Fifteen months ago, the Philadelphia Eagles became Super Bowl champions for the first time.
Four months ago, they found out just how difficult it is to keep that title.
Entering 2019, the Eagles are in the curious position of having just burst open their championship window and yet also having a number of questions about their ceiling -- enough to keep them slightly under the radar despite how historic their Lombardi Trophy run truly was. Much of the uncertainty centers on their star at the most important position of the sport -- a quarterback in Carson Wentz who's gone from MVP candidacy to the injury-cast shadow of Nick Foles over the last year-plus.
The most basic equation for the Eagles' 2019 Super Bowl prospects boils down to him. If Wentz stays healthy and plays even mostly as well as he has the last two seasons, they've got a legitimate shot. If Wentz is not healthy or steeply regresses, well, Foles is down in Jacksonville now, and we'd wager Nate Sudfeld or Cody Kessler don't have that kind of magic.
Realistically, of course, the Eagles are much more than just Wentz. In fact, a case can be made they've got a better, deeper roster now than they did when they won it all. And that roster was pretty darn deep, famously overcoming injury after injury. Unlike most teams, Philadelphia doesn't really have a single hole in its lineup or down its depth chart. As The Philadelphia Inquirer's Zach Berman noted, the Eagles have at least one reserve with starting experience at every position. And they've already utilized the late free agent market to bolster perceived weaknesses at guard and linebacker, re-signing Stefen Wisniewski and adding former Pro Bowler Zach Brown.
In the lead-up to the season, however, the NFL's best often remind us that rosters are never truly complete. The Eagles' own Super Bowl team featured stars like LeGarrette Blount and Patrick Robinson, who weren't brought in until weeks or months after free agency opened. General managers are always on the prowl, and in today's NFL, where Philly personnel chief Howie Roseman paces the league in proactive shuffling, it's never too late to consider additional lineup tweaks for a potential title run.
With offseason programs underway, training camps a few months away and the 2019 season on the horizon, here are three moves Roseman and the Eagles could still make in order to boost their chances at securing another Lombardi:
Trade for Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes
This is the biggie. Now bear with me.
The Eagles' need for pass rushers has been both exaggerated and understated this offseason, but Howie Roseman openly prioritizes the defensive line above other spots and is certainly no stranger to surprise trades. Anyone can make a case for signing Joe Schmo the So-So Free Agent or banking on fourth-round pick Shareef Miller to replace departed (Michael Bennett) and likely soon-to-be departed (Chris Long) vets. But if we're talking moves that truly boost the chances of a Super Bowl run, this one stands out like a sore thumb in that it welcomes both a serious and immediate upgrade.
Below are the terms of a potential deal, which I negotiated through 20 minutes of trade talks with our very own NFL editor R.J. White, who impersonated Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane -- and only "hung up" on our negotiations once!
Great question, but consider that Graham is 31, that Barnett has just six career starts and 7.5 career sacks, and that the top DEs not named Chris Long behind them are Miller, a 30-year-old Vinny Curry and unproven youngsters like Sweat and Daeshon Hall. They could be just fine as a group, but it can't be the rotation Roseman truly covets, especially for a Super Bowl contender.
And what about Hughes' age, you ask? How does adding another 30-plus defender help the situation long-term? Well, it doesn't, necessarily, but that's not really the point. The point is improving the Eagles for 2019, and when you factor in the nice compensatory draft pick that'd accompany Hughes potentially hitting free agency after one year in Philly, you're not even tied to another aging edge rusher if you don't want to be. You could essentially recoup that fourth-rounder in the deal by 2021.
Douglas probably deserves more credit than he gets, and Sweat could have a future, but the Eagles have an abundance of young CBs they like, and renting a proven No. 1 pass rusher for the cost of two reserves isn't a bad price -- especially when you factor in Hughes' profile. This is a guy who a.) hasn't missed a game in eight years, b.) played under Jim Schwartz in Buffalo, c.) was scouted by current Eagles VP Andrew Berry with the Colts and d.) would easily fit under the Eagles' cap, which only has roughly $13 million allocated to DEs in 2019.
With Hughes in the fold, the Eagles' defensive line would look something like this:
|Vinny Curry||Treyvon Hester||Tim Jernigan||Derek Barnett|
Trade for Kansas City Chiefs CB/KR Tremon Smith
If a Jerry Hughes trade serves as an example of a blockbuster at a premier position, let this deal highlight the importance -- and feasibility -- of back-of-the-roster bolstering.
One thing the Eagles don't have is a surefire return specialist, even if they do run the risk of deploying a 32-year-old DeSean Jackson on punts. No, kickoffs aren't what they used to be. And yes, they may be completely irrelevant in a few years. But there's literally no other place on Philly's roster that begs for an upgrade, and the Eagles aren't oblivious to the fact that special teams can change games. Dave Fipp wants players, too!
With that said, why not call up old friend Andy Reid and try one of Howie's signature player-for-player swaps? Potential terms:
Eagles get: CB Tremon Smith, 2020 seventh-round pick
Chiefs get: WR Shelton Gibson, 2020 fifth-round pick
Smith could be expendable after the Chiefs signed Bashaud Breeland and drafted a corner this year, and his primary 2018 role as kick returner could easily be filled by second-round speedster Mecole Hardman. From the Eagles' perspective, Smith would be little more than a project at CB, but he at least fits the confident and aggressive mold sought by Jim Schwartz. Most of all, he'd make for an instant upgrade on special teams, where he and his 4.3 speed had top-five kick return yardage as a 2018 PWFA All-Rookie honoree.
Gibson has struggled mightily to earn snaps in two years with the Eagles and would be the No. 6 WR, at best, in 2019, so he's a logical candidate to be moved, especially with K.C. likely desperate for any potential receiving depth in the wake of Tyreek Hill's suspension. It's not like the Chiefs would be giving much up for him in this proposed scenario, either, as the deal essentially breaks down as two minor trades -- Smith for a fifth, and Gibson for a seventh. Reid gets the low-risk upside of a future deep-ball target for Patrick Mahomes, and the Eagles swap late-rounders to ensure they have a big-play threat in every facet of the game.
Name Avonte Maddox a starter, no questions asked
Priority No. 1 in 2019 is keeping Carson Wentz upright and healthy, and contrary to the focus on defensive moves here, a lot of the biggest questions that need to be answered on this team center on the juiced-up offense and whether it can deliver after a hit-or-miss 2018. Defense, however, is also where maybe the Eagles' best up-and-coming difference-maker resides.
Wentz may be the most important, DeSean Jackson may score more touchdowns and Fletcher Cox may be the most disruptive, but Maddox is about as promising a young player as the Eagles have, and it's his flexibility in the secondary that could have a serious ripple effect not only on Jim Schwartz's ability to rush four but on position groups potentially affected by age (safety) and lingering injuries (cornerback). And that's not even mentioning the fact that he has the makings of a guy who stays around the ball -- the type of hyperactive, instinctual play-maker who can change games with poise as much as production.
If all of that sounds like hopeful hyperbole for a fourth-round pick with 13 career games under his belt, just know that Maddox also graded out as one of the NFL's top cover men whenever he was on the field in 2018 -- and that was alongside a host of fill-ins and waiver-wire pickups within an injury-riddled defensive backfield. He didn't just look the part. He played it well.
Does that mean he shouldn't be challenged in camp -- that he should literally be handed a job? No. But it means he needs to be on the field in some way, shape or form in 2019, whether it's as a "rotational" starter opposite Jalen Mills or Ronald Darby, as the nickel guy until Sidney Jones proves himself, or as the oft-used third safety. If he replicates his rookie success or, better yet, improves upon it, he'll go a long way toward upping the Eagles' defense from good to great -- an obvious recipe for better Super Bowl odds.