When the 2019 season finally drew to a close against the Seahawks in the NFC Wild Card Game, the Eagles’ wide receivers were Greg Ward, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Shelton Gibson, and Deontay Burnett. An underachieving Alshon Jeffery missed the final few weeks of the season with a Lisfranc injury, DeSean Jackson played one full game for the Eagles and was then lost for the year, and Nelson Agholor was, well, dropping babies.
The most glaring hole this team had entering the off-season was a lack of speed at wide receiver and it now seems as though that element will have to come exclusively through the Draft, because it appears general manager Howie Roseman wants to mostly run it back in 2020.
Both Roseman’s words and actions indicate much of the same crew that lined up for the Birds last year will be back next year. Roseman said Alshon Jeffery is “the elephant in the room,” and despite rampant speculation that the team would either trade or release him, and despite the $10.6 million cap hit that would result if they did, it appears as though he might be back.
Whether Jeffery was the leak or whether there might be friction between him and his quarterback, he might not even be healthy to start the season. Jeffery’s injury occurred in the first Giants game in mid-December and typically takes nine months from which to recover. That puts his timetable to return sometime in September, meaning he could miss the first month or two of the season.
DeSean Jackson had an outstanding first game with the Eagles, scoring two long touchdowns against the Redskins in the season opener. His core injury forced him to miss the rest of the season and, entering his age 34 season, he’s still going to be expected to be a major force down the field. Certainly the Eagles can’t cut and run from Jackson, but how much can reasonably be expected of him this year?
JJ Arcega-Whiteside was the team’s second round pick last year. Given how much rope they’ve given another former second rounder who has been mostly unimpressive during his brief career, Sidney Jones, it’s logical the team is willing to give JJAW more time to develop. Roseman told reporters last week he believes Arcega-Whiteside can make “the leap” from year No. 1 to year No. 2, but that’s far from a sure thing.
Entering this off-season, most analysts believed the team needed to add an impact receiver in the draft as well as through free agency or trade. DeAndre Hopkins was traded from Houston to Arizona on a reasonable deal (the Cardinals traded a second round pick this year and a fourth-rounder next year), one that Roseman says he was never given a chance to beat. Amari Cooper was re-signed by Dallas, Emanuel Sanders signed a two-year deal with New Orleans, Randall Cobb got a three-year contract with Houston, Robby Anderson went from the Jets to Carolina and New York scooped up former Tampa wideout Breshad Perriman on a one-year deal to replace Anderson.
Not all of those players would have been fits with the Eagles, especially on some of those contracts. But many of them would have helped and given the Eagles a more reliable option than Alshon Jeffery or JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
By not going out and getting a reliable wide receiver in free agency, the Eagles are potentially hanging Carson Wentz out to dry in 2020.
Certainly the Eagles are going to draft at least one wide receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft. Maybe they spend their first two picks on receivers. Given how they’ve punted adding a receiver through free agency, I’m now even more in favor of trading up to get one of the truly elite talents like CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III or Jerry Jeudy. Getting a speed receiver in the second round would also be great. And while the book has not been closed on this off-season, it is even more critical that the Eagles nail their wide receiver draft pick(s) next month. They cannot afford another JJAW-like whiff. Whoever they get must contribute right away and bring that missing speed element to the offense.
The Eagles signed Carson Wentz to a $128 million extension before the 2019 season started and, by the end of last year, he showed he was worth it. He turned a rag-tag group of receivers, along with some talented tight ends and outstanding running back play by Boston Scott and Miles Sanders, and actually got the offense to function at a reasonably high level. It’s tantalizing to imagine what he could do with real weapons. But he’s also 27 years old. He has one quarter of a playoff game under his belt. He’s in the middle of a prime that won’t last forever.
Wentz may get a real weapon or two in the Draft, but he’s not getting one through free agency or trades. Roseman is hoping that Alshon and DeSean defy the laws of time, stay healthy and play more effectively next year, that JJAW emerges as a guy worthy of having spent a second round pick on, and that Greg Ward can actually be a competent slot receiver for a full season.
Speaking after the 2019 season, Roseman said “hope is not a strategy.” And yet the Eagles are resting on a whole lot on hope, and it could mean Carson has to play another year scrambling to make an ineffective offense work.
Are the Eagles hanging Carson Wentz out to dry?
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