Free Agency – Eagles Stick to the Plan

Got back from Iraq last Sunday, but it took me a week to catch up with school, hence the delayed posting. Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the trip.  It was very productive and laid the groundwork for us to do some very impactful work in the future.  Meanwhile, I missed the bulk of free agency, so let’s talk about that today.

First, though, the elephant in the room:

What the hell is going on with DeSean Jackson?

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time this week trying to game this situation out, searching for some logical thread that will explain it adequately.  I’m sad to say I haven’t come up with anything.  Frankly, I can’t remember a situation as unexpected and bizarre as what’s going on right now.  At first, I thought it was just a leak test.  However, if that was the case the team would have issued a statement by now denying any efforts at trading D-Jax.

Sadly, it sounds like the team really is looking to remove Jackson from the roster.  His contract is onerous, but the team has plenty of cap space.  Cutting/trading him for little value seems like a strange way to deal with that.  The team could, for example, renegotiate Jackson’s contract.  However, it’s possible that Chip is also factoring in Jackson’s attitude.  I have no inside knowledge of DeSean in the locker room, but it certainly doesn’t appear as though he’s that “bad” of a teammate.  Unless there’s some unreported incident or serious cause for concern, this angle seems sketchy as well.

Perhaps we’ll get more information if/when Jackson is moved.  However, if the rumors are true, then it’s pretty clear the team has botched the process to an incredible degree.  That’s strange.  This front office (Howie/Lurie) have made mistakes in the past, sometimes big ones.  However, they’ve never been downright incompetent.  If Jackson gets released and/or traded for a late draft pick, it will be the biggest indictment of the front office yet.

In other, better, news:

The Eagles did exactly what I hoped they’d do in free agency.

If you remember my brief primer, I suggested the team follow a very similar plan as last season.  Namely, pick up a handful of mid-tier players on reasonable contracts, strengthening the middle of the depth chart.  The team is still in “build” mode, and I’d prefer to maintain flexibility for another year before looking to land a premier player via free agency.  The Eagles did just that, and it bodes well for the future.

Malcolm Jenkins is probably the “biggest” signing, and will help improve the team’s biggest weakness from last year, safety play.  Jenkins isn’t a great player.  However, when you’re replacing Nate Allen (hopefully), you don’t have to be great.  If the Eagles, with Wolff and Jenkins (or whomever else), can get anything close to league-average play from the Safeties next year, the team will be in great shape.  Moving from bad to mediocre can make a bigger impact than moving from mediocre to good.

Nolan Carroll is an interesting addition to the secondary also.  Good size/speed, and at 27 years old, he could contribute for a few years.  He’s not a guy you can pencil in as a starter, but the team sorely needed some competition/depth behind Williams and Fletcher.

Braman and Maragos are both bottom-of-the-roster, special teams guys.  Not much to say here other than to note that Special Teams was very weak last year, despite a good year from Donnie Jones.  In general, I’d like to see the team churn the bottom of the roster a bit more than it did during the latter Andy Reid years.

Darren Sproles was not a free agent signing, but he’s obvious a “major” addition, at least in the mind of the pundits.  I put “major” in quotation marks because I’m not sold.  I like Sproles, but he’s 31 and coming off a poor season by his standards.  Basically, if you think he’s going to be the extra “weapon” we were all hoping for, you’re going to be disappointed.  However, I do think he fills an important need.

The Eagles offense is extremely vulnerable by virtue of the fact that it’s built around a single, elite talent (Shady).  Bryce Brown and Chris Polk are decent backups, but they’re completely different players.  In a pinch, they can handle the carries.  Unfortunately, they don’t provide much of a receiving threat.  Sproles fits that need; he had 71 receptions last season.  It means that if Shady gets injured, the offense won’t have to be completely reworked.  None of the plays will be as effective because nobody is as good as McCoy, but the team won’t lose a significant dimension to the offense.

I don’t see Sproles taking the field much WITH Shady.  I think the team will use him to ease McCoy’s workload a bit, hopefully keeping him healthy and perhaps prolonging his career a bit.  If an injury does occur, Sproles will allow the Eagles to keep operating out of the same general philosophy.

It’s a very expensive insurance policy, for sure, but if the Eagles really do believe they can contend next year, it makes sense to sure up the biggest vulnerability on the team.  Of course, that’s hard to reconcile with letting D-Jax go for nothing….

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11 thoughts on “Free Agency – Eagles Stick to the Plan

  1. Great poiint about Sproles. I didn’t understand why they would sign him given his age, but particularly with Jackson’s apparent demise, the season would have been done if McCoy went down.

    On a happier note – I’ll be glad to see Jackson go. He’s overrated. And Kelly knows it. He’s just too erratic in terms of his production – he disappears when they need him most.

  2. Great to have you back in the states.

    I have the exact opposite take on Sproles – he’s here to provide a 2 back set from which he motions into the slot. It will be a bit similar to what Chip did with jackson last year, except that Sproles will actually be a threat to run the ball between the numbers. Sproles would make a particularly poor insurance policy for the Eagles, as his rushing YAC is very pedestrian. You would want a Bryce/Sproles combo in the back field if Shady went down, which would be easier to implement if the team is used to two back sets (and Sproles motioning to the slot).

    I agree the Jackson situation is nothing short of a full-fledged fiasco. What I am particularly stumped by is that nothing appears to have changed since the season ended: Jackson is still healthy, still not in prison, and the Eagles are still flush with salary space. Getting rid of your top receiver via a firesale and media shitstorm is uncharacteristic of this front office, to say the least. It’s really dumbfounding and mind-boggling to even come up with coherent speculation as to what happened.

    • Agree I think Sproles and Ertz will be Avants replacement.

      All those orbit motions with Jackson or wheel routes will be Sproles now, with Jackson of course still getting some to free him against press CBs.

      If Jackson gets a free release there is only 1 CB in the whole NFL who can stick with him and that is DRC and maybe Patrick Peterson

  3. Probably should mention that Nate Allen resigned with the Eagles on a one year deal. So Malcolm Jenkins is at least replacing Patrick Chung (even better).

    • True. Nate Allen is still on the team, so technically Jenkins replaced Chung. However, I think its fair to expect Jenkins to replace Allen in the starting lineup. That’s a bigger improvement than it seems though, because now Allen gets pushed to 2nd string. I’ve said several times that Allen deserves a roster spot, he was just being asked to play above his role.

      So one mid-tier signing and the Eagles have likely made a substantial improvement at that position…

  4. Sorry to write about DeSean, since there is so much already on this, but I was looking forward to hearing your take on it, and now you’ve written, I’m not sure I agree.

    I think there are 2 issues – 1) decision to try to get rid of DeSean, 2) process of trying to trade him having decided (1). It’s difficult to evaluate (2) not knowing about the position and reactions of other teams, and possibly not knowing important things about DeSean, but I can definitely believe that the team mishandled this.

    However, I don’t find the decision itself particularly strange. Setting aside any talk about attitude, team atmosphere etc, the decision could be based just in salary and replacement considerations. If you believe that the current other receivers and backs plus perhaps a high WR pick in the draft, in the offensive system planned for 2014 and beyond, wouldn’t be much less effective than the team with DeSean, then cutting or trading him frees up a large amount of money that could be used to address other areas.

    I don’t think it helps to say ‘the team has plenty of cap space’ since, with the ability to carry forward unused cap space, there is always some advantage to freeing up even more money for this or future seasons. Renegotiate the contract? Possibly, but, on the evidence of the past, there has to be a concern of being left paying a lot for a receiver who stops performing as well as he could due to dissatisfaction.

    Counterarguments:
    -the loss to the offense will be so large that it would have been worth continuing to pay DeSean. Very possible, but I’m inclined to think the money could be better used elsewhere.
    -even if it improves the team going forward, it makes 2014 worse, and the Eagles should be looking to maximise their chances in 2014. I don’t think I agree with this – looking at most signings (lots of 26-27 year old players), it seems to me the team is trying to make sure they will be strong in later years, though not ignoring 2014 by any means.

    I do agree that the team may have lost the chance at getting something decent in return, by handling things badly, but I see that as a separate issue.

    • Good timing. I was planning a post for either today or tomorrow that discussed this point exactly. The decision to build the team without DeSean is, perhaps, defensible. I don’t agree with it, but I could see the logic in it and Chip certainly deserves the benefit of the doubt on offense right now. However, the method is abysmal and, absent some non-public info, downright incompetent. For that, there’s no excuse.

      I’ll have more on this soon, though, so stay tuned. But it sounds like you and I are on the same page.

  5. Dude,

    You gotta write something on this whole Mark Sanchez business. I was thrown for a loop by the Darren Sproles signing, but even the thought of Mark Sanchez being signed by the Eagles (which ESPN is reporting as a foregone conclusion now) makes no sense to me at all, unless they have completely given up on Barkley OR Kelly/Roseman’s plan is to never invest heavily into a QB. We’ll have to wait a couple of years for Foles’ contract to run out before knowing for sure.

    But even if that is the plan – Sanchez? I don’t get it. I’m not as down on the guy as most are, as I think the Jets are poorly run/coached. But he just isn’t a guy you ‘groom’, given his size and lack of arm. I just don’t see the appeal.

    • I’m at a loss as well. I need to write a lot on DeSean, so that comes first. In the meantime, I’m hoping the Sanchez mess takes care of itself. If it does happen, I’ll definitely have some words about it. I have a VERY low opinion of Mark Sanchez as a QB.

      • I just hope that this isn’t an offseason where we look back and say in a couple of years, “That was the start of when Chip Kelly went from being a genius to a complete buffoon…” Some head-scratching moves recently.

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