Was there a worse collection of wide receivers in the NFL in 2016 than the Eagles' group? Hard to say, but as bad as the unit was, at least they had two things going for them — they were young and cheap. Jordan Matthews was the oldest at 24 years old (once Josh Huff was released, anyway), while Nelson Agholor had the biggest cap hit at a little over $2 million.
That means there might be room for improvement with the players who are already here, and if nothing else, at least the Eagles didn't pay through the nose for such a lousy overall performance.
No doubt, the Eagles will look to upgrade the talent level at the position in the offseason, although it will be interesting to see what they do about Matthews as well. The club's leading receiver is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and happens to be the only wideout on the roster who's established himself as a viable target in the NFL, much less a weapon.
And make no mistake, Matthews is a weapon. While '16 was his worst season yet in terms of production with 73 receptions for 804 and three touchdowns, his first three years in the NFL put him in rare company. He's one of only seven players in history to post at least 225 receptions for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns during that span. The others: Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss.
Matthews is clearly a step down from that who's who of Pro Bowlers. Regardless, he's still incredibly underrated, and as things stand right now, the Eagles probably can't afford to let Matthews go.
While the front office has another year to make that decision, waiting for Matthews to post a career year and then hit the open market ala Jeremy Maclin wouldn't be wise. The Eagles should be proactive this time, even though the result is costs go up for 2017.
Looking at some of the contracts signed by wide receivers in comparable situations last offseason, Matthews' deal won't be cheap. Doug Baldwin, Keenan Allen, Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns all re-upped with their respective clubs for four years at an average over $10 million and going as high as $11.5, with guarantees ranging between $12 and $20 million.
A new deal for Matthews can be structured in such a way that the first season will carry a reduced cap figure, although his number couldn't possibly get any lower than it is now. If the Eagles do this, it will increase spending for '17 — and they should go ahead and do it anyway.
WIDE RECEIVERS UNDER CONTRACT
Like it or not, Agholor is a near lock to make the Eagles' roster in 2016, and it boils down to dollars and cents. Should the 2015 first-round draft pick be released, his cap hit nearly doubles to over $4.94 million due to the remaining prorated bonuses from his rookie contract. If that sounds familiar, it's because the front office ran into essentially the same problem with Marcus Smith this past offseason. It's not like anybody is trading for him, either. Now, if Agholor doesn't show some improvement in training camp or at least carve out a role on special teams, the Eagles could decide the roster spot is more important than money. He wasn't THAT useless though, finishing with 36 receptions for 365 yards and two touchdowns — not so invisible as to eat twice his salary.
Cap Number: $1,574,768
Keep in mind, Matthews also missed two games due to injury this season and was hindered in others. Otherwise, he almost certainly finishes with more yards than his rookie season, and would've had an outside shot to beat out his career high for receptions and yards set last season. The complaints about dropped passes are warranted. The knock that Matthews hasn't recorded a 1,000-yard season is not, when just last year he racked up 85 catches, 997 yards and eight scores. Think what he could do with Carson Wentz entering his second season and another quality receiver on the outside to draw some of the attention away. Matthews may have a couple of Pro Bowls in him yet.
Cap Number: $944,418
At least Green-Beckham had somewhat of an excuse for his last of production. The second-year pro only joined the Eagles by way of trade with the Titans in August, and by all accounts, he's not the type who's going to pick up a brand new offense in record time. Regardless, DGB's struggles went beyond numbers. It's amazing that somebody with his size and speed can't seem to threaten defenses perfectly or make the occasional acrobatic catch. Even the routine grabs were troublesome, as evidence by his 48.6 percent catch rate. That being said, he still managed to finish with almost identical numbers to Agholor (36 rec., 392 yds., 2 TD). Green-Beckham is young, gifted athletically, and there's no risk in bringing him to camp — his entire salary can be recovered in the event of his release.
Cap Number: $540,000
For a brief period in the wake of Josh Huff's release, it appeared Treggs might actually have a shot to make an impact. In his first game active, the undrafted rookie out of Cal caught two passes for 69 yards against the Giants, including a 59-yard grab that turned out to be the longest play by an Eagles receiver all season. Treggs' success turned out to be short-lived, however, as he wound up catching just one more ball the rest of the way. He has tremendous speed, but little else going for him. The Eagles nabbed Treggs off waivers from the 49ers after cut-down day and stashed him on the 53-man roster, but he'll have to show more in '17 to make the team again.
Cap Number: $540,000
Turner was the official Eagles preseason darling and leading the NFL with 17 receptions and 165 yards over four exhibition games. That didn't manifest itself in an opportunity to come off the practice squad and play until Week 12, and even then, he didn't see the field much. Outside of six catches for 80 yards in a Week 13 beatdown at the hands of the Bengals, Turner appeared in only three more games and caught only three more passes. He's undersized at 5-foot-9 and doesn't provide much value on special teams, making for a difficult path to the roster. Best guess is Turner would have to outperform DGB to merit a spot on the roster, although that's before seeing any other moves the club might make.
One of three receivers to sign a futures contract at the conclusion of the season, Watford signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie out of Hampton, where he played quarterback. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he has good size, although the Eagles probably view him as more as a good athlete to keep around on the scout team than a prospect at wideout.
Johnson was also brought in as an undrafted rookie out of Texas and initially made the Eagles' practice squad, but was released after Sam Bradford was traded to make room for emergency quarterback Aaron Murray. Johnson was eventually restored to the scout team in December, but obviously he's not a priority prospect.
Does this name ring a bell? The Eagles originally signed Bailey was an undrafted rookie in 2015 out Division III Delaware Valley, where he absolutely crushed the competition, finishing his senior year with 80 catches, 1,707 yards and 19 touchdowns. He's since spent time on the practice squads of the Jaguars and Chargers, but just on Wednesday he returned to the Eagles on a futures deal. While a fan favorite, Bailey has been three places now and has yet to crack a 53-man roster, so don't count on his fortunes changing in his second stint with the Eagles. Then again, in this receiving corps, you can't exactly rule anything out, either.
* Ages as of 12/31/17