The Eagles surrounded second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, who they traded five draft picks and three players to move up and select with the No. 2 pick in the 2016 Draft, with two veteran wide receivers and a veteran running back in free agency and also kept his offensive line intact.
Will it be enough to get the Eagles back to the playoffs, an event they have sat out five of the past six years? Taking it a step further, can it lead to a playoff win, something the Eagles have never experienced in Howie Roseman’s seven years as general manager?
Here’s a position by position look at what to expect from the Eagles during the 2017 season.
The Eagles need Wentz to play the way he did the first month of the 2016 season as opposed to the second half of the season.
Wentz had three games last season with a quarterback rating of 100, or better, and they came in weeks one, three and four. After that he only had two games over 90 in a win and a loss over the Cowboys. From week five, a loss to the Redskins, to week 16, a win over the Giants, Wentz’ QB rating was less than 80, eight times.
He finished his rookie season with 16 touchdown passes to go with 14 interceptions. On the surface that isn’t terrible. But he began the season with seven touchdown passes before his first interception.
With another year in the system, Wentz needs to take the next step in becoming the franchise quarterback the Eagles envision.
Nick Foles is back as the No. 2, and while he’s proven that 2013 when he threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions was an aberration, he’s more than an adequate backup.
It will be interesting to see how the carries are divided between free agent addition LeGarrett Blount, second-year man Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and rookie Donnell Pumphrey.
Blount, 30, carried 299 times for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last season. But in three playoff games, including the Super Bowl, he carried 35 times for just 109 yards and one touchdown. His final three games of the regular season weren’t that great either (51-132-4). You have to wonder how much he has left?
Smallwood, a fifth-round draft pick in 2016, wasn’t bad when given a chance as a rookie. The two games he was given an ample opportunity he delivered. In an upset win over the Steelers, he carried 17 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. And in another upset win over the NFC Champion Falcons, he carried 13 times for 70 yards. A knee injury cost him the final three games of the season where he may have gotten more work.
Sproles, who turned 34 in June, is going to realize how old he is one day. The Eagles hope it doesn’t come before 2017 ends. Last year, at age 33, was his most productive as an Eagle, with 438 yards rushing, 427 yards receiving and 46 percent playing time. That was his best season since 2011 and 2012 in New Orleans when he combined for 2,224 total yards. He’s still one of the league’s best punt returners, as his 13.2-yard average testifies.
Pumphrey, one of the team’s two fourth-round draft picks, is kind of a Sproles’ clone, so he’s learning from the perfect mentor.
Zach Ertz’ first four years in the league are eerily similar to the Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Witten.
Through four seasons, Ertz has played 61 games, caught 247 passes for 2,840 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
In his first four seasons, Witten played 63 games, caught 242 passes for 2,838 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
Witten’s fifth year is when his possible Hall of Fame career took off with 96 receptions for 1,145 yards and seven touchdowns. The Eagles are hoping the same pattern follows for Ertz.
Brent Celek is back for his 11th year with the Eagles. If the veteran ends his career as an Eagle, he will be the first player to play at least 10 seasons, all with the Eagles, since Jerry Sisemore who retired in 1984.
Trey Burton is the No. 3 tight end and has shown he can be a vital piece to the offense in multiple tight-end sets.
There was a concerted effort to get better here and the Eagles hope they did. They signed two veteran free agents in Alshon Jeffery, from the Bears, and Torrey Smith, from the 49ers. They also spent two draft picks on North Carolina’s Mack Hollins and West Virginia’s Shelton Gibson. Add that to returnee Nelson Agholor.
Jeffery, who signed a one-year, incentive laden deal that could go from $9.5 million to $14 million, is the key. Injuries and a suspension for PED use hampered Jeffery the past two seasons as he averaged 53 catches for 814 yards and three touchdowns. The Eagles would like to see him return to his 2014 season of 85-1,133-10.
Smith, who was signed for his speed and ability to stretch a defense, also needs to forget about last year’s 20-catch, 267-yard disaster and go back to his Baltimore Ravens days when he went for 65 and 1,128 in 2013 and scored 11 touchdowns in 2014.
Agholor, a disappointment since being the team’s first-round pick in 2015, had a very good spring in the OTAs and minicamp and with less pressure because of the addition of Jeffery and Smith, might finally realize his potential.
If all goes well, the starting five of left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Isaac Seumalo, center Jason Kelce, right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Lane Johnson could be very good.
By going right, it means Peters makes it through 16 games and doesn’t see his play slip any more than it has. That Suemalo, in his second year, can handle starting; that Kelce reverts back to his Pro Bowl form; Brooks get over his anxiety issues and that Johnson continues to test clean for PED use.
There is depth in the form of tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and center Stefan Wisniewski.
For the Eagles to be a playoff contender, however, that starting five needs to stay intact and not have anything go wrong.
Coordinator Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme relies heavily on a pass rush from its front four. In their first year in that system, the Eagles defense recorded 34 sacks, which tied for 16th best in the league. The defensive linemen combined for 27 of those 34 sacks.
Despite greater needs, the Eagles selected a pass rusher in the University of Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, with the 14th overall pick of the NFL Draft. Barnett broke Reggie White’s sack record in college with 33.
The rookie should rotate with veteran returnees Brandon Graham, who had 5.5 sacks last season and Vinny Curry, who battled a knee injury throughout 2016 and had just 2.5 sacks. The team also added veteran free agent Chris Long, from New England, to basically replace Connor Barwin, who was released and signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
Inside, Fletcher Cox begins the second season of a contract that guaranteed him $64 million and is the player offenses fear the most when they play the Eagles. Cox will have a new player next to him, as the Eagles traded for Timmy Jernigan, from the Ravens, to replace Bennie Logan, who signed with the Chiefs as a free agent.
If the trait of a good linebacker is his ability to make big plays (sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumbles recovered), the Eagles have one in Jordan Hicks.
The third-year linebacker from Texas had seven “big plays’’ last year and 19 in his career. Hicks, who would probably be even more effective on the outside, is the leader of the defense from his spot in the middle.
Nigel Bradham, who could face a league suspension from one to six games for off-the-field issues, played a strong first half of the 2016 season and tailed off in the second. He returns on the strong side, but needs to be more consistent.
Mychal Kendricks, who played less than 30 percent of the defensive snaps last season and had three games where he was on the field less than 10 snaps, is still the starting weak side ‘backer.
The team has very little depth at the position, which could make a suspension to Bradham even more concerning.
This is the team’s biggest question mark as it heads to the preseason and into the season opener at Washington. Second-year man Jalen Mills is almost certain to be a starter outside. Mills showed confidence as a rookie, but as most rookie corners do, also struggled at times.
Free agent Patrick Robinson and third-round draft pick Rasul Douglas will battle for the other outside spot opposite Mills and the nickel position.
The Eagles are also optimistically hoping that second-round draft pick Sidney Jones, who tore his Achilles in a post-season workout, can contribute by the end of the season.
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod form a more than competent set of safeties.
Coach Dave Fipp’s unit remains among the best in the league and kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Donnie Jones are two of the reasons why.