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Has the Eagles' Roster Turnover Created a Contender?
Coach Kelly takes over the decision making
A series of events in the Eagles' front office this offseason led to Chip Kelly taking over the decision making on players to bring in. After stumbling to a 10-6 finish last season, change has come to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015.. Throughout the 2014 season the team had proved to need significant upgrades in the secondary, an upgrade at the quarterback position if possible, and they needed to find a way to generate a downhill running game. These needs had the potential to create a roster overhaul in the offseason, and after a week of rapid fire moves being made, the Eagles have arrived at the point where their needs have diminished as they head into the draft. After seeing number one receiver Jeremy Maclin sign a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Eagles have a need for another receiver. Without a deep talent pool at the safety position in free agency, the Eagles were not able to acquire the player that they believe is their starting strong safety for the 2015 season. With Todd Herremans heading to the Colts as a free agent and Evan Mathis possibly on his way out of town, the Eagles also have a need at the guard position in the upcoming draft. The offseason has brought significant roster turnover to the Philadelphia Eagles, but if they come out of this process with more than they had before, they may prove that a contender can be built in one offseason through the strategic use of resources and assets.
The Eagles' running back situation
When the Eagles traded LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills, they experienced a cap savings of about 12 million dollars. They reinvested that savings back into the running back position by signing two downhill runners to replace LeSean McCoy. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews bring the athleticism and strength that the Eagles need in order to maintain a strong running attack in between the tackles. While both runners have had injuries issues in the past, the combination of the two of them should work to allow them to stay more healthy in 2015 as complements to each other. The Eagles ended up spending a combined average annual salary of about 11 million dollars on both running backs, to almost fully reinvest the money LeSean McCoy would have been paid, back into the running back position. Murray and Matthews join Darren Sproles in the Eagles' backfield, which is likely to limit Sproles to punt return and third down duties. Overall the Eagles were able to improve their running back position with the variety of moves they made, by equipping their backfield with the workhorses necessary to establish an identity as a downhill running team.
How was the defense upgraded?
The Eagles offseason moves worked to upgrade the defense significantly, even though the team still has a need at strong safety. The first significant upgrade happened in the LeSean McCoy trade that allowed the Eagles to add impact linebacker Kiko Alonso, who was coming off an ACL injury that kept him out for the 2014 season. Kiko Alonso gives the Eagles a young option to put next to the impact inside linebacker they already have in place, in Mychal Kendricks. While the Eagles did lose Trent Cole as a cap casualty at the outside linebacker position, they were able to bring back Brandon Graham to join Connor Barwin as the team's starting outside linebackers. After a year of development, outside linebacker Marcus Smith could be ready to join the team's rotation of pass rushers in 2015. This gives the Eagles at least three outside linebackers, and at least three inside linebackers that they are comfortable giving significant playing time to. By recently extending the contract of inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles insured they would keep three strong inside linebacker options with the team for the coming season. This could lead to the Eagles employing a rotation at both inside and outside linebacker to keep players fresh enough to stay effective throughout a full season.
The Eagles defensive upgrades went beyond just the linebacker position though, as the team brought in two new starting cornerbacks to help improve the secondary. Byron Maxwell was brought in to be the Eagles number one cornerback, and Walter Thurmond was brought in to start opposite him. With Thurmond coming off an injury, the Eagles offseason theme was acquiring players with a significant injury history or were coming off an injury of some kind. This trend has some risk attached to it, but the Eagles medical staff believes that by employing Chip Kelly's version of sports science can help all of these players return to full strength. The two players acquired, when healthy form a fantastic cornerback combination that excels in press coverage due to their size. Maxwell and Thurmond are joined by three cornerbacks that the Eagles had last season, in Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll and second year player Jaylen Watkins. Each of these players has experience from last season with the team, and they are all solid options to take the field in nickel defensive packages. The Eagles may ask Nolan Carroll to help to fill the void left at the strong safety position, but with Earl Wolffe under contract with the team at the safety position, the Eagles could use their first round pick on a player like Landon Collins out of Alabama to address this need.
The Eagles' wide receiver situation
A 2014 rookie, Jordan Matthews currently holds the top wide receiver spot on the Eagles' depth chart after Jeremy Maclin joined the Chiefs this offseason. Another 2014 rookie in Josh Huff, and 2013 breakout player Riley Cooper, join Jordan Matthews as the Eagles top three wide receivers. After a somewhat productive season with the Browns in 2014, the Eagles have signed veteran Miles Austin to help provide their team with necessary depth at the wide receiver position. Even after this signing, the Eagles will still need to draft at least one wide receiver in the upcoming NFL Draft. Phillip Dorsett out of Miami has the speed to make him a great fit with the team, and he might be available for the Eagles to select in the third round of the draft. Since the Eagles are strong at the tight end position, having elite wide receivers is not something they need to have, but the key to having productive receivers in 2015, will be to have an efficient passer getting them the football.
Is Sam Bradford the answer at quarterback?
Injuries have been the story of Sam Bradford's career after only playing in 49 games through his first five seasons in the NFL. Bradford has shown flashes of his ability at the quarterback position throughout his career, but a torn ACL suffered in the preseason of 2014 prevented him from playing his first season in the league where he would have had a strong offensive line and sufficient offensive weapons to work with. As he now heads into the prime years of his career, NFL fans are still waiting to see him produce a season that would suggest he was worthy of being drafted with the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. The Philadelphia Eagles will look to provide him with the opportunity that he missed out on in 2014. For the Eagles, after a 2014 season in which their quarterbacks suffered from inconsistent performances, they will look to help Bradford make the most of his arm strength and accuracy. There is some risk attached to giving Bradford the starting quarterback job after coming off two separate ACL surgeries, but as long as he is able to complete the rehabilitation program, he can be a strong contributor for Philadelphia in 2015. Bradford gets the change of scenery he needed in order to have success, and the Eagles get a player who is heading into the years where most athletes are able to perform to their peak potential in what is known as the prime years of their career.
Have the Eagles built a legitimate contender?
After addressing the biggest needs in the secondary, the Eagles now have what it takes to compete at a high level defensively. It is still in their best interest to address their need for a strong safety early in the draft, while using their second round draft pick on a guard to help build a strong offensive line for their new quarterback. The Eagles have done enough this offseason to put the personnel in place for a contending team that can be strengthened through the draft. By accumulating the necessary depth this offseason, the Eagles have created what could become a contending roster if the team is able to develop the chemistry needed for success early on together. In 2012, a big offseason did not work for the Eagles, and ultimately led to Andy Reid getting fired. This time around, the Eagles were filling needs rather than just signing players because they had money to spend. With specific roles in place for every player acquired, the Eagles have a plan in place for success in 2015 and beyond.