If you’re an Eagles fan, now would be an excellent time to take a winter’s nap.
With the exception of hiring a replacement for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and a likely – and very necessary – restructuring of the team’s crowded offensive coaching staff, there’s not going to be a lot of news coming from One NovaCare Way until the April 29 draft. OK, maybe the departure of a $128 million quarterback. But that’s it.
Despite his team’s worst finish in eight years, owner Jeffrey Lurie is retaining both his general manager, Howie Roseman, and his head coach, Doug Pederson. So there’s nothing to see there.
Free agency will get underway in mid-March, but the Eagles will be watching that parade of talent go by thanks to the money they’re paying that $128 million quarterback and Roseman’s fondness for restructuring contracts.
So, that leaves the draft.
Thanks to Sunday night’s 20-14 tanking to Washington -- and it was a tanking for the ages -- the Eagles will have the sixth pick in the draft. That’s their highest pick since they traded up to get the $128 million quarterback, Carson Wentz, in 2016.
It’s way too early to know what they’re going to do with that pick. But it’s certainly not too early to speculate about it. And since they’re not going to be able to afford any difference-making free agents, it’s safe to say that their needs now are pretty much what their needs are going to be in late April, which include a cornerback presence opposite Darius Slay, offensive and defensive line depth, a playmaking three-down linebacker and yes, yet another wide receiver.
Given the Eagles’ tight cap situation and their need to get younger, there’s a good chance they’ll be looking to trade out of the 6th spot and acquire multiple picks.
This is a particularly good year to want to do that because of all the quarterback-needy teams in the league and three quarterbacks – Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, and Ohio State’s Justin Fields -- all projected to be among the first six or seven players off the board. So, if they want to move down, there likely will be some opportunities.
That’s assuming, of course, that the Eagles aren’t interested in drafting Wilson or Fields. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Not for Willy Wonka and the rest of the guys down at the Quarterback Factory.
Let’s look at some other possibilities that could cause them to stay put at six:
The Eagles think, but don’t know for sure, that they have two pretty good left tackle options in Andre Dillard and Jordan Mailata, even if Dillard missed the entire year with a biceps injury and Mailata is just four years removed from playing rugby.
But if Oregon’s Penei Sewell, who figures to be the first non-quarterback off the board, somehow, someway slides to the Eagles, they ain’t passing him up.
NFL Network draft analyst Ben Fennell has compared the 6-foot-6, 331-pound Sewell to Hall of Famer Walter Jones. “He’s the best offensive tackle prodigy we’ve seen in years,” Fennell said. “I’ve compared him to Jones. He’s also been likened to [two other Hall of Famers] Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Pace and other elite offensive tackles that have played in the league in the last 25-30 years.”
Cornerback clearly is a position of need for the Eagles. They have to find someone to pair with Slay. Avonte Maddox is not the answer on the outside. The 5-9 Maddox belongs either back in the slot or at safety. The top two corner prospects in this draft – Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley – both will be available at six and probably a few picks later if the Eagles wanted to trade down.
The 6-2, 202-pound Surtain and the 6-2, 207-pound Farley both are classic physical press-man corners, who would’ve been perfect fits in Schwartz’s scheme. Whether they’ll be perfect fits in his successor’s scheme is an unanswerable question right now. But corners with their talent, size, and physicality don’t grow on trees.
The Eagles drafted three of them in April. The incomprehensible mistake Roseman made was that none of them were named Justin Jefferson. Jefferson, who probably is going to be the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, finished with 88 catches for 1,400 yards and seven TDs. The Eagles’ three rookies -- Jalen Reagor, who the Eagles took instead of Jefferson, fourth-rounder John Hightower, and sixth-rounder Quez Watkins, combined for 46 catches for 648 yards and two TDs.
There are going to be some really, really good wideouts available at No. 6. The top two are LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s Devonta Smith. Chase opted out of the 2020 season because of the pandemic. He’s been out of sight, but not out of mind if you’re an NFL scout. They haven’t forgotten what he did a year earlier when he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Smith has 105 catches for 1,641yards and 20 TDs this season. He has an undersized frame, and like Jefferson, is viewed by some as a slot guy. Smith’s Alabama teammate, Jaylen Waddle, who has missed much of the season with an ankle injury, also is considered a potential top-12 pick.
Six wide receivers went in the first round of last year’s draft. Fennell thinks at least that many will go in the first round this year: Chase, Smith, Waddle, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, Purdue’s Rondale Moore, and Florida’s Kadarius Toney.
The last time the Eagles took a linebacker in the first round was 1979 (Jerry Robinson). They passed on three of them last year – Kenneth Murray (taken 23rd by the Chargers), Jordyn Brooks (taken 27th by Seattle), and Patrick Queen (taken 28th by Baltimore).
Linebacker hasn’t been a high-priority position for the Eagles, either in free agency or the draft. But maybe the next defensive coordinator will feel a little differently about that. They need a play-making off-the-ball linebacker. Alex Singleton got the most out of his talent this season, but they need a dominating three-down difference-maker.
There’s one in this draft – Penn State’s Micah Parsons. Parsons didn’t play this season and still is considered the top linebacker in the draft. The 6-3, 244-pounder can play off the ball or on the edge. He can take on blockers. He can cover backs and tight ends. Would the Eagles take him? Probably not. But it makes for nice conversation between now and April 29.