PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles laid a pretty solid foundation in Nick Sirianni's first year as head coach.
They formed an offensive identity, received meaningful contributions from a host of young players -- a group that included rookies DeVonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, Milton Williams and Kenneth Gainwell -- and got a small taste of success by winning six of their last eight regular-season games to finish 9-8 and reach the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the NFC.
But the 31-15 pounding at the hands of the Tampa Bay Bucs in the wild-card matchup -- a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated -- showed just how far off the Eagles are from being legitimate contenders, as did their 0-7 record against playoff teams.
How far they progress in 2022 will be largely tied to the development of 23-year-old quarterback Jalen Hurts, who impressed overall in his first year as the full-time starter but was not efficient enough in the passing game. General manager Howie Roseman said he is heading into the offseason with the mindset that Hurts will be the starter next season, and plans to use their handsome draft capital (they have 10 draft picks this April, including three first-rounders) to build around Hurts rather than to find his replacement.
While quarterback play is the biggest thing in the NFL, it's not the only thing. The Eagles have to improve in several areas if they are to move into the top tier of NFC teams. Let's take a closer look at their most glaring needs:
The defensive line was supposed to be Philadelphia's biggest strength this season. Then defensive end Brandon Graham went down with a ruptured Achilles in Week 2. Couple that with underwhelming performances from fellow defensive line starters Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett and soft coverage on the back end, and you have a unit that finished second-to-last in sacks (29).
Graham turns 34 in April. Barnett is a free agent. Cox's level of play has fallen off in recent seasons, and he was the subject of trade talks prior to the deadline after publicly voicing his displeasure over how he was being utilized in defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon's system on multiple occasions. They need reinforcements, particularly on the outside.
The top-ranked edge rushers among the projected free agents, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert, are Von Miller (Rams), Harold Landry III (Titans), Randy Gregory (Cowboys), Chandler Jones (Cardinals), Jadeveon Clowney (Browns) and Haason Reddick (Panthers). Philadelphia holds picks 15, 16 and 19 in the first round of the draft. Mel Kiper has the Eagles selecting Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie 16th overall in his latest mock draft.
Safety Marcus Epps shared starting duties down the stretch and acquitted himself pretty well. Both he and rookie corner Zech McPhearson should push for roles next season. But Roseman is going to have to spend some money here regardless. The top free-agent safety options are Jessie Bates III (Bengals), Marcus Williams (Saints) and Tyrann Mathieu (Chiefs), while the list of projected free-agent corners includes Carlton Davis (Bucs), J.C. Jackson (Patriots), Stephon Gilmore (Panthers) and Darious Williams (Rams). (It's possible, of course, teams will place the franchise tag or re-sign some of these top players before the free-agency period begins.) As for the draft, corners Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati and Andrew Booth Jr. of Clemson could go off the board close to where the Eagles are picking in the first round.
With guard Brandon Brooks retiring and center Jason Kelce pondering his future, you can make a case for offensive line being a top priority, but there's enough talent in that room where they should be OK. And investing heavily in the linebacker position just hasn't been paramount for this regime, and it's hard to see that changing in a meaningful way.
The Eagles aren't afraid to pour resources into the receiver position, however, having spent first-round picks on wideouts Smith and Jalen Reagor each of the last two years and a second-rounder on J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in 2019. Unfortunately for them, Smith is the only one who has generated significant production to this point (64 catches for 916 yards and five touchdowns in 2021).
Hurts didn't have a single primary receiver over 25 years old last season. While that offers hope in one aspect -- guys like Reagor and Quez Watkins still have room to grow -- Roseman can't sit around hoping things will break the right way. As ESPN's Jeremy Fowler outlines, there's a lot of splash names in this free-agent receiver class like Davante Adams (Packers), Chris Godwin (Bucs) and Odell Beckham Jr. (Rams), and other intriguing players like Mike Williams (Chargers) and Allen Robinson II (Bears).
It's a pretty sizable to-do list, reinforcing why it's probably a good idea to spend their draft capital and cap room (about $24 million, per Overthecap) on areas besides quarterback with Hurts in tow and still on his rookie deal.
The Eagles have a decent amount of resources to put toward strengthening the roster. Now they just have to get it right.