To understand Howie Roseman’s plan to improve the Eagles offense for 2020, just look at his hands.
He’s got his fingers crossed.
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Roseman, the general manager, spent $89 million and two draft picks to add shutdown corner Darius Slay and man-mountain Javon Hargrave to the defense. What did he get to help franchise quarterback Carson Wentz?
Thoughts and prayers.
As the dust settled from a 10-day flurry of free-agent signings and player trades, the Eagles are definitively worse offensively today that they were on opening day last season.
They won’t have left tackle Jason Peters, No. 1 running back Jordan Howard, slot receiver Nelson Agholor, or all-purpose back Darren Sproles. Athletic center Jason Kelce and speed receiver DeSean Jackson, both in their 30s, are a year closer to 40. Tight end Zach Ertz, who turns 30 in November, showed signs of slipping.
Upgrades were available.
Roseman passed on the chance to add franchise receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, or Amari Cooper, and did he guess wrong about the cost of more modest talents such as Breshad Perriman and Robby Anderson. In fact, Roseman admitted, he was startled at the modest prices the group commanded.
“We have all the information, now, after the fact," he said. "Hindsight’s 20-20.”
General managers aren’t paid for hindsight. They’re paid for foresight, or they don’t get paid at all.
That’s why Howie’s on his knees.
Howie’s praying that Jackson’s sports hernia completely heals and that he still has some speed left in his slim, 33-year-old frame. Howie’s praying that Jeffery’s recovery from Lisfranc foot surgery doesn’t leech too far into the season; it usually takes nine months, which means Jeffery would miss a third consecutive training camp.
Howie’s praying that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside isn’t the sort of bust that ends a general manager’s career.
Howie’s praying that running back Miles Sanders replicates his record-setting rookie season, and that Sanders’ 5-foot-6 understudy, Boston Scott, turns out to be the second coming of Sproles.
Howie’s praying that Ertz and Dallas Geodert remain an elite duo at tight end.
Make no mistake: Roseman is frantic, but he’s trying to play it cool.
“I don’t necessarily feel that the cupboard is as bare as maybe you’re describing," he said. “We do view the receiver position differently than it’s publicly viewed. We’re excited to get some of those guys back.”
We’ve heard Howie excited. He did not sound excited.
“DeSean’s a guy we think is incredibly talented,” Roseman said. “He’s extremely driven.”
He’s also extremely fragile. Jackson averaged fewer than 10 games the last three seasons.
“We know the biggest jump is Year One to Year Two,” Roseman said of Arcega-Whiteside. "He’s a player. He’s got a great feel for route-running. He’s got great hands."
He’s also got just 10 catches, for 169 yards and one touchdown. The Eagles drafted him 57th overall. It was a mistake of Markelle Fultz proportions.
D.K. Metcalf, taken 64th by Seattle, caught 58 passes for 900 yards and seven touchdowns, then caught seven more passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in a wild-card playoff win in Philadelphia.
Metcalf wasn’t the only overachiever. Diontae Johnson, taken 66th by the Steelers, caught 59 passes for 690 yards and five touchdowns, while Terry McLaurin, drafted 76th by Washington, caught 58 passes for 919 yards and seven TDs.
It might be unfair to compare their rookie seasons to Arcega-Whiteside’s, but Metcalf’s rookie season was so good that it was better than either of Jeffery’s last two season.
That can’t matter for the moment, The Eagles are pot-committed to Jeffery; if released, he carries a massive, $13 million salary cap hit each of the next two seasons. Worse, Jeffery, a certified grump, was identified as the player who anonymously complained during each of the last two seasons about Wentz’s leadership deficit and favoritism. It also doesn’t help that he’s 30.
“The elephant in the room is Alshon," Roseman said, unprompted. “He knows what’s being said about him. He understands he’s got a lot to prove.”
He’s not the only one. It was Roseman who signed Jeffery to this disastrously restructured deal before the 2019 season.
Roseman might find redemption in April. The 2020 NFL draft could be deeper at the receiver position than the 2014 edition that featured Matthews as well as Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, John Brown, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, and Davante Adams. It is considered the best receiver draft in history -- so far, at least, because 2019 might wind up being even better.
Last season, nine rookies caught at least 40 passes for at least 500 yards, and six of them caught at least five touchdown passes. That has happened for the Eagles just once in the last 30 years, when Jordan Matthews caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns as part of that 2014 bumper crop.
Howie’s praying he gets that kind of production from whomever he drafts.