Tough Decisions on Horizon for Eagles With Multiple Key Free Agents

Rodney McLeod

Getty Eagles safety Rodney McLeod and the defense celebrated a fumble recovery in the end zone late in Sundays game loss to Seattle.

The Philadelphia Eagles have a lot to think about now that their season is over. And not a ton of time to mull everything over.

Free agency begins in earnest on March 10 when NFL teams are allowed to start designating franchise and transition tags on players. The Eagles technically have 14 guys slated to become unrestricted free agents that they are going to have to make decisions about in the coming weeks.

They also have two more players looking to stick around as restricted free agents. Meanwhile, the front office will likely have to navigate a few situations, mainly Malcolm Jenkins, where players feel they have out-performed their contracts. Zach Ertz could be another one there.

Who stays? Who leaves? Well, it might come down to the philosophy the organization wants to instill moving forward.

If they are keeping the “win now” mindset, then certain veterans will have to be brought back at whatever the cost. If they decide to start a slow rebuild — and infuse the roster with youth — then no one is safe.

A quick look around the locker room might provide a few easy educated guesses. For starters, Nelson Agholor’s days in Philadelphia are over. His up-and-down season, capped by a mysterious knee injury, makes him expendable. He needs a fresh start elsewhere.

The same goes for Ronald Darby. The 26-year-old missed six games due to injury and looked confused in coverage when he was on the field. Yes, the Eagles need cornerbacks but they should build the secondary up through the draft.

Jason Peters Presents Challenging Question

The Bodyguard wants to keep playing. He’s on record with that. But do the Eagles want Jason Peters starting at left tackle next year?

The team already drafted his replacement in Andre Dillard. The rookie looked solid in limited snaps in fill-in duty for Peters. The future Hall-of-Famer earned $6 million in 2019, not chump change for a 37-year-old tackle in decline. If Peters were willing to take a pay cut and possibly move over to left guard, he would be worth keeping. Otherwise, it’s probably the end of the line.

Vinny Curry is another aging veteran due to hit the open market. The 31-year-old defensive end came on in a big way down the stretch — he racked up four sacks in the month of December — but he doesn’t bring anything extraordinary to the table. Plus, the Eagles have pass-rushers Daeshon Hall and Shareef Miller ready to burst onto the scene.

Then, there is Jordan Howard. The bruising running back was the Eagles’ leading rusher through the first nine games before a shoulder “stinger” derailed his season. He would be a nice piece to bring back on a cheap contract, but he may not be willing to take a team-friendly deal. Howard didn’t sound too optimistic after Sunday’s loss. Remember, he’s still only 25 years old.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai Will Start on Another Team

Hindsight is, well, pointless. You could argue the Eagles should have traded Halapoulivaati Vaitai last summer in a potential deal for Jadeveon Clowney, or at the trade deadline in a potential move for a receiver like Robby Anderson or Emmanuel Sanders.

They didn’t. They couldn’t. Not with so much uncertainty around Brandon Brooks coming back from injury. It was the right move as they needed him throughout the season.

Vaitai has started 18 games since 2017 and the Eagles are 14-4 in those contests. He’s a starting-caliber player, at guard or tackle. Unless the Eagles want to promote him — and pay him more than his tiny $2 million rookie-deal salary in 2019 — then he’ll be starting for another team in 2020.

Another big name to keep an eye on is Jalen Mills. He proved to be the team’s best cornerback in 2019, no question. But the 25-year-old has played in just 18 games over the past two seasons while battling a myriad of injuries.

The Eagles may be forced to sign him to a long-term extension out of necessity due to a lack of talent on the roster at the cornerback position. How much would he cost them? Mills is likely looking at a pay-day of around $8 million per year, in the range of the Browns’ TJ Carrie. They probably have to lock him up.

Rodney McLeod Must Return to Philly in 2020

This one should be a no-brainer. Rodney McLeod has been one of the best free safeties in the NFL since arriving in Philadelphia and forms a formidable one-two combo with Malcolm Jenkins. Pay the man.

McLeod, who forced two fumbles and made two interceptions in 2019, is a stabilizing force in the secondary. In 2018, the defensive backfield lost some of their shimmer when he went down with a season-ending knee injury. He earned $6 million this season and that number will jump up to $8 million next year.

That, and the Eagles will have to give Jenkins a raise. It’s a lot of money to dole out to two aging safeties — McLeod is 29, Jenkins is 32 — but they need to keep their backend intact.

Here are the other unrestricted free agents: QB Nate Sudfeld, QB Josh McCown, DT Timmy Jernigan, TE Richard Rodgers, DT Hassan Ridgeway, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill. Running back Corey Clement is also a restricted free agent, while the team could exercise a club option on linebacker Nigel Bradham. Tough decisions looming large.

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