With a few days to go before NFL free agency – 2021 edition – formally kicks off, I thought I’d take a quick look at how the Washington Football Team’s divisional rivals may be approaching the next few months.
It’s actually kind of nice to look at the challenges confronting other teams. I’ve written approximately one billion words about every possible free agent and draft pick that the Washington Football Team might consider. Until they actually sign, cut or otherwise impact the NFL transaction wire, I’m taking a break.
By looking at the Eagles.
Philadelphia shares a lot of things with the Washington Football Team. Both teams have major questions at quarterback. Both like their two primary running backs, but are otherwise thin in the backfield. Both need help at receiver, and need depth along the line. Both need backups to their solid starting tight ends.
The two defenses also mirror each other – strongest along the front, weakest at linebacker. Decent, but always in need of more depth in the secondary.
The biggest difference – which also accounts for the biggest advantage that Washington has over Philly at this point, is that the Eagles’ defensive line is older than Washington’s. Several of the Eagles’ best players on their best unit – Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson, Vinny Curry, and Fletcher Cox – are past 30. Cox isn’t going anywhere, but the others are all potential cap casualties. If youngsters like Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett step up, this won’t be a problem. If they don’t, well…
This is instructive for the Washington Football Team. Washington may find itself in this position several years down the road if they don’t make smart moves with their defensive line in the next two years. But more on that another time.
For now, let’s stick to Philly.
Just a few years removed from their one and only Super Bowl championship, the head coach is gone. Both quarterbacks involved in the championship are gone. Several other key players along the offensive line and at receiver are gone. Philly had one of the oldest rosters in the league two years ago. They have made moves to get younger and free up cap space, which remains an ongoing process. The recent release of DeSean Jackson and the upcoming release of Alshon Jeffrey are more steps along that path.
Other moves, like tendering productive youngsters like Boston Scott, Alex Singleton, and Greg Ward, further indicate the youth movement in Philly. It was a bit surprising that they didn’t make a similar move with promising young punter Cameron Johnson, but I suppose they decided it simply wasn’t worth tying up money in a punter at this point.
Philly has also performed some contract magic along both lines, converting the deals of guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, in order to free up some cap space.
But the biggest move Philly has made in recent weeks – more important for the 2021 season than even the trade of former starting QB Carson Wentz – was convincing veteran center Jason Kelce to sign on for another year. Kelce was the only sure thing Philadelphia had along the offensive line in 2020. Jason Peters is likely to retire, and several other key players will be returning from injury in 2021. Locking in Kelce was a crucial step to provide stability and leadership.
Philly’s roster should see a lot more turnover this offseason. Of course, when you are 4-11-1, that is to be expected. But the Eagles entered this offseason with 14 unrestricted free agents, along with eight either restricted or exclusive rights free agents. They are still looking to shed salary and get younger.
Like the Washington Football Team, the Eagles have a lot of draft capital, with four picks in the first three rounds, and nine overall. They will have to decide on whether to spend the No. 6 overall pick on one of the premiere quarterbacks available in the draft. If new coach Nick Sirianni has enough confidence in second-year player Jalen Hurts, perhaps they will pass on a QB early and look to bring in a veteran to compete with, and/or back up Hurts.
Eagles beat writer Tim McManus has linked Philly to veteran QB Jacoby Brissett, a name that has also been linked by some to the Washington Football Team. Sirianni was Brissett’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis the past few years, so there is obviously a lot of familiarity.
If the Eagles want a veteran presence to push Hurts, the perennial free agent vet Ryan Fitzpatrick may be in their thoughts as well. And they may even make a phone call to a recently-released veteran who last played for the Washington Football Team. Alex Smith has worn red throughout his entire NFL career, but he may be able to pull off green.
The other possible free agent targets McManus mentioned in a recent piece include running back Carlos Hyde, tight end Trey Burton, linebacker Anthony Walker, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
The Eagles’ running back situation mirrors Washington’s – with lead back Miles Sanders and change-of-pace back Boston Scott playing roles very much like Washington’s Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. Both teams may be looking for a bigger back for short yardage situations.
Dallas Goedert, like the Washington Football Team’s Logan Thomas, is set at the No. 1 tight end spot, but both teams are looking for quality second options.
It’s likely that Philadelphia and Washington could be looking at several of the same players, but with more money and a generally younger roster, Washington should be better positioned to make runs at the free agents it targets. The Eagles pick just ahead of Washington throughout the entire draft, so they will have first crack at the incoming rookies.
Of course, much of both teams’ 2021 success will be dependent on injuries and on how the quarterback situation shakes out. If Hurts emerges as a consistent professional starter and if Washington does not resolve its own issues under center, their respective fortunes could easily flip in 2021.
Legal tampering is about to begin. We’ll take brief looks at the situations in Dallas and New York before the actual signings can begin on March 17.