Sun, 31 May 2020

At WR, Eagles have plan in place to be at top of the game

Philadelphia Eagles
29 Mar 2020, 18:12 GMT+10

The message is loud and it clear: The Eagles have high hopes for the wide receiver position and the plans include veterans DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery.

Jackson, of course, is coming off abdominal surgery and should be fully recovered when the Eagles hit the field again, whenever that may be. Jeffery had Lisfranc surgery in December and the Eagles know the first and foremost next step for him is to get healthy.

Beyond the health, the Eagles think those two players are pretty darn good starting points for a wide receiver group that, in the words of Executive Vice President/General Manager Howie Roseman, "still has some work to do."

"We do view the receiver position maybe different than it's publicly viewed," Roseman said the other day during a conference call with Eagles reporters. "I understand where we were towards the end of the (2019) year and who was out there and we've gotta increase the talent level, but we're also excited to get some of those guys back who were not healthy and we're also excited for some young guys to take another step.

"Now, that doesn't mean that we're done addressing it, that we're not going to look for opportunities to improve that position, but we don't have the luxury of being in a vacuum and just looking at the receiver position. ... I think, overall, we're happy with where we are right now knowing that we still have other areas to improve."

How the wide receiver position is viewed publicly is something along the lines of "WHEN ARE THE EAGLES GOING TO ADDRESS THE WIDE RECEIVER POSITION!!!"

Injuries ruined the grand plans in 2019 of a wide receiver position that was rated as the best in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in August after the Eagles traded for Jackson in March and then added J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the NFL Draft. By the end of the season, after an abdominal injury took Jackson off the field after one full game, a knee injury limited Nelson Agholor in the second half of the year, and the foot injury kept Jeffery sidelined for all but 10 games and 43 receptions, nine of which came in a December 1 game at Miami when Jeffery contributed 137 yards and a touchdown in that losing effort, the Eagles won down the stretch with Greg Ward in the slot, Arcega-Whiteside taking meaningful reps in a struggle of a rookie season, Robert Davis and Deontay Burnett chipping in, and hybrid tight end Joshua Perkins making plays from the wide receiver position. All but Arcega-Whiteside were promoted from the practice squad, of course.

We know the story. The Eagles won four straight games in December to win the NFC East and reach the postseason for the third straight year. After losing to Seattle in the playoffs, the Eagles got right back to work outlining their game plan for the offseason.

And, no doubt, wide receiver is one of those areas to improve on the checklist. While high-profile receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs were traded in March and former Jet Robby Anderson signed in Carolina as an unrestricted free agent, the Eagles centered their efforts in free agency on the defensive side of the ball. They had needs there, too. And they filled them by trading for cornerback Darius Slay and signing tackle Javon Hargrave and a handful of others - cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, safety Will Parks, and linebacker Jatavis Brown while re-signing safety Rodney McLeod, defensive back Jalen Mills, and defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway - in the free agency frenzy.

The defense, then, appears to be much improved.

The offense will get its turn. Believe that.

"I don't know that you can fix everything in one offseason," Roseman said. "I understand the passion about receiver. I don't know that it was necessarily that we put more of a preference on fixing the defense than the offense. I think that we tried to accumulate as much information about what was available to us, and what we could do and get the players that we thought could make a difference.

"It is a priority of ours to make sure that we have weapons around our quarterback."

And the Eagles do have weapons around Carson Wentz. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert form a potent duo at that position. Second-year running back Miles Sanders is a huge talent who showed in his rookie season how explosive and versatile he can be. The offensive line is excellent. The scheme is proven to work.

And the wide receivers - going back to what Roseman said - include two highly skilled veterans whom the Eagles expect a lot from in 2020.

"Alshon's got to get healthy. That's the number one priority for us and for him," Roseman said. "He understands. He knows what is being said about him. He understands that he's got a lot to prove and he's anxious to do that so he's not living in a bubble. DeSean is a guy that we think is incredibly talented. He only played in one game (full game, season opener vs. Washington) last year and he's another guy who is extremely driven. We feel like we have a good plan going forward for DeSean and how he's going to look."

Roseman also said that Arcega-Whiteside "needs to take a big jump" after catching 10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown last year. With Agholor gone to Las Vegas via free agency, the Eagles think Ward has a chance to help for an entire season out of the slot, but there will surely be competition. The Eagles, when it all boils down, chose to spend their money in free agency on the defensive side of the ball and they greatly impacted that group.

In the draft, it could be that the offense gets its toys. We'll see. What's important to know is that the Eagles understand how the fans and the media feel about wide receiver and they know they will "look to every avenue to improve" the skill positions on offense.

In other words, the Eagles have a plan that has unfolded very nicely through two weeks of free agency. They're now pivoting toward the draft and making the most of the eight draft picks they currently own.

It's important to step back and understand that the roster-building process is not close to being finished. In the rush to judgment on the Eagles' decisions, keep in mind that there are more moves coming. The Eagles are going to make sure they give Wentz as many high-end options as they can possibly give him. The starting points are Jeffery and Jackson, two receivers who have the ability and experience to carry the passing game on the outside. They both need to get healthy - and stay healthy - and by the time the Eagles are on the field practicing for the regular season, the Eagles are going to make sure there is talent, top to bottom, competing for playing time and adding the needed explosiveness they lacked in 2019 when Jackson went down after a standout opener against Washington.

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