The mission was clear. Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman outlined the plan during his closing press conference upon the season’s end: Build around the new franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz.
The Philadelphia Eagles struggled on offense in a year with so many twists and turns throughout. It started 8 days before the season, when QB Sam Bradford was traded for a 1st round draft pick. This opened the door for Wentz to start on opening day. The original plan was for Wentz to learn behind Bradford for a year. The 2016 season showed how quickly “original plans” can change in the NFL.
On an offense that was gasping for air most of the season, Wentz provided a calming presence. Sure, he had his skids and rookie moments. He displayed severe lows that balanced with his pinnacle points. But most notably, he survived the season healthy and gained great experience as an NFL starter. His individual playmaking ability led fans and staff to believe that he could reach elite status given a strong supporting cast. Roseman, accompanied by new player personnel director Joe Douglas, vowed to make sure that 2016’s roster would be the worst that Wentz would ever play on.
A hot 3-0 start was followed by a cooling bye week, a gut-wrenching loss to the Detroit Lions and a 10-game suspension dished out to RT Lane Johnson. In Johnson’s absence, the Eagles had trouble finding consistency up front. Upon Johnson’s return during Week 16, the Eagles looked much sturdier. The offensive line depth, or lack thereof, forced Roseman to peer into his options in 2017. That’s where we’ll begin.
The Eagles have a decision to make on center Jason Kelce, as he nears 30 and is seemingly on the decline. Roseman quickly bulked up the interior of the offensive line by extending G/C Stefan Wisniewski and signing G Chance Warmack in free agency. With versatile G Allen Barbre returning, and G/C Isaac Seumalo coming off of a rather impressive rookie season in which he saw playing time all across the line, the Eagles are suddenly deep on the interior. Kelce’s fate might be sealed within the next year, but the insurance has been invested in. Great moves by Roseman here.
The familiar faces provide a solid foundation, while 25-year old Chance Warmack gets an opportunity to reincarnate his career under former college offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. Stoutland turned Warmack into a top 10 draft pick, and now he looks to strip the “bust” label off of him. Stoutland is a great OL coach that excels in molding young players. With limited cap space, Roseman knew a few risks were needed. This is a low risk, high reward situation and Warmack will be given one season to prove his worth.
While the offensive line needed youth, inexperience was a glaring weakness for the Eagles’ wide receivers in 2016. Jordan Matthews was in and out of the lineup with injuries, and he couldn’t provide Wentz with any type of consistency throughout the year. Nelson Agholor made a few plays early in the season, but fizzled to the point of being a healthy inactive due to mental lapses. Dorial Green-Beckham, acquired from the Tennessee Titans in a 2016 offseason trade, rarely looked engaged. Josh Huff was released after being pulled over by police with marijuana and a gun. Three cheers for the 2016 wide receivers!
Torrey Smith, a proven professional deep threat, was signed to a 3-year deal worth $5 million per season with only $500k in guaranteed money. Roseman used his money management skills to fit an instant upgrade on the roster. Smith has made a living beating defenses deep, and despite a few down years in San Francisco, he provides an element to the Eagles’ offense that has been missing. His leadership and experience should help Agholor learn and gain some confidence with less pressure. Smith gauged the Eagles’ interest during the 2016 season around the trade deadline, but the Eagles patiently waited and snagged him upon his release. Another affordable, impactful move by the front office.
The big kahuna, Alshon Jeffery, was signed shortly after Smith. Jeffery spent his first five seasons with the Chicago Bears after they selected him in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. Paired with Brandon Marshall, Jeffery stapled himself as a top wideout. After two huge seasons, he had two down seasons. He entered free agency with something to prove, and he took a 1-year deal from the Eagles to play with Wentz. You can go and read about his love for Wentz on any sports news outlet. What spoke volumes was his willingness to bet on himself in Philly so that he could garner a long-term deal when the cap space becomes available. Jeffery is a blue-collar guy who simply loves football. He’s from a small town in South Carolina, and his rush is game day. His familiarity with Mike Groh, the Eagles’ new wide receivers coach, should help him transition into this offense right from the jump.
The additions of Smith and Jeffery should also help more than just the aforementioned Agholor. Green-Beckham could seek tutelage from Jeffery, similar to how Jeffery learned from Marshall. Jordan Matthews will man the slot role and he’ll see much more favorable matchups there than he has in the past two years. Tight end Zach Ertz should also see the middle of the field loosen up, and his presence will be felt when linebackers and nickel corners are asked to cover him one-on-one. Smith and Jeffery don’t have to touch the ball on every play to be effective, and that’s exactly what this team needed. They are proven threats that must be accounted for during the entire duration of each game.
Roseman, Douglas and the Eagles have a lot of work to do. There are still needs on this team that must be addressed. There are decisions that must be made. But for now, at least, Carson Wentz received the greatest gift of all — a much improved supporting cast. Roseman delivered, and now the draft awaits for one last shipment.