PHOENIX - In Doug Pederson's first season as Eagles head coach, his offense was saddled by inexperienced and ineffective wide receivers who did not do enough to help a rookie quarterback. The Eagles sought help for Carson Wentz by signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and now Pederson gets to direct an offense with a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver and depth at the position.
"You look at a guy like that, you look at size, you look at route-running ability, explosive to the ball, good hands, catch radius is big," Pederson said of Jeffery in his first group interview since the Eagles signed Jeffery to a one-year, $14 million contract.
Pederson would not say that Wentz needed a wide receiver like the two-time Pro Bowler to reach the next level at quarterback, but it undoubtedly upgrades the offense. The coach said he'll have a better sense this spring of the connection between Wentz and Jeffery. Jeffery said when he signed that his job is to help Wentz win the MVP. But Pederson also thought that Jeffery's presence will help the other wide receivers on the roster.
"He's a big target, he's a veteran player, wealth of experience, a lot of games, excellent in route running, strong to the ball," Pederson said. "For us, he brings some leadership into that room, and makes that room better. The experience is obviously a big factor in what we're doing, and he can lead by example. We have young guys, and this will give our young guys an ability to really watch a guy not only practice but play, and create that competition that we talk about all the time."
Jeffery also can make the other receivers better because they are not burdened with the need to be the top receiver. Smith was supposed to be the No. 1 option in San Francisco last season and Jordan Matthews was the No. 1 option in Philadelphia. With Jeffery on the depth chart, they can fill more ideal roles. Smith is the deep threat on the outside; Matthews will play in the slot, where he's best. And with the attention that will likely go to Jeffery, both could be beneficiaries.
Matthews, who is a free agent at the end of the season, has yet to have a 1,000-yard campaign in his three-year career. But he has been a reliable target who has averaged 4.9 catches and 58.1 yards per game in his career. There has been media speculation that the Eagles would listen to trade offers for Matthews. Pederson said he hasn't heard any trade rumors and he expects Matthews on the roster.
"Jordan . . . and Carson have a great relationship," Pederson said. "You saw it I think early in the season and throughout the season, his confidence level in finding him and throwing him the football. He's a big part of what we do. And he's a dynamic slot guy, he's a little bit bigger guy, he works well in there, he understands space. He understands route combinations and what we do and what we try to get done in there. I think he's very comfortable in there. Now, with the addition with the two guys that we acquired and again, [Dorial Green-Beckham] has another year in the system and Nelson [Agholor] has another year in the system, it's a good combination."
Pederson mentioned Agholor and Green-Beckham, two receivers whose playing time will be most affected by the additions of Jeffery and Smith. Agholor played 78 percent of the offensive snaps last season and Green-Beckham played 57 percent. But they will now be slotted as the Nos. 4 and 5 wide receivers, and Green-Beckham is no lock to make the 53-man roster.
Pederson said Agholor is still "very capable of playing at a high level," and he called Agholor a "big part of our football team." With development required for Agholor, Pederson is excited that the third-year receiver will work with new wide receivers coach Mike Groh. Asked if being a backup can help Agholor, Pederson said it's hard to know what's going to happen until the team is together.
"It kind of goes back to the competition thing and to see how guys compete and how guys work and interact with each other," Pederson said. "We haven't even started OTAs yet. But we'll see. We'll see through him working with Coach Groh and another year. Obviously, he's got a leg up on the guys because he's been here and he knows exactly what he's doing. . . . It'll be exciting to watch him progress this spring."
Green-Beckham is in his first full offseason with the team, and he'll need to have a strong one. The Eagles acquired Green-Beckham last August and tried to acclimate him into their offense. They hoped that his 6-foot-5, 237-pound frame could help Wentz. Green-Beckham finished with only 36 catches for 392 yards and two touchdowns.
"This will be a great offseason of him," Pederson said. "It's going to be an opportunity for him to come in and, number one, show what he's really capable of. . . . Now, having time to work with him and really develop his talent, to get in there with Mike Groh and learn and with all our players."