10 observations from the Eagles' offseason

10 observations from the Eagles' offseason

March 15, 2014, 5:30 pm
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The Eagles could re-sign safety Nate Allen for depth reasons. (USA Today Images)

Ten observations about free agency while lamenting the end of the Joe Anderson era in Philadelphia. It was a heck of a 35 days, Joe!

1. I had mixed feelings at first about the Darren Sproles trade. Sproles’ return numbers were way down last year, his rushing numbers were down, he turns 31 this summer, and I just wasn’t sure how much he has left or where he would fit in. But for a fifth-round pick? Why not? There is no downside. Sproles still caught 71 passes last year, and all it cost was the pick the Eagles got from the Patriots for free-agent bust Isaac Sopoaga. I’m intrigued to see what Chip Kelly can do with a talent like Sproles -- a guy with a 5.1 career rushing average, 378 career catches and 43 touchdowns in seven seasons (see story). How would you like to be the defense that has to prepare for Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Darren Sproles?

2. Here’s a name to watch as the Eagles look for safety depth: Nate Allen. Whattttttttt?????? Seriously. I still expect the Eagles to sign another veteran safety and draft at least one, but don’t be surprised if the Eagles re-sign Allen as a depth guy. He knows the defense, and he played far better last year than he had since before he got hurt as a rookie. Plus, here’s a guy who hasn’t had the same defensive coordinator two straight years since he was in college. Give him another year under Billy Davis, and Allen should be even better. If Patrick Chung and Allen are your top two safeties, not an ideal situation. But if you have Malcolm Jenkins and, say, Calvin Pryor as starters and Allen and Earl Wolff backing up, I’m OK with that.

3. I’m sure Nolan Carroll is an upgrade over Roc Carmichael, Curtis Marsh and Jordan Poyer, the guys who manned the third outside cornerback spot a year ago. Still, I’m not positive keeping Brandon Boykin inside all the time is the way to go here. Boykin was second in the NFL with six interceptions last year despite playing just 52 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. The Eagles don’t have a ton of playmakers on defense. Why keep maybe their best playmaker on the bench half the game every week? I could see last year, when Boykin was a 22-year-old in a new system, and Davis wanted him to focus on learning the slot and not being distracted by swinging back and forth from inside to outside. But this coming year? Boykin is going into his third season and his second year in Davis' system. His comfort level is obviously very high. The Eagles can’t afford to have him on the bench 48 percent of the time. Boykin needs to play.

4. Another dimension of Boykin’s role is his contract. Boykin is going into the third year of his rookie contract, and since he was only a fourth-round pick, he’s due to earn just $570,000 this year and $660,000 in 2015. The Eagles will certainly try to rework his deal when they can, after this season, or they’ll risk losing him in free agency after 2015. But Boykin would never stick around if he’s not projected as a starter and, more importantly, paid as a starter. The Eagles can’t afford to lose him. So at some point, he has to move outside.

5. At the Maxwell Club presser Friday in Atlantic City, N.J., Chip Kelly was given every opportunity to affirm DeSean Jackson as a big part of the Eagles’ plans moving forward, but he ducked the question about Jackson’s future with a joke (see video). That’s a common Kelly device -- ducking questions he doesn’t want to answer with jokes. Not sure it means the Eagles are disenchanted enough with Jackson to move him, but he could have said, “Come on, DeSean’s our guy, he’s not going anywhere,” and ended the speculation. And he opted not to.

6. The combine … free agency … the 2014 schedule release … the draft … OTAs … minicamps … has anybody noticed that the NFL offseason is bigger than any other sport’s season?

7. I appreciate the Eagles' sticking to their offseason plan of adding mid-range free agents, avoiding the big-name overpriced guys and avoiding older players who were Pro Bowlers maybe three or four years ago but are now on the decline. I do believe building through the draft is the way to build a winner. But I keep asking myself … how much have the Eagles really improved themselves on defense? They upgraded one safety spot -- significantly but not dramatically -- but that’s it. Now, I do think guys like Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Bennie Logan, Boykin and Cedric Thornton -- who are all in that 23-to-25 range -- will keep improving. And if the Eagles continue drafting as well as they have the last two years, they will add a few more key components on defense. But is it enough? Can those guys combined with the veterans like Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher grow into a championship defense? The Eagles believe they can. I still think they need a star or two, a stud or two, and I don’t see those guys currently on the roster.

8. One guy I’m really curious about moving forward is Matt Barkley. I lean toward ignoring all the interceptions last year -- two more than Nick Foles in 268 fewer attempts -- because of the situations he was in, Eagles trailing big, forced to throw every snap. He did enough good things in his cameos, showing very good rhythm and some zip on his passes, that I haven’t ruled him out as No. 2 next year. I’d bring in a veteran and have them compete for the backup spot, but I still think there’s a chance Barkley, going into his second year in the system, with his shoulder finally healthy, could be a viable backup to Foles. Heck, at one point Barkley was projected as a first-round pick. He’s smart, certainly not lacking confidence, works hard, 23 years old with a lot of upside. Maybe it sounds nuts considering how poorly he played last year, but I think he’s going to be OK.

9. Speaking of that veteran backup quarterback, how about Jason Campbell? I think he’s the best of the guys on the street. Heck, he went 11-7 as a starter for the Raiders in 2010 and 2011, and anybody who has a winning record for the Raiders has done something rare. Campbell is a 60 percent career quarterback with an 81.8 passer rating. And he always played well against the Eagles. He’s smart, a good teammate, experienced, put up decent numbers on an awful Browns team last year. And no doubt Kelly will like his 5.0 career rushing average.

10. We’ve spent so much time this offseason talking about pass rushers and safeties it’s been easy to forget how awful most facets of Eagles special teams were last year, so additions like Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman and -- potentially -- Sproles are big. Not to mention re-signing punter Donnie Jones, one of the few positives on special teams last year. The Eagles last year were 25th in the NFL in kick return average (21.4) and 27th in punt return average (6.6), and Maragos and Braman should help. The Eagles were pretty good covering kicks and punts (sixth vs. punts, eighth vs. kicks), although the last kickoff of the year was the most damaging and the one we remember the most. Field position is so crucial, and these moves should help.