Friday, August 1, 2014
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Ranking the Eagles' offseason needs from most glaring to most stable

The Eagles' 2013 season is over. Going forward, while they have good young talent, there are plenty of areas where upgrades could be (or should be) coming. Here's an initial look at the Eagles' needs, ranked from their most glaring needs to their most stable positions.

Ranking the Eagles' offseason needs from most glaring to most stable

The Eagles´ sideline looks on during the third quarter of their Wild Card game against the Saints.  (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
The Eagles' sideline looks on during the third quarter of their Wild Card game against the Saints. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

The Eagles' 2013 season is over. Going forward, while they have good young talent, there are plenty of areas where upgrades could be (or should be) coming. Here's an initial look at the Eagles' needs, ranked from their most glaring needs to their most stable positions.

1) Edge rusher: In the first 8 games of the season, Trent Cole had 0 sacks. In the last 9 games he had 8 sacks. In the past, Cole was a guy who would start fast, and finish slow. This year he was the opposite. However, even with Cole's late rejuvenation, he's 31 years old, and the Eagles lack a true 3-4 OLB who can get after the passer with any level of consistency. They also lack depth.

While an edge rusher isn't as glaring a need as safety, it is important to factor in the importance of the position. Premium edge rushers are extremely valuable and highly sought after players. Think of them in terms of importance to a defense similarly to the way you think of the importance of the QB to an offense. Any team that doesn't have a stud edge rusher should always continue to look for one until they do. And the Eagles most certainly do not have a stud edge rusher.

2) Safety: This shouldn't need much explanation. Patrick Chung was a disaster this year at safety, Nate Allen is a free agent, and while Earl Wolff showed glimpses that he may become a good player, he's not someone who should be considered a sure thing at this stage of his career. Safety is the most glaring, obvious need on the team, and one the team is likely to address both in free agency and the draft.

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3) Cornerback: Bradley Fletcher turned in a good season, and Brandon Boykin was tremendous in the slot. Cary Williams' reviews are mixed. Regardless of whether you like Williams or not, the Eagles clearly need better depth at CB, both on the outside and in the slot. CB is a position where you want to continually reload with talent, even if you're seemingly set at the position, which is debatable (at best) with the Eagles.

4) Offensive Tackle: There are some examples of offensive tackles who continue to play well into their mid-30s, but they are few and far between. In fact, I did an OL age study this past offseason, and there were no projected starting OTs 34 years of age or older. Jason Peters turns 32 this January, and may indeed turn out to be an exception to the norm. Or... he may not. The other factor working against viewing Peters as a multi-year option at LT is that he will be in the final year of his deal in 2014, after which he will of course be 33. The Eagles need to begin reloading behind Peters before it's too late.

5) Nose Tackle: Bennie Logan filled in at NT nicely this season, but his value is as a versatile defensive lineman who can play all 3 positions. Watching the Saints move the Eagles' defensive line in the run game reinforced the need to bring in a more traditional big-bodied run stuffer. The Eagles swung and missed with Isaac Sopoaga last offseason. Expect them to try again in 2014.

6) Wide Receiver: So much of the Eagles' needs at WR will depend on what happens with Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, who are both free agents. Whether they bring back Cooper, Maclin, or both, an argument could be made that the Eagles will still look to add depth at the position anyway. Before Maclin got hurt in training camp, the Eagles had already added Arrelious Benn, which indicates that they already thought they needed more depth there. Of course, the emergence of Cooper could have altered that thinking.

One other player to watch is Jason Avant. His leadership intangibles are so difficult to measure (that's why they call them "intangibles"), and he has been a sure-handed chain mover for so many years. However, the Eagles could be more interested in a speedier slot receiver who can make plays after the catch, something Avant has never really done.

7) Inside Linebacker: The perception is that DeMeco Ryans had a great year. I really wonder if that's the case. At times Ryans looked slow, and it's possible that a more athletically gifted linebacker would have made more plays. You might think of Ryans in baseball terms as a sure-handed shortstop with bad range. If you hit it to him, he's going to make the play, but if you're looking for him to make a diving stop in the hole, he's just not going to get to it. Would a faster, more athletic LB make more plays than Ryans? That's what the Eagles will have to figure out.

If indeed they are happy with Ryans, this is still a position where the Eagles could use some more depth.

8) Quarterback: Nick Foles will be the guy in 2014, barring something shocking. But beyond Foles, Michael Vick is unlikely to return, as he still believes he can be a starter somewhere. That leaves just Matt Barkley. Do the Eagles think Barkley will be a competent No. 2 in 2014? If so, you could see the Eagles draft a project QB in the later rounds. If not, QB could be a higher priority in the draft. The Eagles could use a high pick on a QB who could immediately serve as a backup, while also keeping some pressure on Foles. Another option would be to look to add a seasoned vet in free agency.

9) Guard: Evan Mathis is 32, although he has low mileage and has shown no signs of slowing down. Todd Herremans is 31. The Eagles need to begin developing interior offensive linemen behind those two guys. Ideally, the Eagles will find a versatile player who can also serve as a backup to Jason Kelce at center.

10) Tight End: Brent Celek had previously looked like a player whose job could be in jeopardy, due to the size of his contract. Celek is set to make a little more than $4 million in 2014. There's also the case of James Casey, who is also making far more than his 2013 production should warrant. Was Casey's lack of playing time "on Casey," or did Chip Kelly just fall in love with 3-WR sets? If it's the latter, and it wasn't necessarily Casey's "fault" that he didn't play much in 2013, his versatility as an effective special teamer and/or potential usage in the regular offense going forward could save him.

The Eagles used a high pick on a TE last year in Zach Ertz, who looks like the real deal. Still, this draft class is loaded with intriguing options at TE. If a player that the Eagles really like when they're on the clock is still available, would they pull the trigger? I'm inclined to think that the more weapons they have on offense, the better, but it would be a luxury pick.

11) Defensive End: The Eagles are loaded with young talent at DE. This is a low priority position in terms of "need," however, it's also never a bad idea to load up on players in the trenches.

12) Kicker: Alex Henery will almost certainly have competition in training camp next offseason, although I wouldn't exactly advocate using a mid-late round pick to replace a disappointment who was formerly a mid-round pick himself. The Eagles need to bring in legitimate competition to challenge Henery for his job, or maybe even more accurately, have Henery challenge the new guy for the right to stay.

13) Return Specialist: Ideally, if the Eagles were to add a wide receiver this offseason, he could also double as a quality return specialist, because the current guys (particularly at kick returner) aren't cutting it.

14) Center: Backup only, and preferably one who can also play guard if need be. Very low priority.

15) Running Back: The Eagles have unarguably one of the 5 best RBs in the league (at a minimum) in LeSean McCoy. They also have 2 talented backups in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. The only way I can see the Eagles using any sort of resource on a running back would be if they employ the Mike Shanahan method of drafting a RB in the late rounds every year. You can get talented runners in the back of the draft, and with RB being a position that is not conducive to durability, it does make some sense to always look to bring in fresh bodies. However, with McCoy, Brown and Polk all being 25 or younger, that seems unlikely.

16) Punter: Donnie Jones is a free agent, but it should be a no-brainer to bring him back. If need be, the Eagles should even consider franchise tagging him.

17) Long snapper: Jon Dorenbos is signed through 2016.

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