It has been said all off-season. “The Eagles are the deepest roster in the NFL.” While that may be true in the long run of the season, heading into Thursday’s game Philadelphia is once again thin due to injuries.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles will be without starting quarterback Carson Wentz, along with wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins.
Jeffery missing the first two weeks has been out for a few weeks. Hollins not playing Thursday comes at a little bit of a surprise as he was the expected replacement opposite Mike Wallace on the outside.
Hollins has nursed a groin injury over the summer and he won’t be ready for the opener after suffering a setback.
Head coach Doug Pederson on WR Mack Hollins: “A little bit of a minor setback so we made the decision to keep him out of this football game.” No Hollins and no Alshon Jeffery for Falcons. Markus Wheaton signed for depth at WR
— Dave Spadaro (@EaglesInsider) September 4, 2018
Suddenly, the Eagles will have to rely on two inexperienced pass catchers to play a significant role in the NFL season opener against a Super Bowl-contending Atlanta Falcons.
Those two players are second year wide receiver Shelton Gibson and rookie tight end Dallas Goedert.
Nick Foles will still have Zach Ertz, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor in the slot. Not to mention all three running backs healthy so the offense still has options.
However while Atlanta sticks Desmond Trufant on Wallace all game, and a combination of Keanu Neal and Deion Jones on Ertz, Gibson and Goedert will have to take advantage of the weaker coverage when they see the field.
It is yet to be determined how much both will play but one or the other will be on the field in a number of formations.
If Pederson doesn’t want to give Gibson a huge responsibility in such a big game, he will likely feature a lot of two-tight end packages. That will then force Goedert on the field a majority of the time.
If they decide it is better to keep Nelson Agholor in the slot, Shelton Gibson would be the first choice on the outside as the third receiver.
Regardless of what packages the Eagles decide to use, Goedert and/or Gibson are going to have to be involved.
The Eagles re-signed veteran receiver Markus Wheaton but Gibson has earned the right to be the third receiver after a strong preseason.
And Goedert to his own right was also very impressive in the preseason.
Preseason Stat Lines:
Shelton Gibson: 9 receptions 195 yards 2 touchdowns
Dallas Goedert: 9 receptions 149 yards 1 touchdown
Despite Gibson’s strong preseason, he was slotted in as the fifth receiver on the depth chart while contributing as the main returner for kickoffs.
Goedert was expected to have a role in the offense this year as the second tight end, but even the rookie was going to be the fourth or fifth option in the passing game.
Both are going to play against Atlanta, and they are going to have opportunities to make plays on national television. Millions watching at home.
That is a big step up from their expected roles this season.
Bell over Brown is an obvious choice for the Eagles
It’s almost fishing season in the NFL as all 32 teams look to catch some nice pieces for their roster through free agency, the draft, and the trade market. While the biggest fish don’t always tend to swim in those waters, every year a few big names suddenly become available for a team looking to spend.
This year, it just so happens two of the best at their position are up for grabs, and they both are coming from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Star offensive weapons in RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown will both be in different jerseys next year for the first time in their careers. Bell is set to become a free agent, while Pittsburgh and Brown agreed a trade is in the best interest for both sides.
On paper, the Eagles could make sense for both. Adding weapons around Carson Wentz will always be a priority. However if Howie Roseman and the front office decide they want to go after one of these expensive play-makers, Bell makes much more sense for a number of reasons.
Bell doesn’t come with the baggage Brown does
Don’t let this fool you. Talent beats culture. It is why the Steelers were consistently atop the AFC despite a chaotic locker room. Coaches like Chip Kelly flamed out because they prioritized scheme and a robotic culture.
Despite that, Brown’s antics off the field are a real concern. He quit on his team with the season on the line. Pittsburgh needed a win and a Baltimore loss to make the postseason in Week 17 but Brown was MIA.
The temper tantrums on the sidelines, ghosting your team with the season on the line, that kind of behavior despite six straight seasons of 100+ receptions is eye opening.
Bell doesn’t have that stench to him. While Steelers fans will tell you Bell was selfish and uncommitted to football, it is unfair to say he has character concerns because he didn’t want to risk his long term health in a contract year. He wanted to be paid like the star he is and Pittsburgh wanted to pay the position not the player. Can’t blame either side.
Brown would require trade assets AND a big contract
Some people love to scoff at the idea of paying any significant resource for a star RB like Bell. While it wouldn’t be smart to kill the salary cap for the do-it-all weapon, it is far more reasonable to pay Bell rather than pay Brown big money and give up the trade assets it would take to get him from Pittsburgh.
What sounds better to you? $14+ million a year for Bell or $14+ million a year for Brown and perhaps a 2nd round pick + Nelson Agholor?
Bell, Agholor, and the rookie taken with that 2nd round pick sounds a lot better than just Brown.
The report Bell wants $50 million in the first two years is scary. He turned down a 5 year $70 million deal with the Steelers but perhaps when the market develops Bell will have to temper his expectations.
Bell’s age and position is more attractive to the Eagles
Two other major elements in deciding between Bell and Brown would be age and position.
By the start of next season, Brown will be 31. Bell will be be 27. Bell has four years on Brown.
If Bell could maintain his productivity into his early 30’s, the Eagles could be set at RB for 5-6 years.
Being a running back also makes him a more attractive option. Doug Pederson’s offense is in desperate need of a talented RB.
Having a weapon like Bell in the backfield that can be your top runner, a top receiver, and efficient pass blocker puts this Eagles offense on a level only the Saints and Rams can match in the NFC.
It also makes the offense less predictable. Using a committee with featured grinders like Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajay, and Josh Adams to go along with the clear pass catchers in Darren Sproles and Corey Clement can be a good way to keep your backs fresh, but it is clear what the offense plans to do on 3rd and 4 when Sproles is out there.
It is easier to predict what Pederson will do on 3rd and 2 when Blount was out there. Someone like Bell keeps the defense guessing in any situation.
While the Eagles could use more speed on offense, Brown would be a luxury. A luxury that could cost high draft picks, players, a high cap hit, and potential baggage.
Is that worth it for a team that already has at least four quality receiving options? Can’t imagine Brown would be happy not seeing 13+ targets a game.
History tells us the Eagles won’t go after either Bell or Brown. However with an aggressive front office that has shown a commitment in surrounding their franchise QB with weapons, it wouldn’t be suprising to see one of these two in midnight green. Especially with Roseman’s ability to perform magic on the salary cap.
If they decide to pursue one, it should be Le’Veon Bell.
Offseason Options: Wide Receiver
The Eagles have plenty of weapons for Carson Wentz to throw to in 2019. The WR position, however, could use more speed to compliment the bigger weapons in Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert.
If Golden Tate, Mike Wallace, and/or Jordan Matthews leave the Eagles this offseason, what options does Howie Roseman have in free agency and the draft when it comes to pass catchers?
Louie and Gino give some big name options in the draft and free agency, as well as some receivers that could fly under the radar in both offseason periods.
Offseason Options: Running Back
It is time for the Eagles to add some serious talent in the backfield. What are their options if they want to add a big name free agent? What about a high draft pick?
If Howie Roseman sticks to his strategy of lower-priced free agents or draft picks, who could be a diamond in the rough?
Our “Offseason options’ series begins with RB on the Locked on Eagles podcast!
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