We are exactly one week from the Eagles’ season opener in New England against the Patriots.
But before we get into a week of game prep, I asked for some mailbag questions and you guys delivered.
In Part 1, I answered some questions about concerns in 2023, the running back rotation and more.
Let’s get to Part 2 now:
In case you missed it, Darius Slay recently compared rookie Jalen Carter to a baby rhino because Carter sometimes doesn’t understand his own strength. It seems like that could become a nickname for the No. 9 overall pick.
As for double digit sacks? That’s asking an awful lot.
Think about it this way: Javon Hargrave is widely considered one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the NFL and he finally got over that barrier last season in Year 7 of his career and in his third season with the Eagles. His previous high came in 2021, when he had 7 1/2.
Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, there have been just four rookie defensive tackles to get 10+ sacks, according to Stathead. The last one was Ndamukong Suh, who had 10 in his rookie season in 2010.
Aaron Donald had 9 in 2014, Chris Jones had 6 in 2013, Fletcher Cox had 5 1/2 in 2012. So we’re talking about some of the best pass rushing interior defensive linemen in NFL history and they didn’t get 10+ sacks in their rookie seasons.
So it’s unfair to expect Carter to come in and do it in 2023. I’d take the under on that.
But … with all that said, Carter is still primed to have an impressive rookie season. There’s no question that the hype train had clearly left the building by the end of training camp. Even Carter’s teammates have seen something special in him this summer and I agree. The flashes are unique and if he does that consistently, we’re talking about a player who could become dynamic in the NFL.
Here’s a reminder of the Eagles’ notable free agents in 2024: Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Marcus Mariota, D’Andre Swift, Boston Scott, Terrell Edmunds, Zach Cunningham, Justin Evans, Sua Opeta, Rashaad Penny, Kentavius Street, Olamide Zaccheus, Rick Lovato, Jack Driscoll, Quez Watkins, Christian Elliss, Albert Okwuegbunam
Obviously, the Eagles are in a wait-and-see mode on Kelce. And there won’t be any rush to re-sign Graham or Cox during the season.
Guys who could perhaps earn an extension in-season? Swift is possible, but we know the Eagles aren’t likely to offer a huge deal. The problem with one of those safeties is that Sydney Brown should be a starter at some point. Perhaps, if Cunningham or Elliss end up playing really well at that other linebacker spot next to Nakobe Dean, they could earn a modest extension. Could maybe see it with Watkins if he really starts to get back to his 2021 form.
Honestly, the most likely is probably Lovato, but I won’t spend too much time writing about the long snapper.
One guy who won’t be a free agent after this season but could theoretically earn an extension in-season is Haason Reddick. He is underpaid and he knows it, but still has two years left on his deal. The Eagles never extend a guy like that with two years left but Reddick didn’t cause a fuss this offseason and he’s about to start the 2023 season playing through a thumb injury. If he looks like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate again, maybe the Eagles will make an exception.
The Patriots don’t have a great offense but they should have some more stability with Bill O’Brien taking over as offensive coordinator. Their skill position players just aren’t great though. They have a good running back in Rhamondre Stevenson and they added Zeke Elliott but not sure they have the line to really move the ball on the Eagles. I could see them trying to get the ball out quickly to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot early to test Avonte Maddox’s surgically repaired toe. And with the Eagles’ question marks up the gut of the defense, maybe they’ll try to get Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki against the Eagles’ linebackers and safeties in coverage.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots had a good defense in 2022. They have some dynamic pass rushers, but I like the Eagles’ offensive tackles in that matchup. Even though Christian Gonzalez was a highly regarded first-round draft pick, I’d expect the Eagles to attack him in this game.
If the Eagles don’t have a punter on their roster or a player they feel comfortable using as a punt returner, it changes the math. Because then they’d have to elevate a punter and Britain Covey, which means two more inactive spots.
Remember, the new third QB rule is in effect, so Tanner McKee can be the 49th active player on game day but would only be allowed to play if both other QBs get injured.
The first two guys to come to mind as inactives are TE Albert Okwuegbunam and CB Kelee Ringo. Albert O just got here, is learning the offense and there’s no reason to have four tight ends active. Ringo is behind Josh Jobe as an outside CB and is more of a developmental guy at this point.
The ninth offensive lineman will likely be inactive. So either Sua Opeta or Tyler Steen, if they think he’s not ready. The Eagles also can’t keep all those defensive linemen up so rookie Moro Ojomo and/or veteran Kentavius Street will likely take a seat. They might go heavy at edge in Week 1 with Haason Reddick’s thumb injury and Nolan Smith’s shoulder, but keeping six up each week is a bit much.
One of the most interesting decisions will come at running back. The Eagles didn’t have more than three active all last year but they also had a clear-cut No. 1 guy. Could Boston Scott be inactive in Week 1? If so, then who returns kickoffs?
If Allen ever does get elevated from the practice squad, he would likely be used as a kick returner and maybe even as a gunner on the punt team. That’s an area where he has looked very strong in the last two preseasons. I just don’t think it’s likely he gets much playing time this year.
I seem to get a ton of questions about Allen’s potential as a punt returner, but that’s something he hasn’t ever done. And of the two returner jobs, punt returner is significantly important. And the new kickoff rules — allowing fair catches to start drives at the 25 — might render kickoffs even less important.