2016 NFL Season Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

Free Agent Additions: 
QB Chase Daniel, WR Rueben Randle, WR Chris Givens, G Brandon Brooks, C/G Stefen Wisniewski, DT Mike Martin, OLB Nigel Bradham, CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Ron Brooks, S Rodney McLeod
Early Draft Picks: 
QB Carson Wentz, G/C Isaac Seumalo
Free Agent Departures: 
QB Mark Sanchez, RB DeMarco Murray, DT Cedric Thornton, ILB Kiko Alonso, CB Byron Maxwell, S Walter Thurmond.

2016 Philadelphia Eagles Offense: 
As the old saying goes: “You can never have too many guys that can get to the quarterback(s)”. The Eagles traded for Sam Bradford last year, and then signed him to a 2 year, $36M contract on the first day of free agency last March. Then, 8 days later, they signed Chase Daniel to be an expensive backup with a 3 year, $21M contract. If that wasn’t enough, the Eagles thought Carson Wentz a can’t miss prospect, so much to the chagrin of Bradford, they mortgaged their future to trade up and draft him. Wentz better turn out to be a great quarterback. He has reportedly done a great job of learning the playbook, so he could see action earlier than most think, but it may be better to sit him out for a year, especially after the front office gave Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel so much money this offseason. Bradford, of course, is the incumbent, but he does not have the advantage because he’s behind Wentz in studying the playbook, thanks to his 2-week binge of pouting about how life is unfair despite being paid far more than what he’s worth. Daniel, meanwhile, knows new coach Doug Pederson’s offense because he just came over from Kansas City with Pederson. He was paid more than an ordinary backup this spring, so it’s very possible that he could be the starter for half the year. All three quarterbacks are getting equal reps in training camp.

One of the reasons why the Eagles will have a difficult time of reaching the playoffs this season is a lack of play-makers. Jordan Matthews had a solid sophomore campaign, catching 85 passes for 997 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s currently Philadelphia’s No.1 receiver, but he wouldn’t be that on most teams. He’s more of a secondary option as a possession guy. Unfortunately, he is already out a few weeks with a knee injury. Nelson Agholor, chosen in the first round last year, didn’t catch more than three passes in any game as a rookie. He logged 23 receptions in total, but he still has time to develop. The same can be said for Josh Huff. The Eagles didn’t acquire any receivers in the draft, but did sign Rueben Randle and Chris Givens in free agency. Neither is expected to do very much beyond provide middling depth, however.

Philadelphia has one other solid receiving target. That would be tight end Zach Ertz, who was given a $42.5 million contract this offseason. Ertz is physically gifted, but needs to work on being more consistent. He started slowly in 2015, but lit it up at the end of the season. Those who think that this bodes well for 2016 need to recall that Ertz did the exact same thing the year before.

The Eagles also have problems in the backfield. DeMarco Murray is gone, so Ryan Mathews remains the starter. Mathews was better than Murray last year because he was a better fit in Chip Kelly’s offense. However, Mathews is too injury-prone to be relied upon. If he gets hurt once again, the Eagles will have to utilize Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner in some rotation. Smallwood is already dealing with a minor injury.

On a positive note, the offensive line might be better. The Eagles found an upgrade in free agency, signing Brandon Brooks away from the Texans. Brooks isn’t great by any means, but he was a solid pass protector for Houston last year. He’ll start in the interior along with the underwhelming Allen Barbre and center Jason Kelce, who didn’t enjoy the best 2015 campaign. Kelce wasn’t horrible or anything, but he was expected to be better. He’s likely to rebound.

“Might” was the key word in the opening sentence of the previous paragraph because it’s unclear how left tackle Jason Peters will perform. Peters has been one of the best blind-side protectors in the NFL over the past decade, but at 34, he’s starting to slow down. Peters had a down 2015 campaign, but was dealing with back problems. If healthy, perhaps he can bounce back. Lane Johnson, expected to take over for Peters, will continue to play well on the right side.

2016 Philadelphia Eagles Defense: 
The Eagles’ problems don’t exactly end on offense, they also have some issues at corner, and they couldn’t exactly do much about it during the draft because they surrendered so many picks for Wentz. They did sign a couple of players in free agency, however, including a stellar safety who should help to improve what has been a very bad secondary.

That player is former Ram Rodney McLeod. He thrived in St. Louis, which would explain why Philadelphia gave him $37 million over five years. McLeod will help fill the void created by Walter Thurmond’s retirement. Thurmond was one of only two Philadelphia defensive backs who performed well on a consistent basis last season. The other is fellow safety Malcolm Jenkins, who enjoyed a prolific 2015 campaign.

At corner, Byron Maxwell is gone, but that doesn’t matter because he was terrible anyway. The top remaining corners entering the offseason were Eric Rowe and Nolan Carroll. Rowe struggled as a second-round rookie last year, but definitely has potential and is looking good in camp. Carroll, meanwhile, was just average last year, so he’s not much of a liability. The Eagles signed former Bills Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks for depth, but as Bills fans will attest, McKelvin shouldn’t see the field too often.

Things get better in the front seven. Philadelphia also signed former Bill Nigel Bradham. Bradham was good in 2014, but struggled last year because he didn’t fit well into Rex Ryan’s scheme, prompting the Bills to part ways with him. It was important to add him, as the Eagles will be transitioning back to the 4-3 after Chip Kelly nonsensically moved to a 3-4. Bradham will start along with Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks will be relegated to two downs, as he’s forceful versus the run, but weak in coverage. Hicks, on the other hand, thrived as a rookie until he was lost for the season with a torn pectoral.

As for the defensive line, the same personnel are pretty much in place even though the Eagles are shifting to a different formation. The sole difference is that Mike Martin will be a depth player in the interior instead of Cedric Thornton. Martin is a quality defender, so he should be solid behind All-Pro Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan, a monstrous run-stuffer. Cox is the best player on Philadelphia’s roster.

Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham won’t be standing up anymore, but they’ll continue to rush opposing passers from the edge. Graham had a great 2015 campaign, while Barwin had a bit of a disappointing season. Curry is in line to have a breakout season in 2016.

2016 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule and Intangibles: 
Philadelphia has an awful homefield advantage. The team hasn’t put together a winning record at the Linc in five of the past six seasons, owning a 22-28 record in that span. Oddly enough, the Eagles are 27-21 as visitors in that time frame.

The Eagles were an average kickoff team in 2015, but because of Darren Sproles, their punt game was incredible. They outgained opponents by 6.3 yards and scored twice.

Cody Parker played in just three games last year because of a groin injury. He hit 32-of-36 attempts in 2014, including a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond 50.

Donnie Jones ranked just 19th in net punting in 2014, but redeemed himself this past season, finishing sixth in that department.

Philadelphia’s first five games are: Browns, @ Bears (Monday night), Steelers, @ Lions, and @ Redskins, so there’s potential for perhaps a 3-2 start. However, things get much more difficult later on in the season, as they play the Packers, Vikings, Bengals, and Seahawks.

2016 Philadelphia Eagles Positional Rankings (1-5 stars): 

eagles stars

2016 Philadelphia Eagles Analysis: Unfortunately for Eagles fans, this is pretty much a lost season already. Bradford is just a placeholder, their receivers need to develop, and they need a dependable running back. Optimism will come in the form of limiting the number of blowouts (their defense should be able to do that), as well as how hard the team still plays if (when) they have a not so desirable record late in the season. If that happens, the Eagles will have a keeper at coach who will then learn and grow with his new franchise quarterback.

Projection: 6-10 (4th in NFC East)

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