Extra points: Eagles Facing a Sticky Situation
The Eagles were in over their head on defense last season.
Game after game, opposing receivers hauled in deep passes while general manager Howie Roseman looked on in frustration.
In 17 regular-season and playoff games, the Eagles allowed 16 pass plays of 40 yards or more, which ranked last in the NFL.
"It's hard when you're watching games and the ball is getting thrown over your head, and you're also not getting an opportunity to get the ball back," Roseman said Thursday during a conference call. "That hurts the offense and that hurts the defense."
It's why Roseman has put almost all his energy in the last two weeks into trying to upgrade the defense.
Eight of the nine players they've acquired and/or re-signed so far line up on that side of the football. The lone exception was backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld. They thought about bringing back senior citizen Josh McCown, but those 8:30 p.m. prime-time games are past his bed time.
The biggest splash was trading for cornerback Darius Slay, but they also added safety Will Parks and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman while retaining safety Rodney McLeod and defensive back Jalen Mills.
Problem is, Roseman ripped the heart out of the defensive backfield by cutting safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins, who subsequently signed with the Saints, was the team's strongest leader on and off the field.
"The hardest part of this job is making tough decisions," Roseman said of the Jenkins move. "You can't sign everyone."
As a result, the secondary is in flux and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has the capacitor.
The new buzz word with regard to cornerbacks this year is "stickiness" and Slay has it. Mills, who played cornerback his first three seasons, will get the first chance at replacing Jenkins at safety. Robey-Coleman and/or Avonte Maddox are slated for the slot, though Maddox could wind up on the outside if Sidney Jones can't handle it.
Jones currently ranks as one of the Eagles' biggest draft-day disappointments in recent years.
Roseman gambled by taking him in the second round in 2017 after Jones ruptured his Achilles tendon during his Pro Day workout at the University of Washington. His career has been filled with nagging injuries and a lack of consistency.
This is a make-or-break season for him.
They picked West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas in the third round that same season and he also hasn't lived up to expectations. He's a tough, physical player who has five career interceptions, but lacks "stickiness."
Their inablity to develop is the reason Roseman was forced to make those other moves.
"Let's be honest," Roseman said. "Let's call a spade a spade. There’s no doubt about it. When you draft guys in the second and third round and (they're) now in the fourth year, you obviously want them to contribute. If they don't contribute, then you're dealing with a situation where you have to go outside the organization."
Had Jones and Douglas shown promise, Roseman may have been able to go in a different direction during this offseason. Instead of trading for Slay and renegotiating his contract, maybe he could have gone after wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to pair with quarterback Carson Wentz.
As it stands now, the wide receiver corps is comprised of J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, DeSean Jackson, Greg Ward and Alshon Jeffery.
Yes, Alshon Jeffery.
Despite his foot injury, declining production and reputation for complaining to an ESPN reporter last season, it's looking like he might still be on the team this season.
"Obviously, the elephant in the room is Alshon," Roseman said. "Alshon's gotta get healthy. That's the
No. 1 priority for us and for him. He understands. He knows what's being said about him. He's not living in a bubble. He understands that he has a lot to prove and he's anxious to do that.
"You know, it is important for him to be a Philadelphia Eagle and to work hard. He understands where people feel about him right now, and he is not sitting there feeling sorry for himself. He's sitting there working to try to remind people what kind of player that he has been for our football team."
The Eagles better hope that he's not a has-been, that he can rebound to become the player who helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2017.
If he doesn't, the situation could get awfully sticky.