Good morning, Eagles fans. The NFL is in a February lull, but the offseason will kick into another gear next week at the scouting combine. The Eagles started to make changes to their coaching staff and roster changes will follow in the coming weeks. You'll find daily Eagles content on Philly.com, including an eight-part positional review that started Tuesday with a breakdown of the quarterbacks.
This is the second offseason edition of the Early Birds newsletter, which will come every Wednesday for the next few months. If your friends haven't subscribed to Early Birds, it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
It's hard to find a player who had a better 2017 offseason than Nelson Agholor, who captured the attention of the coaching staff during the spring and developed into one of the Eagles' most important offensive players. He wasn't atop the depth chart during OTAs, and he led the team in catches during the Super Bowl. That's a credit to what Agholor did last offseason. So what are his objectives this offseason?
"Be a better football player, mature in my focus, and really fine-tune my body and my game," Agholor said. "I have to progress in every aspect of my game. This year was a truly blessed one for myself and my teammates, but to do this again, I need to up my game to another level. That means paying attention to my body, making sure I have a greater focus than I had this year, and reaching out to whoever I need to reach out to to take my game to the next level."
Agholor said his offseason workouts will be "calculated." He usually spends time in Tampa, where he grew up, and Los Angeles, where he went to college. Agholor wants to become a more "well-rounded football player." He mentioned how he was able to contribute outside of the passing game with handoffs, like he did in the playoffs on a key first down against the Atlanta Falcons. Those different ways to use Agholor could grow in 2018. Doug Pederson continued to find creative ways to showcase Agholor's versatility as the season progressed.
Agholor also wants to evolve as a wide receiver. He played mostly in the slot in 2017, and he could take on more outside work in 2018. When the Eagles traded Jordan Matthews during the preseason, it opened a spot for Agholor. But he spent his first two years mostly as an outside receiver, and the Eagles will likely move Agholor around the formation to feature him in different ways.
"I probably want to do some more things outside and go from there, because I'm a football player, I'm not a position," Agholor said.
During the season, Agholor didn't want to do much reflecting. He spoke about how he changed from his first two seasons, but he didn't focus on the past too much. After a 62-catch, eight-touchdown season that ended with a Super Bowl, he will allow himself to appreciate what he accomplished.
"I definitely can celebrate this, because at the end of the day, that's what I wanted to do: I wanted to finish the job," Agholor said. "I knew it was going to take consistency to finish it. Obviously, all year long I knew I had to commit … and I wanted to do be consistent with my effort all the way until the end to get it done. And that's what I was able to do. I'm blessed. Now, it's time to start a whole new chapter."
Agholor is entering his fourth NFL season. He's eligible for a contract extension, and the Eagles will need to make a decision in the next few months about Agholor's fifth-year option. One year ago, there were questions about whether Agholor would be on the 2017 roster. One year later, he's a candidate to remain in Philadelphia long-term.
"Not really," Agholor said when asked whether he's thought about his future. "I've been here trying to win football games, and I'm blessed to [win the Super Bowl]. And now I'm excited to have another opportunity to [win] one next year, too."
With Mike Groh as offensive coordinator and Duce Staley as running backs coach and assistant head coach, the Eagles were able to preserve some continuity on their offensive staff, and Pederson will be comfortable with the assistants putting the game plan together. The Eagles lost experience with the exits of Frank Reich and former quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, both of whom had experience calling plays and working with quarterbacks. That "quarterback incubator" was a key talking point the last two years, but the departures of Reich and DeFilippo are the price of success. Groh was an offensive coordinator in college, although neither Groh nor Staley has been an NFL offensive coordinator. Still, they both have experience in different schemes and will contribute to the game plan. Groh will be important in the passing game, and this gives him a chance to be more involved with quarterbacks. (Groh is a former college quarterback.)
I'm curious to see whom Pederson hires at wide receiver coach. The Eagles had success with Groh, who was experienced at the position when he replaced Greg Lewis last season.
As for Staley not getting the offensive coordinator job, my understanding is he'll still be a big part of what the Eagles do on offense. I'm curious to see what duties come with assistant head coach — whether it's just a better title, or if he'll be entrusted with new responsibilities. That will certainly be a question at the combine next week. Staley is well-regarded in the organization and respected by his players, although it's reasonable to wonder whether he'll get a shot at offensive coordinator in Philadelphia or if he must go elsewhere for that job. He doesn't have much experience as a play-caller, which could hinder his candidacy, but he's now worked for Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and Doug Pederson. Those are three creative offensive minds. It's not unprecedented to go from his current role to head coach — Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn did it — but it would seem offensive coordinator is the next step. That didn't happen during this hiring cycle.
The NFL's franchise tag period opened on Tuesday and teams have until March 6 to place the tag on a pending free agent. By doing so, they could lock up a player for the five-year average salary of the top five players at his position or 120 percent of his current salary — whichever is greater.
Don't expect the Eagles to use the tag this year. Linebacker Nigel Bradham is the Eagles' top free agent, although the tag for a linebacker would likely be around $15 million. That's too expensive for Bradham, whom they're better off trying to sign to a new deal. The Eagles will be tight on salary-cap space as it is.
But it's interesting to think back to the Eagles' in-season contract extension for Alshon Jeffery, because Jeffery could have been a candidate for the franchise tag if the Eagles didn't sign him then. Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry received the franchise tag on Tuesday. The tag number for wide receivers is expected to be around $16 million. The Eagles signed Jeffery to a four-year, $52.25 million deal with a $3.975 million salary-cap number in 2018. That is far better for the Eagles than the franchise tag would have been. They have the certainty of Jeffery as their No. 1 wide receiver, and there's cap relief for 2018, with the bigger numbers coming in 2019, 2020, and 2021.
The signing might have happened in 2017, but it was a big part of the Eagles' 2018 offseason because they don't need to chase a wide receiver and they know the cost going into the spring.
I'll play this hypothetical, although I'm not certain Nick Foles is on the roster next season. But if the above happens, and Carson Wentz is ready for the fifth game, I still think Wentz enters the lineup. He's the Eagles' starting quarterback when he's healthy. No matter how well Foles plays — and he just won the Super Bowl MVP, so it's hard to envision him playing even better — this is Wentz's job. But if it's October and Wentz hasn't started, it means that Wentz's recovery isn't going as rapidly as hoped and my guess is the Eagles would be cautious. They'd make sure he's completely healthy before returning. But Wentz is the Eagles' quarterback when he's healthy. I feel comfortable writing that sentence.
That's a scenario to watch. I don't know whether they'd be able to collect both a second- and third-round pick by trading No. 32 unless they went back to the bottom half of the second round. But they could move back a few picks, like Seattle did at No. 31 last year, and pick up an extra fourth-rounder. It would help if there's a quarterback at the end of the first round other teams covet. That's a prime area for a team to draft a quarterback because they get the fifth-year option, which is desirable if that quarterback becomes the team's starter.
I could see the Eagles moving back from No. 32. I could also see the Eagles trying to trade players for Day 2 or Day 3 picks, and assuming it's a Day 3 pick (unless that player is Foles), they could package a few picks to try to move up into Day 2.