reportedly offered the title of offensive coordinator and turned it down because it lacked playcalling duties, it becomes easier to see some sense in what Doug has done. (Also, for the record - I generally like the hires although a few here and there are head scratchers, like Matt Burke as DL coach and the many roles of Jeremiah Washburn.)
  • As for the number of coaches, I think this may be as much about delegation and teaching as it is about scheming. I remember reports from practice back in November where Groh and Pederson were taking a more hands-on approach with the wide receivers to assist a beleaguered Carson Walch. My guess is Doug would like to be able to dispatch experienced coaches to assist with struggling position groups (or even individual players) so he isn’t taken away from his duties to oversee the team during practice.
  • One more thing about coaches: don’t sleep on Marquand Manuel. His predecessor, Corey Undlin, is widely regarded as a good coach, but he may have been miscast in Jim Schwartz’ defense, as the “No Fly Zone” he coached in Denver used primarily man coverage. Schwartz, on the other hand, runs Cover 3, Cover 6, and an inverted Cover 2 most of the time, which are all zone or mixed coverages. Manuel is a coaching product of Pete Carroll’s defenses in Seattle which also run zone coverage schemes (particularly Cover 3). I anticipate he will get more out of our defensive backs in that regard than Undlin did.
  • For some reason, I’m not as concerned about Andre Dillard as some seem to be, although the reports about his physical and mental toughness are worth noting. If the reports are true, then letting Peters walk - which the team reportedly is giving him the opportunity to do - is the only move they can make. Dillard has an entire NFL offseason program to add some bulk to his frame, and no amount of coaching or watching from the sideline is going to give him the “mental toughness” he needs to be a successful tackle in the NFL. He was an older prospect that the Eagles traded up to acquire. He needs to be thrown to the wolves to see if he can settle in as their tackle for the future. I get that we need to protect Carson Wentz, but the reality is it’s more likely than not Peters’ inevitable decline will happen quickly and unexpectedly, so there’s no guarantee he will even be a better option than Dillard next season (even it feels likely that he would). As much as we love what “the Bodyguard” has meant to the team for the past decade, it’s time to move on and close this illustrious chapter of Eagles history.
  • The Eagles will not be sending coaches to pro days due to COVID-19. While I don’t think this will have an ENORMOUS impact, it will be interesting to see if the draft is more of “Howie’s guys” than “the coaches’ guys” since the scouting department will have more access to the prospects.

Free Agency: Plans A and B

Earlier this year, Howie Roseman said he had a “Plan A, B, and C” for the offseason, and it made think that coming up with my own Plan A, B, and C would be fun. As I began the exercise, I quickly realized why I do not manage salary caps or run drafts for a living. I then realized that doing 6 total plans made this article entirely too long (even by my standards) and so I reduced it to just plan A and B.

On its face, the Eagles cap situation this year looks pretty good, with about $42M in available space, according to Over The Cap. However, if you factor in the fact that the Eagles’ rookie class will probably cost around $9M to sign and that cutting Alshon will cost a whopping $10.7M without a trade or post-June 1st cut, suddenly the Eagles find themselves with about $22.3M to spend in free agency. That’s not a lot when your presumed top target could cost you in the range of $18M annually!

What more, the Eagles are near the end of their rope when it comes to kicking the can down the road. The only players that offer any notable cap relief after being cut are Malcolm Jenkins ($4.8M), Rasul Douglas ($2.1M), Sidney Jones ($1.3M), and Cre’Von LeBlanc ($1.2M) Douglas and/or Jones are good trade bait for late round picks at this point, so there is some potential there, but I think it’s safe to say that Jenkins and LeBlanc aren’t going anywhere. They always have the option to restructure other contracts, of course, but that’s how they created the Alshon Jeffery debacle in the first place and it would fly in the face of their “new window” strategy. I don’t see that happening.

So I began my task with these (admittedly conservative) restrictions set and full knowledge that I am clueless to Howie’s cap wizardry. Some other notes on my methodology:

  • For the free agent pool, I limited myself to Pro Football Focus’ Top 100 Remaining Free Agents. No, I don’t think their ratings are gospel, but they are at least quantitative, which in my opinion makes them more objective than some other pundit’s rankings. I also made some exceptions for the Eagles’ own impending free agents or players who were recently released.
  • I will not be going in-depth with proposed contract details, just the 2020 cap hit, since any long-term deals will have to squeeze into this year somehow. The cap hit is not indicative of what I think the AAV will be, because we all know that number is a sham anyway and Howie is likely to backload these contracts as much as he can. I used Over The Cap’s 2019 valuation of each player to give myself an anchor for 2020’s cap hit.
  • A player’s age represents how old they will be for the majority of the 2020 season (I set the cutoff somewhere around Thanksgiving).
  • Of the Eagles’ own free agents, all plans assume they re-sign Jalen Mills (Cap Hit: $1M), Nate Sudfeld (Cap Hit: $2M), and Hassan Ridgeway (Cap Hit: $1M)... Sorry Jordan.
  • Any restructure for Malcolm Jenkins just includes more guaranteed money in 2020, and not an additional cap hit.
  • I identified the Eagles’ biggest holes as (in no particular order) wide receiver, cornerback, safety, and linebacker, so these were the 4 positions I focused on.

So, given all of the above, the Eagles now have $18M to work with in free agency. Got it? Good. Now, onto the signings!

PLAN A

  1. Byron Jones, CB (PFF: 9 | Age: 28 | 2019 Valuation: $11M | 2020 Cap Hit: $9M)
  2. Breshad Perriman, WR (PFF: 38 | Age: 27 | 2019 Valuation: $5.4M | 2020 Cap Hit: $4M)
  3. Damarious Randall, FS (PFF: 56 | Age: 28 | 2019 Valuation: $2.1M | 2020 Cap Hit: $3M)
  4. Christian Kirksey, LB (PFF: NR | Age: 28 | 2019 Valuation: NA | 2020 Cap Hit: $2M)

We all know Jones is going to be expensive, but unless you want the Eagles to just hand him $18M this season and call it a day with free agency, Howie will need to find a way to get that first year cap hit down. I think he can be bagged for $9M in that first year if his contract has more guaranteed money, which might be a tactic to sign a lot of free agents. While I see Jones’ contract in the 5-year territory, Perriman’s will probably be in the 3-year variety, with all guaranteed money paid by the end of Year 2. Although he showed some promise in Cleveland, Randall might be the loser in a crowded free agent safety class who could be signed at a relative discount in his early years. Staying with the Browns, some of you may grumble at filling the linebacker need with someone so injury-prone, but if you’re going to overspend in one area, you’ll need to go bargain hunting somewhere else.

PLAN B

  1. Jimmie Ward, FS (PFF: 36 | Age: 29 | 2019 Valuation: $4.6M | 2020 Cap Hit: $5M)
  2. Logan Ryan, CB (PFF: 43 | Age: 29 | 2019 Valuation: $6M | 2020 Cap Hit: $5M)
  3. Breshad Perriman, WR (PFF: 38 | Age: 27 | 2019 Valuation: $5.4M | 2020 Cap Hit: $4M)
  4. Nick Kwiatkoski, LB (PFF: 75 | Age: 27 | 2019 Valuation: $5.3M | 2020 Cap Hit: $4M)

This is a well-rounded free agent class that hits on every need, albeit with a consolation prize at CB. Jimmie Ward is an all-around solid free safety that rarely makes mistakes but is lacking for splash plays, and I think his strengths suit Schwartz’s defense well. My hope is that Nick Kwiatkoski would take a smaller salary in that first year with the promise of more playing time, which is something he won’t get in Chicago (although they’ve made it a priority to re-sign him).

That will wrap up free agency, where I am sure Howie will make me look stupid by doing some magic to give the Eagles an extra $20M in cap space or so. But, whatever. Before jumping ahead to the draft, now is your chance to chime in - what did you think of these plans?

Poll

Which Free Agency plan is best for the Eagles?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    Plan A
    (643 votes)
  • 32%
    Plan B
    (352 votes)
  • 8%
    They should do something else (explain in comments)
    (90 votes)
1085 votes total Vote Now

The Draft: Plans A and B

The Draft was much easier to consider, thanks to the rookie wage scale that saved me from worrying about cap space like I did with free agency. Here are some notes on my methodology:

  • Since I am much more of a “big picture” guy and not anywhere NEAR the scout that BGN’s own Michael Kist, Benjamin Solak, or Ben Natan are, I am going to be entirely reliant on the prospect rankings posted by The Draft Network when I make my considerations.
  • I am not doing a full mock of the Eagles’ picks, just Day 1 and Day 2. That covers their first 4 picks, and it should be where they find their most impactful players.
  • These plans are entirely independent of my plans in free agency - “Plan A” in the draft does not correspond to “Plan A” in free agency. I originally wanted to tie these two together, but quickly realized that there were just too many variables involved to make it a worthwhile exercise on my part.

Got it? Good. Now the Eagles are on the clock!

PLAN A
Round 1, Pick 21: Javon Kinlaw, DT (TDN: 16 | University of South Carolina | Senior)
Round 2, Pick 38 (TRADE): KJ Hamler, WR (TDN: 34 | Penn State University | RS Sophomore) Round 3, Pick 85: Nick Harris, C (TDN: 95 | University of Washington | Senior)
Round 3, Pick 103: TRADED (to Carolina for Pick 37)

Would there be a more “Eagles” thing to do than take a lineman in the first round of an impressively deep WR class? Of course not. But with the way these kinds of “historic” drafts work, even the players that we think will be available will be long gone by the time the Eagles pick. Last year, for instance, in a “historic” defensive line draft, popular Eagles mock draft pick Christian Wilkins was gone by 13 - twelve picks before the Eagles were even on the clock. All it takes is for one of the “quarterback needy” teams to be dissatisfied with who’s available and grab a top target for a future QB instead to start a run at the position. And when a run happens, someone has to fall - why not Kinlaw, who plays at a position that was drafted by 6 teams in the first round of the previous draft? DT is a sneaky need for the Eagles, as Cox and Jackson aren’t getting any younger, so he’s a fit at 21.

The Eagles then trade their third round compensatory pick (along with other picks that are irrelevant for this exercise) to move from 53 to 38 in order to nab Hamler. I really wanted to take Justin Jefferson, but Hamler is likely to be one of the last “upper tier” explosive WRs left in the draft, and I wanted to make sure the Eagles made an attempt on finding electric receiving targets for Wentz. As a Penn State alum, I’ve watched Hamler do just that for the last 2 seasons, and while his inconsistent hands will be a non-starter for some, his ability with the ball in his hands is just too good to pass up. A projected slot WR, he still leaves one of the outside positions as a question mark, but hopefully this is something the Eagles have addressed in free agency (or perhaps JJAW is given a shot at redemption).

Nick Harris was definitely a reach in the third round, but with Matt Hennessy likely long gone, and the Eagles propensity for drafting PAC-12 lineman, he made sense here as a Kelce heir. He has a high football IQ and can block in space, both traits that the Eagles covet.

PLAN B
Round 1, Pick 21: Jalen Reagor, WR (TDN: 31 | Texas Christian University | Junior)
Round 2, Pick 53: Jeremy Chinn, FS (TDN: 52 | Southern Illinois University | Senior)
Round 3, Pick 85: Bryce Hall, CB (TDN: 78 | University of Virginia | Senior)
Round 3, Pick 103: Quartney Davis, WR (TDN: 110 | Texas A&M University | RS Junior)

I have the Eagles double-dipping at WR for Plan B, and sticking with the offensive and defensive passing game overall. Reagor is essentially a rich man’s KJ Hamler (top-end explosiveness but concerning hands), and although he might be a reach at 21, there is no way he would survive should the Eagles trade back - too many WR-needy teams are sitting in the mid-20s. Jeremy Chinn could end up being the long-term replacement for McLeod should they sign a band-aid in free agency, and Bryce Hall’s profile as a Cover 3 zone corner fits perfectly with what Schwartz does on defense. Quartney Davis is another WR who can beat a defense deep - but he has an injury history, which naturally makes him a perfect fit for the Eagles.

This 2-day mock features positions that the Eagles have traditionally ignored in the draft or have had little success drafting. This of course does not inspire confidence, but sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone because you’re in a bind from restructuring bloated contracts ahead of signing your franchise quarterback to a record-setting deal. Eventually, the check comes due, and that time has arrived in 2020 for the Eagles.

And that covers the draft! Believe it or not, that was actually the first mock draft I’ve ever done - it’s really not my thing - but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun doing it. What do you think of these outcomes?

Poll

Which draft plan was the best?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Plan A
    (265 votes)
  • 31%
    Plan B
    (273 votes)
  • 37%
    They should do something else (explain in comments)
    (326 votes)
864 votes total Vote Now

Closing Thoughts

Between free agency, CBA negotiations, the draft, and the impact of COVID-19 on professional sports, this will easily be one of the most unique offseasons in a long time. As the plans above show, the Eagles have a decent amount of flexibility to address the holes in their roster. With Joe Douglas and Andrew Berry gone, the onus is on Howie to show that his 2017 masterstroke was more than a fluke and that he can finally make the evaluations and decisions that push the Eagles from consistent playoff threat to consistent Super Bowl contender.

(Oh, and remember - wash your hands, avoid large gatherings, and practice your social distancing. Be safe out there people!)