PHILADELPHIA -- Two days ago, the Philadelphia Eagles' needs in free agency and the draft appeared pretty clear: offensive linemen, a safety, perhaps a wide receiver.
After Monday’s purge of Chip Kelly’s 2015 acquisitions, however, the picture has changed considerably. Presumably, Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have been preparing for the opening of the free-agent market with the knowledge that Byron Maxwell, DeMarco Murray and Kiko Alonso wouldn’t be on their roster.
Maxwell and Eric Rowe appeared to be set as the starting cornerbacks. A pool of young, unproven players, was there to provide depth. The re-signing of Walter Thurmond would give the Eagles a veteran nickel cornerback.
If anything, the Eagles seemed overstocked at linebacker as they move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 scheme. But the release of DeMeco Ryans and the trading of Alonso suddenly leave the Eagles with a hole at one outside linebacker spot. Jordan Hicks could play in the middle, with Mychal Kendricks likely at weakside linebacker. Connor Barwin could play strongside linebacker, but all signs had pointed to him moving to defensive end.
Kelly’s plan last offseason was to shift from LeSean McCoy to a platoon of running backs. He added Murray and Ryan Mathews to take McCoy’s place. That left the Eagles well-stocked, if not stocked smartly, at running back.
With Murray headed to Tennessee and Darren Sproles turning 33, the Eagles are suddenly in the market for a running back. That could be addressed in free agency, but the more logical move would be the draft.
The problem is that, as the list of needs gets longer, the ability to address those needs in the draft becomes less certain. Even with the draft picks added from Monday’s trades, the Eagles can’t be certain they will find worthwhile players at positions of need with the picks on hand.
So free agency becomes a venue for patching the most obvious holes. Here are the three priorities for the Eagles on the eve of free agency:
Offensive guard: It remains the most important position to address before getting to the crapshoot that is the draft.
Already Tuesday, there are reports that Baltimore guard Kelechi Osemele had a deal with the Oakland Raiders. The Eagles could have used a player of that caliber, but they were not likely to throw $10 million a year at anyone this year.
The more likely targets are Kansas City’s Jeff Allen and Houston’s Brandon Brooks. Both are big, physical run-blockers who can also pass protect. Either would be a major upgrade over last year’s starting guards.
Defensive back: If the Maxwell deal nudges the Eagles toward signing Thurmond or Nolan Carroll, that could take care of one spot.
Finding a safety won’t necessarily be easy. Eric Weddle is a veteran who wants to play for a Super Bowl contender. He probably isn’t looking at the Eagles that way. George Iloka is the consensus top safety available and will likely be looking to break the bank. The Eagles’ bank is already broken.
Cleveland safety Tashaun Gipson or New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara could provide reasonable alternatives to address the secondary. San Diego cornerback Patrick Robinson was Malcolm Jenkins' teammate in New Orleans. Jenkins could give Roseman a good scouting report.
Running back: Having Mathews as a workhorse back would be about the most ridiculous thing the Eagles could do. He has missed 17 games due to injury over the last four years -- and that includes 2013, when he played in all 16 games in San Diego.
Free agency is a dangerous place to look for running backs, as the Eagles proved last year. Miami’s Lamar Miller is only 24 and can probably be signed at a reasonable cost. The New York Jets' Chris Ivory is a physical runner, which means he takes a bit of a pounding as well. Former Eagle Chris Polk is also on the market.
The draft is equally problematic. If the Eagles are going to take a running back with the 13th pick (Alabama’s Derrick Henry or Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott), they have to get a legitimate superstar. If they’re waiting until the third or fourth round, they can get someone like Devontae Booker of Utah or Tyler Ervin of San Jose State. Maybe one of the draft picks acquired in Monday’s trades would provide another opportunity.