The Eagles are giving Carson Wentz some new toys to play with. After suffering through a solid rookie campaign with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, Wentz actually has a No. 1 receiver to play pitch-and-catch with this season.
Alshon Jeffery has signed a 1-year, $14-million deal with the Eagles as the free agency period opened Thursday, adding the kind of playmaking threat Doug Pederson’s offense was sorely lacking last year.
That’s if he can stay on the field.
Jeffery played in just 63 games in his five years in Chicago, missing 17 games due to injury or suspension. When on the field, he’s very good, but given how often he has missed games — and the fact that he was suspended last year for four games for a PED violation that, if caught again, would cost him 10 games — should be something of a concern for the Eagles.
More of a concern, given his time missed, is the rash of injuries he’s had in his first five seasons in the league. He missed six games his rookie year while dealing with three separate injuries, including a broken hand that cost him four games and severely limited his production. He was healthy in 2013, playing in 16 games and catching 89 balls for 1,421 yards on 148 targets, with seven touchdowns, earning him Pro Bowl honors.
Jeffery was healthy again in 2014, catching 85 balls for 1,133 yards on 145 targets, while scoring 10 times, clearly one of the best young receivers in the NFL. But then injuries hit again, as he played in just nine games in 2015, while struggling with calf and hamstring issues. He still managed 94 targets in those nine games — a pretty incredible rate — catching 54 balls for 807 yards and four scores.
Last year, he was healthy — or at least healthier — but only played in 12 games after missing Weeks 10-13 due to his suspension. In January, Bears GM Ryan Pace spoke about Jeffery’s missed time, and seemed to indicate his routine absence wouldn’t be a reason not to re-sign him.
“I thought he did a good job taking care of his body this year,” Pace told the Chicago Tribune. “Soft tissue injuries went down. I saw how he worked and how he prepared and kind of where his focus has been and his mindset. So that to me was more the thing (than the PED suspension). Again, it was unfortunate. He is disappointed in himself, and he’s looking to make up for it.”
If Jeffery makes up for it, that will be in Philly, not in Chicago. The Bears opted not to franchise Jeffery again this year, allowing him to test the free agent market. In early January, Jeffery somewhat famously guaranteed the Bears would win the Super Bowl this coming season, and there was talk earlier today that Jeffery could still re-sign with the Bears. Clearly the open market was a better option, and the Eagles the most lucrative “show me” deal Jeffery could find.
Jeffery was the top free agent available on the NFL.com list of this season’s top 101 free agents, so clearly the Eagles made receiver a priority this offseason. Earlier in the day, the team announced a deal with former San Francisco wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith had two really terrible years with the Niners, but was productive in Baltimore for several years before that.
The Eagles bought relatively low on Smith in hopes he can be the field-stretching threat he was before, freeing up space on the field for Jeffery. This also puts Jordan Matthews on notice, as the Eagles seem unlikely to be willing to give him top-WR money this offseason. Matthews is — well, was — the Eagles’ top receiver, but Thursday’s moves might mean the team is going to try to deal him in the near future. It almost means Nelson Agholor probably isn’t in the long-term plan— okay I can’t even type that with a straight face.
Wentz got some new toys today. Now the Eagles have to focus on a running back and some defensive backs, most likely in the draft.