It’s pretty obvious the Eagles wanted to make a big upgrade at wide receiver this off-season. And yet, so far, it’s been adding Zach Pascal and bringing back Greg Ward.
Look, Pascal is a fine receiver, a decent slot guy who Nick Sirianni knows well. It’s OK, but the Pascal signing doesn’t make the Eagles’ receiving corps a whole lot better than it was last season. After all, if the only bar you’re trying to hurdle is “better than Jalen Reagor,” well, it’s akin to stepping over a jump rope lying on the ground.
The Eagles were reportedly close to trading for the outstanding Calvin Ridley from Atlanta before he was suspended for the 2022 season for betting on football, but didn’t appear to be engaged in talks for Amari Cooper, although it’s likely Dallas didn’t want to deal him to their division rivals. Davante Adams was traded to Oakland, fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing for the Raiders. Cooper and Adams were never realistic options.
Christian Kirk, Allen Robinson, Russell Gage, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Zay Jones, and Cedrick Wilson were among the biggest free agent possibilities for the Eagles this off-season, and yet none of them signed with the Eagles, a team obviously in need of another top-shelf receiver to go with DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins.
Why, outside of Pascal, have the Eagles largely struck out in the receiver market?
Out Of Control Free Agent Market
Simply put, teams went a little crazy paying star money for wide receivers who, while solid and productive, are not necessarily superstars. Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Jaguars with $37 million in guaranteed money, the richest deal to a receiver this off-season. While his 77 catches and 982 receiving yards would have fit in perfectly as the Birds’ No. 2 receiver, refusing to give him No. 1 money was wise. Robinson’s 3-year, $46.5 million deal ($30.75 million guaranteed) is a lot for a 28-year-old.
There also just wasn’t that sure-fire, can’t-miss free agent receiver on the market where it made sense to eat up a lot of cap space to go get.
Eagles Offensive Gameplans
Last year, the Eagles ran the ball. A lot. Their 31.5 rushing attempts per game were 2nd in the NFL only to the Titans’ 32.1. Of course, if you’re running the ball a ton, that means you’re not passing it all that much, and that logical conclusion rings true. In ‘21, the Eagles averaged just 29.8 pass attempts per game, and in terms of passing play percentage, their 50.13% was last in the NFL.
No team in the NFL called a lower percentage of passing plays last season than the Eagles. So if you’re a wide receiver, looking for the perfect landing spot to showcase your skills, are you going to go to a team that was the most run-heavy team, and least pass-happy team in the league?
Nick Sirianni never intended to be a run-first football team. Through their first six games last year, the Eagles offense was decidedly different than it was by the end of it, and one would assume Sirianni would like to get back to being a pass-first offense at some point. But with Jalen Hurts at QB, it’s likely the 2022 Eagles offense is going to look a whole lot like the ‘21 version.
Hurts’ improvements as a passer during the course of the season were there, to be sure. He was good enough to outplay the many substandard QBs he faced last year, but struggled against better competition, and the chasm between what he is and what he needs to become was never more evident than in the Birds’ playoff loss to Tampa Bay.
Hurts’ best attribute is as a running quarterback. There’s no doubt he’s one of the best in the game at that, and his mobility certainly creates opportunities in the passing game. However, Sirianni and Hurts were already underutilizing DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins last year, and one would think talented wideouts around the league saw that and assumed the offense would look much the same in ‘22 with Hurts under center.
Had the Eagles traded for a passing quarterback this off-season, things might have been different, but once Russell Wilson was traded to Denver, the other options were far less palatable. So, Hurts it is in ‘22, and he gives the Eagles a real chance to win.
But he is not a good passing quarterback right now, and wide receivers are not lining up to play with him.
That said, there are players available of varying skill. The best remaining on the market is Jarvis Landry, a high-volume slot option who needs a lot of targets to be productive. Aging veterans Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Emmanuel Sanders probably won’t work, Will Fuller would be a nice vertical option, but he’s likely to sign with his former QB DeShaun Watson in Cleveland, and Sammy Watkins is a good name whose production has lagged in recent seasons. Keelan Cole is someone to watch, he played for the Jets last year and was somewhat productive with some awful QBs throwing him the ball.
The Eagles’ most logical recourse is now to spend one of their first round picks in the draft on a receiver, but Howie Roseman’s record of drafting outside the top-15 is sketchy at best, specifically at receiver. He hit on DeVonta Smith, at No. 10 overall, but whiffed bigtime on Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
Still, given the way the trade market and free agency have gone down this spring, it’s likely the only way the Eagles will add an impact receiver for Sirianni’s offense is on Day 1 of the NFL Draft next month.