Stay or Leave: Early look at Eagles’ 2014 free agents

Stay or Leave: Early look at Eagles’ 2014 free agents

While it came too early this year—as it does too often around these parts—the offseason is one of the best things about the NFL. Organizations construct their rosters through free agency and the draft, and we get to play along as fantasy general managers, dissecting each decision along the way.

As always, we'll be examining each position and several players on their own in-depth as we dig in for a long winter. First thing's first though, and that is the Philadelphia Eagles will have decisions to make on some of their own free agents before they start signing players away from other teams.

For this preliminary look ahead, we simply asked which Birds free agents will be back next season

Nate Allen

Went from looking like a surefire bust to the Eagles’ most-improved player. Took his lumps early in the season, but wound up being a rock at safety in the end. Still wasn’t much of a playmaker, recording one sack, one forced fumble and one interception in 16 games.

At 26, the question is whether what we saw was Allen’s ceiling. If it is, you could do worse back there, but it’s a deep free-agent class at safety if the front office is willing to invest. Somebody will probably make him a starter again, it just shouldn’t necessarily be the Birds. Leave

Colt Anderson

The Eagles only have two safeties under contract heading into 2014 (and one of them is Patrick Chung), so they should probably re-sign somebody for some continuity. Colt has the least ability of the impending free agents. He does have a reputation as a strong special teams player, but he’s a liability on defense. Leave

Kurt Coleman

A two-year starter at safety, I’d be more comfortable with Coleman back there than Anderson in a pinch. Plus, according to metrics site Pro Football Focus, Coleman actually had a better season on special teams. As reserves go, the Eagles could do worse. Stay

Clifton Geathers

Was part of the rotation along the defensive line this year, but he had minimal impact. At 6’8”, 340 pounds, his build is almost too awkward for the NFL. It’s too easy for offensive linemen to get under Geathers’ pads. Can’t see him ever improving. Leave

Phillip Hunt (restricted)

One of the defensive ends attempting to make the transition to outside linebacker in the Eagles 3-4, Hunt missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL suffered at training camp. I would expect the team to tender him, but he’s a long shot to make the roster, so maybe they give him a shot to catch on somewhere else. Whether he’s back in camp this summer or not, his days are likely numbered. Leave

Donnie Jones

Has anybody ever used the franchise tag on a punter before? I’m not joking. Jones won the Eagles some games with that fine left leg of his, putting 33 punts inside the opposition’s 20-yard line in 2013—a franchise record. Arguably the club’s most important free agent. Stay

Jeremy Maclin

Imagine how much better the Eagles’ offense would’ve been with a healthy Jeremy Maclin to take pressure off of DeSean Jackson. Riley Cooper picked up some of the slack in the wake of Maclin’s torn ACL, but let’s not forget we’re talking about a wide receiver who was widely considered a top-10 talent back in the ‘09 draft.

Maclin has never quite reached the proverbial next level, posting career highs of 70 receptions, 964 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010. Then again, we just saw Jackson and LeSean McCoy reach new highs under Chip Kelly, and at 26 years old, Maclin could do the same. Philadelphia can possibly retain him on a two-year “prove it” deal. Stay

Riley Cooper

Was useless for the first five weeks of the season, catching all of eight passes. Over the next five games, he posted all three of his 100-yard performance and hauled in six of his eight touchdowns. Down the stretch, he was ordinary at best.

The 2010 fifth-round pick exceeded most people’s expectations by becoming a competent No. 2 receiver in Maclin’s absence. You could see Cooper has a rapport with Nick Foles, and is a willing blocker which is vital in Chip Kelly’s scheme. Somebody is going to throw a lot of money and years at a 26-year-old wide receiver that stands 6’3” and just posted an 800-yard/eight-touchdown season, but he’s too feast or famine for my taste. Leave

Cedric Thornton (exclusive rights)

Exclusive rights basically equates to a restricted free agent, only better. As long as the Eagles tender him, they own his rights in 2014. According to Pro Football Focus, Thornton was one of the top run defenders in the league this season. He’s completely one-dimensional, but very good at that dimension. Stay

Michael Vick

Vick’s future is really out of his hands. He’d like to start, but there might be just a few organizations left that will consider a 34-year-old signal-caller with two career playoff wins.

If the Eagles are serious about winning a Super Bowl in the next year or two though, having a veteran backup around would be wise, and Vick is clearly the best option. He knows the offense and is great in the locker room. Plus, No. 7 might be at his most dangerous when he’s coming off the bench against a team that wasn’t preparing for him. Would love to see him back for another year. Stay

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles-Redskins 5 things: One-side rivalry and it's getting ugly

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles +2.5

With a 5-7 record, the Eagles may be all but eliminated from postseason contention, although if they're not going to the playoffs, at least they can take a division rival down with them.

At 6-5-1, the Washington Redskins still have a shot at the playoffs, but a loss at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday could prove devastating to their cause. And while playing the role of spoiler might not be what the Eagles had in mind at this point in the year, should they manage to come away with the win, their own slim hopes aren't necessarily finished just yet.

In other words, there's plenty left to play for this week. That, plus an opportunity to reverse some disturbing trends should be motivation enough.

1. It's getting ugly
The fact that the Eagles enter Sunday mired in a three-game losing streak is only part of the problem. It's how they're losing.

The Eagles have actually dropped seven of their last nine, but at one point, they were at least competitive. Their first four defeats were all by a touchdown or less, or an average just under five points per game. None of the last three have been particularly close however, and the disparity has only gotten worse — by 11 against the Seattle Seahawks, by 14 to the Green Bay Packers and by 18 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Most distressing during that span is the lack of offensive production by the Eagles, averaging exactly 14 points per game during the streak and topping out at 15 in Seattle. Their previous low score this season was 20.

It's getting late in the year, when fatigue and injuries can take their toll on a young, thin roster, which is what's happening here. Regardless, the Eagles need to show some signs of life this week, before this season spirals completely out of control

2. One-sided rivalry
Though these NFC East foes meet twice per season, you have to go back more than two full calendar years to find the last time the Eagles were victorious in the series.

The last time the Eagles defeated Washington was in September 2014 in a thrilling 37-34 tilt at the Linc. Since then, the Redskins have taken ownership of the rivalry, winning four straight matchups for the first time since 1985-87.

The current streak has been especially depressing however, as it's also served to eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention each of the past two seasons. While that wouldn't be the case this time around in any technical sense, a loss would make a playoff berth almost impossible to secure.

If nothing else, the Eagles are playing for pride Sunday. After all, nobody wants to let an opponent they see twice a year secure the kind of bragging rights Washington holds now.

3. Anomaly or cause for concern?
Last time these two teams met, the Eagles authored one of their worst defensive performances of the season. 26 first downs and 493 yards of total offense surrendered remain season highs, although perhaps most alarming was the way the unit was gashed on the ground.

Washington ran for 230 yards in the 27-20 win, as Matt Jones racked up 135 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries with a long gain of 57 to pace the offense, while Robert Kelley ripped off a 45-yarder as well. As inconsistent as they are, this was very unlike the Eagles. Only three other opponents have even gone over the century mark against this group, so it's one thing they generally do well.

The question is whether the Eagles were merely having a bad day, as they are prone to do, or if Washington exploited something. Defensive tackle Bennie Logan was injured in the second quarter, a huge blow to the run defense — although it was struggling before that happened.

One thing is certain, and that is the Eagles can't let anything like it happen again on Sunday. All three games this season in which the defense gave up over 150 yards on the ground have resulted in losses.

4. Can't stop, won't stop?
It's official: Kirk Cousins has the Eagles' number. Not only does Washington's franchise quarterback hold a 3-1 record in the series, but he's carved up his division rival with surgical precision while doing it.

Cousins had a ho-hum day in their first meeting this season, completing 18 of 34 passes for 264 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His line over four games is far more impressive, as he's averaging 336.3 passing yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Meanwhile, Cousins has not experienced quite such loft success against the rest of the NFC East, with a combined record of 3-7 against the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. He's played particularly poor against the Giants, throwing for fewer total yards than he has against Eagles in one less game, with five touchdowns to eight picks. It definitely seems like an Eagles thing.

And Cousins' game is likely continue to be successful against this Eagles defense. He likes to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which this secondary really struggles against, and he has the receivers to do it. Even in a losing effort, his numbers should look pretty good.

5. A peek at the standings
As unlikely the playoffs may be, the Eagles have a shot if they can turn their fortunes around against Washington.

If either the Atlanta Falcons or Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose Sunday, the Eagles can be no worse than one game back of the NFC's sixth and final playoff berth. That doesn't begin to delve into any tiebreakers, and as many as five teams could still be ahead in line for that spot — including Washington — but it would be a start.

Do the Eagles even belong in the playoffs? Would they honestly have a chance if they made it? Would missing out this season and getting a higher draft pick be better for the franchise anyway? Those are questions for another column.

All we're saying is there's a chance.

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

Eagles-Redskins predictions by our (cough) experts

The Eagles (5-7) come into Sunday's game against the Redskins (6-5-1) on a three-game losing streak.

The Redskins exposed the Eagles' defense the last time these two teams met almost two months ago on Oct. 16.

Here are our (cough) expert predictions for this Week 14 matchup.

Dave Zangaro (4-8)
After losing three straight games, I couldn't pick the Eagles against just about any team in the NFL. Maybe Cleveland. Maybe Chicago. 

But against Washington? Nah. Can't do it. 

Sure, I know Washington comes into the Linc on a two-game losing streak, and they're clearly not a top team in the NFC. It just doesn't matter. Kirk Cousins is a decent quarterback and Washington clearly has enough weapons to shred the Eagles like they did for 493 yards in the first meeting. 

For the Eagles' offense, Carson Wentz hasn't looked good in a long time and this week he enters with a few of his skill position players banged up. 

This looks like another loss to me. 

Washington 26, Eagles 20

Derrick Gunn (5-7)
The Eagles are an embarrassed, desperate team, and a win over the Redskins could lift the weight of what has been a downward spiral. Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews returned to practice this week, but can they jolt this offense back to life? Carson Wentz has played like a rookie the last three games, and the once stout defense has crumbled.

So here come the Redskins, losers of two in a row but still very much in the playoff conversation. The Redskins' defense is beat up and could be missing several key players, but unfortunately for the Eagles, Washington's offensive weapons are relatively healthy, except for tight end Jordan Reed, who's listed as questionable with an AC joint sprain. Matt Jones and Robert Kelley pack a punch out of the backfield. 

Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been in a zone. Over their last six games, Cousins has averaged 352.6 passing yards, plus he's thrown 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. 

The Eagles remember what Washington did to them back in Week 6, but I feel their revenge motives will fall short.

Redskins 27, Eagles 17

Ray Didinger (5-7) 
With all the talk this week about effort and players dogging it, I fully expect the Eagles to come out focused and fired up at home Sunday. Here's the problem: I just don't know if they are good enough to win the game. Motivation is one thing, but talent is another and right now, the Eagles are lacking in that area.
 
The players have been called out by their coach, by the media and by the fans so if they have any pride at all they will come out and play hard against the Redskins but I look at the matchup of this Eagles' secondary against the Washington receivers — especially a hot DeSean Jackson (25.3 yards per catch the last three games) — and I don't see a happy result.
 
Redskins 24, Eagles 17

Andrew Kulp (6-6)
Not sure if the Eagles really are in freefall mode or if they've simply been unable to overcome injuries while facing some better than advertised opponents. Either way, they have plenty to play for, because Washington has been embarrassing them for awhile now. With Jordan Matthews back and against a less than stellar D, I predict an end to the losing streak, so long as they finally come up with an answer for Kirk Cousins.

Eagles 26, Redskins 24

Corey Seidman (5-7)
Close game, better performance from Carson Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with DeSean Jackson and Jamison Crowder, over the middle with Jordan Reed and short with Pierre Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27

Andy Schwartz (5-7)
It's simply come to this. I can't pick the Eagles to win a game the rest of the season until they do.

I want to think the offense will benefit from the return of Ryan Mathews and Jordan Matthews. And I want to think the defense will play with desperation and break out of its "slump" and make some big plays.

But I won't believe it until I see it.

Redskins 24, Eagles 16