Note: This is the second part of a 10-part series looking at the Eagles entering the offseason. Part 1 was quarterbacks.
ON THE ROSTER
Under contract: LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker
Free agents: None
Outlook: A position of strength on the day Chip Kelly became the head coach remains of a position of strength entering Kelly’s second season. In fact, it looks even stronger. The Eagles had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, LeSean McCoy’s 1,607 yards led the league, and both Bryce Brown and Chris Polk fit well in relief roles. Tucker started the season on practice squad before spending the final 10 regular-season games on the 53-man roster.
The Eagles would be happy with these four returning to the roster. Each is under contract and will be 26 or younger next season. McCoy is obviously the starter, and he's in the prime of his career. McCoy has been an all-Pro two of the past three seasons and has established himself as one of the two or three best running backs in the league. After McCoy, there is competition between Brown and Polk.
I’m curious to see what Brown would draw on the trade market, and it’s not a far-fetched idea to consider moving him. Brown, 22, has the talent to be a starting running back. He excelled in his opportunities as a full-time back in 2012, when he had 347 yards and four touchdowns over a two-game stretch. He still has two years remaining on his contract at an affordable price. If the Eagles were willing to move him, there would likely be a market. The Jets traded a fourth-round pick last season for Chris Ivory, who required a new contract and was older than Brown.
If the Eagles could get a third-round pick and a conditional late-round pick for Brown, it might make sense. Of course, that would be predicated on the team’s belief that Polk can be the No. 2 running back. They are high on Polk, who averaged 8.9 yards on 11 carries last season. He took snaps ahead of Brown at times, too.
Matthew Tucker has good size (6-foot-1, 227 pounds) and rushed for two touchdowns in the preseason finale. He’s a developmental player at this point, and the team is intrigued by his talent.
The Eagles’ offseason plans at running back depend on whether they move Brown or Polk. If both are back, then the top three running backs are all but set in stone, barring injury. The Eagles could carry three or four running backs, depending on special teams.
It’s unlikely they’ll be players in the free-agent market. Houston’s Ben Tate, Denver’s Knowshon Moreno, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, and Oakland’s Darren McFadden headline the group, and they are not realistic options for the Eagles. Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount played for at Oregon for Kelly, who is a supporter of his, although there’s not a necessity for Blount on the Eagles roster.
The Eagles could add a rusher in the draft in the middle to late rounds if there’s a promising player with good value. Don’t expect them to go after top running back prospects such as Arizona’s Ka’Deem Casey, Tre Mason, or Carlos Hyde.
One name to watch is Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas, and it’s not solely because he thrived under Kelly during his first two seasons with the Ducks. Thomas would be appealing because of his versatility. He can play in the backfield, in the slot, and in the return game. You saw the different ways the Eagles used DeSean Jackson, who predicted he would be used in Philadelphia like Thomas was at Oregon. The Eagles never seemed to find a way to maximize Damaris Johnson. Thomas could be that type of player for the Eagles. Kelly looks for speed and dynamic ability, which Thomas offers. The team could use an improvement in the return game after ranking the bottom third of the league in both punt returns and kick returns. Thomas had five return touchdowns at Oregon.
He would make sense for the Eagles whether he played at Villanova or Oregon, although the Kelly connection doesn’t hurt.