Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Two sides to offseason

Posted by Eric Fisher On March 14

Fisher column logo2The Eagles desperately needed receivers. They signed free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Check.

The Eagles needed offensive line depth. They signed guard Chance Warmack and brought back guard/center Stefen Wisniewski. Check.

The Eagles needed a better option at backup quarterback than the ridiculously overpaid Chase Daniel. They signed former Eagles starter Nick Foles and released Daniel. Check.

So far this offseason executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman has been checking off boxes on the list of Eagles’ needs. But there is still more to go. Much more.

You might have noticed that all of the additions have been on offense. Not only haven’t the Eagles added defensive parts, but they’ve been losing them.

Defensive tackle Bennie Logan signed with the Chiefs. The Eagles released linebacker Connor Barwin to free up room under the salary cap so they could sign Jeffery and Smith. Cornerback Nolan Carroll signed with the Cowboys and cornerback Leodis McKelvin was released.

If you’re counting, that’s four starters on defense who aren’t on the team any longer. The cornerbacks weren’t very good, Logan was hindered by injuries and Barwin didn’t fit into the Eagles’ new 4-3 defensive alignment, but they still need to be replaced. They weren’t bad enough that losing them is addition by subtraction.

Roseman still has plenty of time to replace the departed defenders; however, unless he finds players better than those who left, the Eagles defense won’t be any better than it was last season. And it wasn’t very good last season.

The Eagles hope that Beau Allen, who filled in for Logan when he was hurt last season, will continue to play well as a full-time starter. The problem is that the Eagles don’t have much depth behind Fletcher Cox and Allen. Aziz Shittu, Destiny Vaeao and Justin Hamilton are all inexperienced.

Sticking with the defensive line, who will replace Barwin and play on the opposite side from Brandon Graham? Vinny Curry would be the obvious choice, but he grossly underperformed after receiving a hefty raise and long-term contract extension. Curry finished last season with 2½ sacks, which tied him with Malcom Smith, a bust of a No. 1 draft pick who is another underwhelming option to replace Barwin. Unless Alex McCalister or pass-rushing specialist Steven Means takes a huge step forward, the Eagles may have difficulty replacing Barwin off their current roster. Taylor Hart, another “depth” player, has switched from defensive end to offensive tackle.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts to address cornerback issues through free agency, the Eagles resisted going that route this season. Their lack of space under the salary cap may have dictated that strategy. We’ll never know if that was the reason, but the result is the Eagles have a void at starting cornerback.

If veteran Ron Brooks can recover fully for a season-ending torn quadriceps tendon that ended his last season after six games, that would fill one of the starting cornerback slots. Brooks lined up primarily against slot receivers, but could move outside. Jalen Mills showed spunk during his rookie campaign. He could be a starter. C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes, Dwayne Gratz and Mitchell White are the other cornerbacks under contract. To say that cornerback remains an area of need is a gross understatement.

The good news is that next month’s NFL Draft may be the deepest draft for cornerbacks in this century. The Eagles should be able to get a terrific cornerback with the 14th overall pick, and may even be able to find a future starter in the second or third round.

The problem for the Eagles is they need their new cornerbacks to be starters this season. At the very least, the rookie cornerback needs to cover slot receivers, which would mean being on the field nearly 75 percent of the time. The Eagles also need a defensive end, defensive tackle and probably a running back. That’s a lot to picks that need to pay off in one draft.

Roseman has done a good job of plugging the holes on offense. But he can’t ignore the defense much longer.


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