Of all the positions spotlighted here this week, the Eagles are most secure at their offensive skill positions. They could go all off-season without adding a wide receiver, running back or tight end and remain well-equipped for next season. That doesn’t mean the Eagles won’t consider an upgrade or two among the reserves or won’t re-evaluate their starters.
But the most pressing issue involving the Eagles’ skill guys isn’t on the field, but rather revolves around a certain mercurial receiver’s contract (more on that later). But first, a look back at last season before we take a cautious look ahead.
WIDE RECIEVERS/RUNNING BACKS/TIGHT ENDS
What then: It’s difficult to muster much criticism of the Eagles’ wideouts. DeSean Jackson eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight season, led the league in yards per reception and provided a number of breathtaking, game-changing plays. Jeremy Maclin, with less hoopla than Jackson, did yeoman’s work and increased his production in every manner from his first season to his second. His ten receiving touchdowns were the most by an Eagles receiver since 2004. And Jason Avant once again upped his statistics and did so under the radar.
But (there’s always a but) you could quibble with how each performed a year ago. Jackson, despite his otherworldliness, is brittle and became a sort of one-trick-pony after Dunta Robinson knocked his block off in October. Jackson seemingly ran only deep routes. Defenses caught on and simply placed a centerfielding free safety as far back as the Monuments. Maclin answered some questions about his toughness and became an ace downfield blocker. But he needs to run better routes over the middle if he wants to become an elite receiver. Avant, for all his previous sure-handedness, dropped too many passes.
While Michael Vick may have been the Eagles’ MVP, LeSean McCoy was a close second. The running back finished fourth in the NFL with 1,672 yards from scrimmage (1,080 rushing and 592 receiving). As well as he played, there’s actually room for improvement. Eagles GM Howie Roseman’s best in-season move from last year may have been swapping Mike Bell for Jerome Harrison (Of course, Roseman was the one that whiffed with the Bell free agent signing). Harrison was underutilized, but the Eagles saw his worth and tendered him at a second-round level earlier this month.
The Eagles lost a valuable piece to their offense when fullback Leonard Weaver ripped apart his knee in the opener. Owen Schmitt was immediately picked up off the scrap heap and flashed in the early going, not so much late.
Tight end Brent Celek had a disappointing follow to his Pro Bowl-worthy 2009 season. His numbers dipped dramatically – 76 catches for 971 yards and 8 TDs to 42 catches for 511 yards and 4 TDs – but some of that had to do with being asked to block more than he had previously. An improved offensive line (we’re speculating here) should give him more opportunities to pass catch. Clay Harbor could push Celek for more playing time. He made progress with his blocking by season’s end and showed that he can get open (even if he dropped a few).
What now: If and when there is a new CBA, the Eagles’ to-do list goes something like this: 1. What to do about Kevin Kolb? 2. What to do about Jackson’s contract? Andy Reid told the team’s Web site this week that the Eagles will "sit back and we’ll evaluate" trade offers for Kolb. He pretty much said that same thing about Donovan McNabb two weeks before the Eagles traded away the quarterback last April. But Kolb isn’t going anywhere until there is a deal between the owners and players – or the courts rule in favor of the players’ injunction -- and he likely isn’t going anywhere unless that deal is completed before the draft.
As for Jackson, the Eagles will have to address his contract situation at some point before the season (if there is a season, blah, blah, blah). The receiver has one year left on the four-year deal he signed as a rookie. He wants an extension in line with the game’s top receivers. The Eagles do want to compensate Jackson, but they aren’t willing to crack the bank for a 5-foot-9, 160-pound receiver. Jackson’s agent is Drew Rosenhaus. You do the math. A holdout is possible. If the NFL’s labor dispute drags on into training camp it could dilute Jackson’s desire for a new deal as the Eagles scramble to fill out their roster. He then may have to wait until mid-season for negotiations to resume.
Jackson is temperamental and let the lack of a new deal affect his mindset last season. It’s only going to get worse until he gets what he wants. If there is some sort of holdout, the Eagles do have options on the back end of their roster. Riley Cooper has legitimate talent, although his effort on Vick’s last-gasp pass against the Packers in the playoffs was woeful.
(A quick aside: After the game I’m standing around the receivers’ locker stalls long after reporters have left because I want to ask Jackson about his contract. He and Maclin are getting dressed next to one another and Cooper is sitting on his chair with his head in his hand. Maclin says to Jackson, "Go over and say something to him." Jackson shrugs and says in a joking manner, "I did. Leave me alone." Cooper then gets up and walks past Jackson who proceeds to bust his chops for dropping the pass. It was good-natured enough and Cooper smiled, but it was just an indication to me of how much Jackson rules the roost among the skill-position guys.)
Chad Hall still warrants a mention and the Eagles added receivers Sinorice Moss and Jeremy Williams a day after the season ended. This year is a good one not to be in need of a top-flight receiver. There are only two in this year’s draft – Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones – and free agency is stocked with has-beens.
At running back, the Eagles could use a big-bodied complement to McCoy and Harrison. Weaver was that guy, but his future is as murky as the Delaware River. The fullback has undergone multiple surgeries on his left leg and may be facing the dreaded "R" word. If there’s a guy you shouldn’t doubt it’s Weave, but he faces a steep climb back to the NFL. The Eagles likes Schmitt but they could be willing to grab a bruiser late in the draft (hopefully, one better than Charles Scott).
Somehow tight end Cornelius Ingram is still on the Eagles roster. He hasn’t played in a game with meaning since January, 2008. But the Eagles are holding out some hope that their 2009 fifth round pick is finally back from back-to-back ACL tears on his right knee. Roseman also added John Nalbone just after the season. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound 24-year-old could be the blocking tight end the team missed last season.