Someone has to win the putrid NFC East, and the Philadelphia Eagles are in the best position to become the division's first repeat champion in 15 years and clinch their fourth consecutive postseason berth -- a feat the franchise hasn't accomplished since the heyday of the Andy Reid era. The Eagles aren't a good football team, though, which is why they are in an interesting situation ahead of the Nov. 3 trade deadline.
Philadelphia is set to win the NFC East largely because Carson Wentz remains intact and the rest of the division is facing issues that go well beyond the usual struggles. The Dallas Cowboys lost Dak Prescott for the season and have one of the worst defenses this century -- while Mike McCarthy may not have been the savior the franchise thought. Washington has gone though a quarterback change of its own, yet sits in second place in the division at 2-5, having the only winning record against NFC East opponents. The New York Giants are ... well ... the Giants.
The Eagles sit at 2-4-1 with a hobbled roster and a tremendous opportunity at a home playoff game. Can Philadelphia get any further than just making the playoffs or is this just the Eagles' ceiling in 2020? With nine draft picks in 2021 -- but just one in the first three rounds -- and a projected $68 million over the cap heading into the offseason, the Eagles have to shed some contracts and put out a competitive roster for next year. The Eagles shouldn't be full buyers at the trade deadline, but they have a tremendous opportunity to shed some contracts prior to the offseason -- there are plenty of bad deals on the roster.
Here are some moves where Philadelphia can actually improve its roster in 2020 and shed some cap space going forward. Remember, anything can happen once a team makes the playoffs.
1. Acquire Zach Cunningham from the Houston Texans
The Eagles need a linebacker in the worst way and the Texans could have Cunningham available as they are looking to acquire draft picks of their own -- as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora points out. Cunningham, who just signed a four-year extension in August, has 44 tackles and two sacks in seven games as one of the top tacklers in the game.
While Cunningham doesn't appear to be a good fit due to Jim Schwartz's scheme, the Eagles need to improve a position that has the likes of Nate Gerry starting on a weekly basis. Alex Singleton is a solid player and T.J. Edwards is coming back from injury soon, but this young linebacker group needs a good veteran that can be one of the core players on a defense that is one of the worst in the NFL in the red zone. Cunningham will have a defined role at linebacker while Edwards, Gerry, Singleton and Duke Riley will be more effective in a rotation.
The Texans will likely want a Day 2 pick for Cunningham (since the highest pick they have is a third), but the Eagles could barter their way into adding an expiring contract or give up one of their mid-round picks to acquire Cunningham -- using his extension as a reason to give up a Day 3 pick.
If there is any player Philadelphia should be buyers for at the deadline, it's Cunningham.
2. Acquire Jordan Howard from the Miami Dolphins
The Eagles have Miles Sanders at running back, but not much depth behind him. Boston Scott is a good pass-catching back and a strong fit for the offense, even though he is struggling running the football consistently. Corey Clement has provided next-to-nothing while Jason Huntley is a relative unknown. The Eagles could use a power back for short-yardage situations and to create positive yards on first down, turning to a familiar face in Howard.
Howard was efficient in the Eagles' offense last season, rushing for 525 yards and six touchdowns (4.4 yards per carry) in 10 games before a shoulder injury essentially shut him down for the year. Howard signed with the Dolphins to provide a 1-2 punch with Matt Breida, but has been the odd man out -- having just 18 carries for 14 yards and three touchdowns. Howard is just a goal line back in Miami, and owed $2.9 million the rest of the year with an out year in 2021 with no cap hit.
The Eagles can easily bring Howard back as added insurance in case Sanders is out for an extended period of time. Howard can carry the workload on the ground while Scott provides the big plays as the lead back as the two split the snaps. This isn't a move to demote Scott, but provide relief with him and the running game remains effective.
Philadelphia should offer no more than a conditional seventh-round pick for Howard, as Miami wishes to rid itself of this contract. Howard is basically a half-season rental.
3. Unload Alshon Jeffery's contract -- if they can
Jeffery is coming off a foot injury and hasn't played a game yet in 2020 while recovering, and the Eagles have tried to unload his deal for quite some time. If the Eagles can get any sort of compensation for Jeffery, they'd take it. Jeffery's role on the team is obsolete with Travis Fulgham one of the team's rising young stars at wide receiver and one of Carson Wentz's most-trusted targets. Jeffery also plays the "X" -- the same position as Fulgham -- so his snaps will be reduced upon his return.
If the Eagles can't trade Jeffery, he'll be an asset to the offense in a limited role, specifically in the red zone. Philadelphia can save significant cap space just by unloading Jeffery's contract, especially if a contending team needs a proven veteran wide receiver for the remainder of the season. This is Jeffery's last season in Philadelphia, so there's no sense keeping him around when the Eagles can shed $7.97 million in cap space.
If the Eagles can get a Day 3 pick for Jeffery, it's a win.
4. Retain Zach Ertz -- for now
The Eagles don't have a choice here. They have to keep Ertz on the roster since he was designated on injured reserve with a minor injury, so the Pro Bowl tight end will remain on the roster past the deadline. Philadelphia has made it clear an extension for Ertz is out of the question, so the Eagles' best bet is to hope Ertz gets healthy for the stretch run and resurrects his season. The better Ertz plays down the stretch, the more value he'll have when the Eagles try to trade him in the offseason.
Philadelphia has Dallas Goedert as its tight end of the future and Richard Rodgers has established himself as an excellent No. 2 tight end -- specifically in the passing game. The Eagles should be able to get a Day 2 pick for Ertz if he plays well enough in 2020, and they'll save over $4.7 million in cap space in the process.
Be patient, Eagles fans, Ertz still has some value. The franchise just needs him to perform at his 2016-to-2019 level of play for a few games and a potential postseason run.