The 2016 offseason is a big one for the Eagles, and one that will ultimately determine the teams for success for years to come. Luckily, they’ve started off on the right foot. The offseason started with a bang, and the firing of Chip Kelly. After a lengthy search, and one that didn’t really make sense to a lot of people, the Eagles hired Doug Pederson to be the head coach for the next several years. This wasn’t necessarily a bad hiring, as Pederson has years of experience, and has had several stints in Philly, but he’s never actually been a head coach. The impressive part of this hire is actually the staff that Pederson brought in.
On the defensive side of the ball Billy Davis finally got the boot, and Jim Schwartz was hired to be his replacement. This is huge. Jim Schwartz is a great defensive coordinator, who should be able to do some pretty amazing things considering the talent that the Eagles have on defense. First off, you can expect a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. If you don’t understand the difference, the break down is simple. A 3-4 defense has 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers on the field, and is a run stop first style of defense. A 4-3 is simply the opposite, with 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers. It’s a scheme designed to put more pressure on the QB, without having to commit more players to a blitz. The Eagles best players of defensive would benefit hugely from a switch to 4-3, and if it does happen, expect players like Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry to have huge years.
Offensively, the Eagles brought in Frank Reich, which was another quality move. Most recently, Reich was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers, and found success in the passing game with Phillip Rivers, a QB with similar skill sets to Sam Bradford. The Eagles also keep several positional coaches like Duce Stanley and Cory Undlin, which is good as it allows the team some stability. How Doug Pederson will fair as a head coach remains to be seen, but his coordinator hiring’s bode well for the future.
As for the the players themselves, the Eagles have a lot of question marks this offseason. The Eagles have 9 unrestricted free agents; QB Sam Bradford, WR Seyi Ajirotutu, CB E.J. Biggers, CB Nolan Carroll, DE Vinny Curry, LB Najee Goode, QB Thad Lewis, DE Cedric Thornton, and S Walter Thurmond. With roughly $18 million in cap space, its unlikely they’ll be able to resign everyone. But more on that later. The Eagles are apparently trying to sign several players to new contracts, and started of with a bang, signing Zack Ertz to a 5 year, $42.5 million deal, and then followed it up by restructuring Brent Celek to the tune of 3 years, $13 million. Vinny Curry has apparently been offered a new deal, and Lane Johnson and Fletcher Cox will be as well. The Eagles could free up more money by releasing some of the older players as well. Releasing Jason Peters, Riley Cooper, and Mark Sanchez would save the Eagles roughly $16 million. This, plus the release of some other smaller contract players would allow the Eagles to resign more players, and perhaps make a bigger splash in the free agency. Back to the free agents. If I had to guess, I would say that the following player will return. I don’t see a single true NFL ready QB in the draft. Signing Bradford for 3 years, and drafting to develop gives the Eagles the best change for success. Ajirotutu only had one catch last season, but he’s a special teams stud who can be signed for cheap. Curry will be a beast in a 4-3, but he’ll probably want to test the free agency before signing, and finally Goode, who’s probably not going to get offers anywhere else. Carroll and Thurmond will most likely get big time offers from teams in need after both posting career seasons. Carroll did a nice job stabilizing the secondary, but the Eagles likely wont be able to afford his price, and while Thurmond has a great season, he doesn’t have the true size to play strong safety in Schwartz’s scheme, and we probably wont be able to afford him as well. Cedric Thornton is a great player, but his strengths come against the run, and his ability to get to the passer leaves something to be desired, especially in a 4-3. Thad Lewis may stay, simply because he’s a second string QB at best.
Looking into the free agency, don’t expect the Eagles to make any splashy signings. They simply wont have to money to do so. They may bring in some more offensive linemen or receivers, but only to create competition. As for the draft, it’s nearly impossible to determine what the Eagles will do. They could try to draft a Qb in the first round, such as Wentz, but they could also address several other positions, such as a tackle, a safety, or an edge rusher.
This is an important offseason for the Eagles. Address it the right way, and the Eagles could see serious success in 2016 and beyond. They started off on the right track, and now they need to continue that success. Hopefully this’ll be the offseason that gets this great team back on track.
Photo: Mel Evans-Associated Press