PHILADELPHIA -- A top priority for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason is to improve their wide receiver corps.
General manager Howie Roseman forecasted a youth movement in the months ahead for the Eagles after injuries and speed were issues for the veteran-laden squad during the 2019 season. Nowhere was that more evident than at the receiver position.
Philadelphia played the final quarter of the '19 season without its starting trio of Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor due to injury. Carson Wentz made it work, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards in a season without a 500-yard wide receiver, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But the offense lacked the desired explosiveness, as wideouts produced four plays of 40-plus yards, half of which came from Jackson in Week 1, before his season ended due to a core muscle tear.
Agholor, 26, is expected to walk when NFL free agency begins in March. But reconfiguring the position group gets trickier from there, in part because Jeffery and Jackson are under contract for next season. How should the Eagles move forward with each?
There are multiple roadblocks in the way of a possible Jeffery-Eagles split.
The team restructured Jeffery's contract in September, guaranteeing his 2020 salary (about $10 million) in exchange for a pay cut.
"For us, we were trying to create as much flexibility going forward with our roster to create cap space to improve the football team," Roseman said.
But Jeffery, who turns 30 in February, was limited to 10 games in 2019 and finished with his lowest totals of catches (43) and yards (490) since his rookie season. Given the dip in availability/production and the chemistry issues between Jeffery and Wentz, the decision to lock in the receiver for 2020 now seems regrettable.
Alshon Jeffrey's contract is a mess for Philly. $26.106M in dead money with cutting initially assuming the option for the voiding 2022 & 2023 league years isn't picked up. The guaranteed $11.5M in 2020 has an offset so there would be some salary cap relief from his next deal. https://t.co/59lc6YC0Uq— Joel Corry (@corryjoel) January 16, 2020
His injury complicates matters further. Jeffery had Lis Franc surgery in December and faces a lengthy rehab. It's too early to say how long he'll be sidelined (some estimates say nine months) or how effective he'll be upon return.
Trading Jeffery would be ideal, as it would limit the cap hit, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which a team would be willing to deal for him until he proves he's back to full health. That might take a while. Given all the factors in play, this situation will take some time to sort itself out, but a clean break is called for once the opportunity presents itself, even if that means eating a big serving of dead money.
Given that Jackson appeared in just three games this past season and hasn't played a full 16 games since 2013, it would be unwise for the Eagles to bank too heavily on the 33-year-old, a lesson learned the hard way in '19. The Eagles need to find a young speed receiver, for both now and down the road.
But Jackson still has value. As he showed in Week 1 against Washington, when he broke free for a pair of 50-plus yard touchdowns, he possesses a rare combination of top-end speed and elite ball-tracking skills. Just weeks removed from core-muscle surgery, he's already hitting close to 20 mph in his rehab, demonstrating that he still has wheels.
Plus, there's little incentive to break with Jackson from a financial perspective. The bulk of his 2020 salary of $6.2 million is guaranteed, and the Eagles would face a dead-cap hit of $12.5 million if they were to release him.
Although the Eagles have a potential heir apparent for Jeffery in second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (who still has a lot to prove after a quiet rookie campaign), there is no deep threat on the roster to push Jackson. Even if/when one is added, the takeaway from 2019 should be this: There is no such thing as too much speed.
Letting go of Jeffery and Agholor would allow younger players on the roster, such as Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward, to vie for snaps while opening a couple of roster spots for new arrivals through the draft and free agency. That would help the Eagles usher in a much-needed youth movement while keeping one proven veteran in the mix.