Philadelphia Eagles 2014 offseason preview
With the 2013 season officially in the books the Eye on Football staff is looking ahead to the offseason for all 32 NFL teams. Next up: the Philadelphia Eagles.
There were a few times this season when it appeared that coach Chip Kelly's first year in the NFL would turn disastrous. The original starting quarterback only started six games, one of his receivers made huge waves when he was recorded shouting the N-word at a concert and the Philadelphia Eagles began the season by losing three of their first four.
But Philadelphia recovered, putting up franchise record numbers in yards gained (6,676, beating out the old record of 6,386), points (442 vs. the old record of 439) and touchdowns (53 vs. 50) and winning the NFC East title with a 10-6 record. Along the way, the Eagles discovered a new franchise quarterback in Nick Foles who proved he could take over for Michael Vick and lead the team to the playoffs despite the presence of a subpar defense.
Also helping the Eagles was the fact that the NFC East was so mediocre this season. But that doesn't take away from the success of Philadelphia's season. And if the Eagles can improve that defense for 2014, the team could have the ability to make a deeper run into the postseason.
What went right
There was so much debate heading into the season about whether the offense Chip Kelly brought from Oregon would translate to NFL success. From the first half of Week 1 vs. the Redskins, we saw that it could, and though there were times during the season when Philadelphia's offense seemed stuck in neutral -- scoring 10 points combined in Weeks 7 and 8 in losses to the Cowboys and Giants was one firm example -- you can't argue with the franchise records the team broke.
Quarterback Nick Foles was a revelation, taking over in Week 6 after a Michael Vick hamstring injury and then not throwing an interception for seven weeks (he also threw 19 touchdown passes during that time). He finished the year with a 64.0 completion percentage, 27 touchdowns and just two picks. He fit into Kelly's offense so well and so soon that we're totally interested to see if he can be even better next season.
It's no surprise that the majority of positives that occurred in Philadelphia in 2013 were the result of the offense. Running back LeSean McCoy led the league with 1,607 yards and contributed nine rushing touchdowns, while receiver DeSean Jackson recorded career highs in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,332) and touchdowns (nine).
But one of the most impressive attributes of this team was the way it handled the Riley Cooper situation. Despite the racial rant by Cooper and despite some preseason fights he had with his teammates, the Eagles circled around him, forgiving Cooper and somehow making the team stronger. Cooper's rant easily could have gone into the category below, but Philadelphia's leadership made the controversy go away. It should also be noted that Cooper easily had the best season of his career.
What went wrong
The defense, statistically speaking, was poor, and the Eagles finished 29th in the league in points allowed. But there actually were some positives to take away, because the defense improved during the season. The front-seven were actually pretty good again the run -- ranking 10th in the league in run defense -- but the secondary struggled.
While Brandon Boykin finished with a career-high six interceptions, cornerback Cary Williams struggled. The safeties also didn't play particularly well, and the team likely will need to find new ones in order to protect the backend of the defense. Perhaps letting go of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie , who had a solid season with the Broncos in 2013, was the wrong move.
While LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing, the play of Foles was ever-so important. He took over the starting spot for Vick midway through the season, and he played like Chip Kelly's offense had been designed for him exclusively. He tied an NFL record by throwing seven touchdowns in a game, and overall, he threw 19 touchdowns before tossing an interception, one off Peyton Manning 's record. So, it makes sense that Kelly wants to start Foles for the next 1,000 years.
I had a hard time determining this one, and though I don't feel great about the selection, I guess I'll go with defensive coordinator Bill Davis. At times, especially early in the season, the Eagles defense was absolutely brutal, but that unit improved throughout the season. Really, it'd have been tough for Davis to rehab a unit that ranked 29th in the league in points allowed in 2012 when the defense was run by an ex-offensive line coach. Either way, I fully expect Philadelphia's defense will be better in 2014 with Davis in charge, especially in the second year of his 3-4 scheme.
What's happened since the season ended
While it might not change much that occurs in the Eagles offense, the team released receiver Jason Avant last week. Avant recorded 38 catches for 447 yards this season, but he might have been even more valuable as a leader and someone who could be the mediator between DeSean Jackson and receivers coach Bob Bicknell. As you can see below, the two sometimes had a fiery relationship.
And here's something to think about: could Jackson actually be in danger of being cut?
Free agents to be
Backup quarterback Michael Vick, who turned his life and career around while playing with the Eagles, likely won't be returning to Philadelphia. With Nick Foles playing so well last year, there's not really a need for the Eagles to pay a quarterback who's about to be 34 and who can't stay healthy. Well, if he wanted to take a backup role, that'd be one thing, but it sounds like Vick isn't interested in that.
Safety Nate Allen showed improvement last season, and he's expressed interest in re-signing in Philadelphia. But it looks like he'll hit the free agent market, and there's a chance he could go elsewhere.
Also, in the past couple weeks, the Eagles have re-signed center Jason Kelce , tackle Jason Peters , and receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin .
Free agency game plan
Before they've gotten to free agency, the Eagles have been active in signing and extending their current big-time pieces. But Philadelphia could use some depth at linebacker, particularly since outside linebacker Trent Cole , despite his rebound in 2013 from a disappointing 2012, will be 32 in October and will count more than $11.6 million against the salary cap in 2015.
Assuming Vick leaves, the team also will need to find a backup quarterback. So far, it appears that Matt Barkley needs more seasoning, so a solid backup to challenge Barkley for the No. 2 spot wouldn't be a terrible thing to have.
Draft game plan
No matter what happens with Nate Allen, the team desperately needs to improve its secondary, and it makes sense that the Eagles could draft a safety early. In fact, four of our five CBSSports.com mock drafters have Philadelphia taking a free safety with the No. 22 overall pick (three of them believe it'll be Louisville's Calvin Pryor, while Dane Brugler predicts the Eagles will land Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).
Drafting a cornerback in the first round or two wouldn't be out of the question as well, considering cornerback Cary Williams didn't have a very good year in 2013. Pat Kirwan, meanwhile, thinks the Eagles will go after Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman in the first round, even though Philadelphia's defensive line graded out pretty well last year and the team used a third-round pick on nose tackle Bennie Logan last season.
Ridiculously premature prediction for 2014
There's not much reason to believe the Eagles will regress in Kelly's second season in control. Sure, Foles probably won't be quite as good, but with the weapons he has around him along with feeling even more comfortable in Kelly's system, the team should be one of the better offensive units in the league. Assuming the defense continues to improve as well, Philadelphia will be the favorite to defend its NFC East crown.
Predicted record: 11-5
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