This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Eagles have the pieces in place to make a deep playoff push but lack the cushion of Nick Foles backing up Carson Wentz. Accordingly, a lot rides on Wentz's ability to stay healthy all season. And with so much turnover on defense, can coordinator Jim Schwartz assemble another effective bunch?
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
IN WENTZ THEY TRUST
The Eagles have demonstrated they can win without Carson Wentz, who officially is the man again with Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles out of town. Wentz's health will be paramount for team success after his past two seasons were cut short due to a torn ACL in 2017 and a stress fracture in his back last year. In total, he missed eight regular-season contests and both playoff runs during that span, but the absences didn't stop him from averaging 265 passing yards per game and compiling a 54:14 TD:INT. On top of that, Wentz posted career highs in completion percentage (69.6) and yards per attempt (7.7) in 11 games in 2018. The team repeatedly has shown faith in the second overall pick of the 2016 draft. First, they handed back his starting job as soon as he was ready last fall. The Eagles took the next step in April, picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Finally, the parties made Wentz the latest QB to get $100 million in guaranteed money with an early June extension. With Wentz's cap hit slated to jump $14.3 million from the current league year to 2020, the economic flexibility that has allowed the Eagles to roster players on rich deals like Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Brooks, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins is about to expire. For the time being, however, Wentz will seek postseason success with a stacked supporting cast.
NEW FACES ON OFFENSE MUST STEP UP
Philadelphia's journey to Super Bowl LII was fueled in part by the trade for Jay Ajayi during the 2017 season. He wasn't consistently used as a workhorse, though, as coach Doug Pederson mostly preferred a committee approach even with Ajayi in-house. As the team's most recent backfield addition via trade, Jordan Howard will attempt to reverse that trend. He doesn't bring much pass-catching prowess, but he was handed 250-plus carries in each of his three campaigns with the Bears. Howard's toughest competition for reps may come from 2019 second-round selection Miles Sanders, who averaged 5.8 YPC as Penn State's lead runner last season. The Eagles' situation at wide receiver is a bit more clear, with holdovers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor being joined by DeSean Jackson. In his second stint with the team, Jackson will seek to be more adept at taking the top off defenses than Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace were in recent years. Beyond that trio, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside gives the offense a physical red-zone target capable of winning 50-50 balls, like Jeffery has done throughout his career. While not a new face, second-year tight end Dallas Goedert scratched out 48 percent of the offensive snaps in 2018 behind Zach Ertz en route to a 33-334-4 line on 44 targets. Overall, Pederson has a wealth of offensive talent at his disposal.
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT ON D
Questions abound for the Eagles defense after the roster was tinkered with in the offseason. Stalwarts Jordan Hicks, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Corey Graham and Haloti Ngata left in same way, shape or form. GM Howie Roseman shored up some of the deficient areas, re-signing end Brandon Graham and adding tackle machine Zach Brown, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, linebacker L.J. Fort and safety Andrew Sendejo via free agency. Vinny Curry, the team leader with 17 pressures during the Super Bowl run in 2017, also returned after a one-year layover in Tampa Bay. While coordinator Jim Schwartz may have been dismayed the team didn't bolster the defensive ranks with early-round draft picks, Roseman did select edge rusher Shareef Miller at the end of the fourth round. Later, the Eagles dealt a seventh-rounder to the Colts for Hassan Ridgeway, who will have immediate use as a rotational piece on the defensive line. On the health front, injuries to Fletcher Cox, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are threatening to linger at least into training camp. Considering the last three are members of the secondary, Schwartz could be tasked with cobbling together a hardscrabble group yet again after finishing 12th in scoring defense last year, despite trotting out the 23rd-ranked unit in terms of yards per game (366.2).
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Zach Ertz
The backbone of the Eagles' passing attack in 2018, Ertz registered the first 1,000-yard season of his career on the strength of 116 catches on 156 targets. Both were at least 40 percent more than any other receiver on the team. As a result, Ertz remains one of the elite tight ends in the game heading into the coming campaign.
RISING: Miles Sanders
With only Jordan Howard assured of RB touches in Philly, Sanders may have a chance to lock down a steady workload as soon as Week 1. Down the road, Sanders has feature-back ability, but first he needs to hold on to the ball better.
FALLING: Jordan Howard
The erstwhile Bear looked like the No. 1 back at the time he was traded to Philly, but the acquisition of Sanders and coach Doug Pederson's tendency to use multiple backs may limit Howard in the upcoming season.
SLEEPER: J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
Any injury to one of the Eagles' top three wideouts likely means Arcega-Whiteside acquires some sway in the passing game. At the very least, he has the skill set to make an impact in the red zone, and that has value.
KEY JOB BATTLE – THIRD RUNNING BACK
Coach Doug Pederson has long preferred the committee approach for his running backs, and that has often included a scatback role like the one occupied by Darren Sproles throughout his career. The potential Hall of Famer decided to return for a 15th campaign, but even if he makes the team he likely will be contained to little more than spot snaps on offense and punt-return duties. Beyond Sproles and the top duo of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, Corey Clement can contribute in many ways out of the backfield but still is recovering from knee surgery. Moving down the depth chart, Wendell Smallwood, though an unexciting option, looms as a possibility after helping power the ground game at the end of 2018 and into the playoffs. Finally, Josh Adams, Boston Scott and Donnel Pumphrey are around to pounce if a precious roster spot opens up during exhibition season.
JORDAN HOWARD – RB (from Bears)
Likely heading a backfield rotation but must stave off competitors.
DeSEAN JACKSON – WR (from Buccaneers)
Returns to the Eagles five years wiser but still with his wheels intact.
MILES SANDERS – RB (Rd. 2, No. 53 – Penn St.)
Potential three-down back could inherit first-team reps by season's end.
J.J. ARCEGA-WHITESIDE – WR (Rd. 2, No. 57 – Stanford)
A depth option now, he may be Alshon Jeffery's long-term replacement.
NICK FOLES – QB (to Jaguars)
The Philly legend gets a starting gig to himself in Jacksonville.
GOLDEN TATE – WR (to Giants)
Not a good fit with the Eagles, so jumps to an NFC East rival.
JAY AJAYI – RB (FA)
His recovery from a torn ACL is dominating his offseason.
JORDAN HICKS – LB (to Cardinals)
Talented but oft-injured linebacker leaves after a career-best tackle total.
THE INJURY FRONT
Alshon Jeffery, WR – Jeffery missed the first three games of last season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and then ended the season playing with fractured ribs. The latter issue caused him to miss OTAs, but he did get going in individual drills at the Eagles' mandatory minicamp in June. While his status for the regular season isn't in doubt yet, consider this a reminder that the 29-year-old has gutted through nagging injuries the last several seasons – including a torn rotator cuff in 2017 – and only suited up for more than 13 regular-season games once since 2014.
Miles Sanders, RB – When the Eagles took the rookie out of Penn State in the second round this year, people assumed he would contend for feature-back status given Jordan Howard's limited effectiveness in recent campaigns. Unfortunately, Sanders suffered a hamstring injury that cost him all of OTAs, which would have been valuable to show how he's addressing questions regarding his hands and pass blocking. He's still slated to be ready to roll for training camp, but this lag in the 22-year-old's development could cost him on the depth chart early in the season.
Brandon Brooks, G – Brooks ruptured his Achilles in the Eagles' divisional-round loss to New Orleans. The long end of his recovery time could cost him the beginning of the regular season, and he didn't practice during OTAs in June. While the 29-year-old has been out of his walking boot since March, the Eagles have no reason to rush him. Additionally, the nature of his injury often saps explosiveness, so there's legitimate concern that he may not be the Pro-Bowl caliber player he was upon his return. Halapoulivaati Vaitai worked with the first-team offense in spring practices and is the likely fill-in until Brooks is ready.