That time of the year again iggles. Normally these posts are full of mid-season doom and gloom, but for once, I'm optimistic on the years ending.
Normally with these posts I go in depth on current salary cap situation, pending free agents to resign, players to release, etc. The way Howie has set up the cap management though with these voided contracts makes it impossible to try and play the GM game from a salary cap standpoint. Less in depth, right now the Eagles are looking at approximately 11.3m in salary cap space next year according to spotrac, which is less than ideal. The Eagles can easily free up another 11m by simply restructuring Lane Johnson and Jake Elliot's contracts though, so in other words, In Howie I Trust.
Here's the doom and gloom section of the write up. Eagles pending Free Agents entering next offseason - Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce (most likely retire), Fletcher Cox (should retire), Isaac Seumalo, Andre Dillard, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Gardner Minshew, James Bradberry, Kyzir White, Boston Scott, Miles Sanders, Zach Pascal, TJ Edwards, Rick Lovato, Marcus Epps, I Opeta, A Chachere, Robert Quinn, Tyree Jackson, Janarius Robinson.
Summary - There are a lot of key players on the roster currently, that are scheduled to be free agents, and not a lot of cap space to play with. Especially when you consider the contract extension Hurts is looking at getting. I believe big names like Bradberry and CJ Gardner-Johnson have out played their contracts and will get big pay days in free agency not in an Eagles uniform. I think the young homegrown talents, will be the ones Howie makes a push to keep and re-sign, Seumalo, Marcus Epps and TJ Edwards specifically. I also would not be surprised to see BG come back on a team friendly deal to retire an Eagle and Javon Hargrave, while 29, is a key piece to the DLine that the Eagles value so highly.
Draft - So with the free agency items noted above, it would appear the Eagles will need a starting corner, starting RB/RB Depth, backup QB, DLine depth, OLine depth, starting safety, DB depth ... a lot basically. With currently only holding 5 picks in the draft (luckily one looks to be a lock for the top 10, and 4 total in first 3 rounds).
For the below draft I used a mock draft simulator from PFF to check myself with how realistic potential targets I am watching appear at the moment, and for mock trade purposes as well.
Round 1 (1.6) - Trade back - My ideal targets for the Eagles with the Saints pick are Will Anderson and Jalen Carter. I don't believe either will make it out of the top 5 though. So with that being said, I think the Eagles best option here is to trade back and stock pile as many picks as possible to help try and rebuild the depth this team will be losing in free agency. I was offered the following trade, and it would make sense for both sides. TB offered picks 1.19, 2.50, 3.82, and a 2024 1st to move up to 1.6. CJ Stroud fell to pick 6 in this scenario due to a run on DLine, and with TB12 up in the air, TB moves up for their QB. This seems best case scenario for the birds. They gain another pick for the future to play with, and keep a top 20 pick this year in the process, with 2 other picks in the top 100.
Round 1 (1.19) - Joey Porter - CB - Penn St - 6'2 198 lbs - We can all see the difference adding another legit CB opposite Darius Slay has done to this defense and the scheme Gannon runs. Joey Porter is one of my favorite corner prospects in the draft and I've seen him ranked all over the place in the first round. Joey Porter is an impressive athlete at his size, but he isn't going to tear up the combine stat sheet either. Porter is a very well rounded corner who does a lot of things very well, but really needs to improve on some areas of technique. Porter is a willing and aggressive tackler in the run game, but takes bad angles on occasion. The good news is these are items that can be coached, and benefits the Eagles that they are also petty reasons a quality prospect can fall in the draft.
Round 1 (1.31) - Gervon Dexter - DT - Florida - 6'6 312 - The Eagles run defense has been a mess this year, Fletcher Cox (as much as I love the guy) has been a massive liability in the run game. Gervon Dexter is a hole plugging DT who can play the 2 gap well and stack blockers. While 6'6 and over 300lbs, Dexter appears to have plus athletic ability for a player of his build. Dexter reminds me a ton of Jordan Davis coming out of the draft last year at this point in time, the stat sheet doesn't tell the whole story. Dexter does appear to be a lot more raw than Davis though and there is a lot of fundamental things that need to be cleaned/coached up though. At pick 31, and a position of massive need in my eyes, this is a great spot to take a gamble on a player who can be a rotational piece behind Jordan Davis / Javon Hargrave with Milton Williams in the mix as well.
Round 2 (2.50) - Trade back - Like I said above, I would be watching deals that made a ton of sense of the Eagles to be offered that add picks later without sacrificing too much for what my goals are here. In this scenario, the Bears offered Pick 2.53 and 5.152 to move up 3 spots. No brainer with no one left on the board I really cherished for the Eagles.
Round 2 (2.53) - JL Skinner - S - Boise St - 6'4 220 - Similar to Joey Porter, JL Skinner has elite size for his position. Skinner is an exceptional athlete for his position as well. I have seen some really far ranges for Skinner, from late 1st to 3rd round draft grades. I think the drastic differences is fair. Skinner offers a lot physically that is exciting, but on the field he leaves a lot to be desired. While Skinner is a tackling machine with great short area burst to close the gap on defenders, he struggles in zone coverage at the safety position. Skinner can be beat by play action, but these are things that can be coached out of a safety with good coaching staffs. When I watch Skinner play it's almost as if he thinks too much and second guesses himself. At times he makes great plays that show tremendous instincts and reactions, and others it looks like he's frozen in the middle of the field. I think near the end of round 2 is the perfect spot for Skinner, he has 1st round physical tools, but day 3 tape.
Round 2 (2.63) - Matthew Bedford - OT/OG - Indiana - 6'5 315 - Andre Dillard will be walking in free agency (hopefully for a high comp pick) and Driscol is no sure thing for the swing tackle position. Bedford is a menace in the run game and loves to hit the second level of a defense, smacking defenders to the ground. If you like "football porn" as I call OLine tape, Bedford is a really fun watch. The issue with Bedford is he really struggles in pass protection, but has all the measurables to be an elite OLine prospect in the NFL. Stoutland, need I say more. Bedford also offers something the Eagles love, OLine flexibility, in 2019 he spent time at LT, in 2020 he spent time at RT, and 2021 he played RT, RG and LG. I think in the NFL he will project as a RG, but I can see him developing into a RT once he gets better at pass protection. So far it would appear Bedford has improved at pass blocking this year though, and if that's the case don't be surprised if you start to hear his name closer to the draft rising on the boards and this pick being out of reach for him.
Round 3 (3.82) - Andre Carter - Edge - Army - 6'7 260 - Arguably one of the most exciting edge prospects in the draft, Andre Carter is an athletic freak at 6'7 and rumored to have a 40 under 4.7. Andre Carter is still new to the defensive side of the ball, having experience at TE and WR prior to switching to being an edge rusher. In 2020 as a freshman, against Georgia Southern Andre Carter had a coming out party with a sack, forced fumble, interception and fumble recovery on the second to last game of the year. Carter topped it in 2021 with 15.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, another pick and 34 solo tackles. Here's the downside though, anyone drafting Carter is taking a massive gamble. No one from Army has been drafted since 2008, where the school historically doesn't like to give waivers for prospects to play in the NFL until after they fulfill their military commitment. If Andre Carter played for just about any other school, he'd be a top 20 lock in my eyes. The Eagles have shown a history of taking gambles on draft prospects with high upside but off-field issues for draft stock tanking (mostly health concerns). Josh Sweat, Landon Dickerson for recent examples that have worked in their favor.
Round 3 (3.95) - Zach Evans - RB - Ole Miss/TCU - 6'0 215 - This draft is loaded with RB talent, and with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott both potentially walking in free agency, I think the Eagles will be looking for a RB in either round 2 or 3 in the draft. Zach Evans is a really good RB with no glaring weaknesses to his game, he has the power to move the chains up the middle, he has straight line speed to take it to the house, and is a good enough receiving option as well. The only real issue with Evans is his short area burst, ability to make defenders miss when in a crowded area (in the box) and like most rookie RBs, he can really improve on pass blocking/blitz pick up.
Round 5 (5.152) - Ainias Smith - WR - Texas AM - 5'10 190lbs - Quez Watkins usage is beginning to concern me. I think the Eagles will want to bring in competition for him on the "speed threat" role. While, it's not fair to judge Watkins for not getting many targets in an offense with Goedert, AJ Brown and Smith, I still think we should be seeing more production from someone who gets as many snaps as him. Ainis Smith is a WR/RB hybrid type of player, I wouldn't compare him to Deebo or Percy Harvin, but having a quick twitch player like Smith who can line up in the backfield, slot or out wide, could create a fun chess piece, especially in the Eagles RPO game. Another area that Ainias Smith can really help the Eagles improve that is an issue this year is in the return game. Ainis Smith has good experience as a Punt Returner with a PR touchdown on his resume and served as the primary kick returner as a freshman. Ainias Smith is another player who, depending on combine and how he finishes the year, may really improve his draft stock from current projections.
Round 7 (7.196) - Bula Schmidt - OG/C - Fresno - 6'1 295 - Bula Schmidt has been a main stay for an impressive Fresno Offense the last couple of years. Schmidt has experience at all 3 interior OLine positions but doesn't offer anything exciting. Schmidt is your perfect late round pick to compete for an interior OLine backup position with enough college experience/tape to potentially fight for a starting gig.
Round 7 (7.227) - Jackson Mitchell - LB - UConn - 6'2 229 - Anyone who's read my posts over the years know I have to have at least one UConn bias pick in here. Jackson Mitchell is an extremely exciting prospect (for me at least) going into the 2022 season he wasn't ranked just about anywhere and projected as an UDFA type player. Hell, he might be still looked at as an UDFA prospect just because he plays for UConn, but the kid can play. In 2021 Mitchell led the team in tackles with 114 combined, and has already surpassed that mark after todays game with 117 combined tackles. Mitchell is an absolute play maker for the Huskies defense and flies all over the field, you can't watch a single game and not see him exploding off the tape. So far Mitchell has 4.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 1 Int, 4 pass break ups, 2 forced fumbles and 5 fumble recoveries, including one of which returned for a touchdown today. The other huge plus, Mitchell is still learning the position as a former WR.