NFL News and Rumors Mailbag: Eagles’ free agent options, Dolphins’ offensive line musical chairs, and more

In today's NFL news and rumors, PFN's Mike Kaye answers questions about depth charts and the free agent market as the offseason rolls on.

The NFL Draft has come and gone, and teams are plotting out the bulk of their depth charts with their offseason programs already underway. However, just because the rookies are on the books doesn’t mean the front offices will remain static. That’s why Pro Football Network has brought out its weekly mailbag to answer readers’ questions about the NFL’s news and rumors.

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NFL News and Rumors: Will the Eagles add a free agent punter or defensive back?

I always enjoy a good punter question. Well, Paul, four teams selected punters in this year’s NFL Draft: the Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears. Typically, when a team drafts a punter, they plan on using him, barring a complete disaster.

The Ravens took Jordan Stout, and the Buccaneers took Jake Camarda with fourth-round picks, so those specialists are likely guaranteed gigs. As such, Bucs veteran punter Bradley Pinion and Ravens veteran punter Sam Koch could be cut in correspondence with those moves. Koch is 39, so he probably isn’t a reasonable option. Pinion, however, is only 27 and could make sense for the Eagles as veteran competition for Arryn Siposs.

As far as cornerback and safety go, the pickings are slim. The New York Giants are set to release James Bradberry at any moment, so he will probably want a decent payday after returning to the market. The Eagles’ interest in Bradberry will probably come down to price, as they’re already paying Darius Slay No. 1 CB money.

Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King is an option as well. As I wrote earlier this week, King played safety at the University of Washington, and I always felt that was a better NFL position for him because of his 6-foot-4 frame.

King would make sense if the Eagles wanted to take a flier on a safety, as they tend to prefer safeties with cornerback experience. He also wouldn’t command a heavy salary.

How will the Dolphins’ offensive line shake out?

The Miami Dolphins have been proactive in fixing their offensive line this offseason. The addition of veteran left tackle Terron Armstead shores up that side of the line, with Connor Williams joining the fold as well.

The Dolphins could still look to upgrade center with someone like JC Tretter, but Michael Deiter seems to be the man in the middle. Robert Hunt will likely stick at right guard while Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson compete at right tackle.

Ultimately, the line will probably end up like this: Armstead (LT), Williams (LG), Deiter (C), Hurt (RG), and Eichenberg (RT). That outcome could lead to a fresh start elsewhere for Jackson.

Thoughts on Carson Wentz’s QB1 status with Sam Howell being drafted by the Commanders?

The Commanders selected UNC QB Sam Howell in the fifth round last week.

While Philadelphia and Indianapolis media and fans had fun poking at Carson Wentz’s reputation following the pick, Howell’s arrival should have little impact (if any) on the QB1 job. If anything, Howell’s arrival should further solidify Wentz at the top of the depth chart.

Howell’s arrival, in reality, puts more pressure on Taylor Heinicke than it does on Wentz.

Heinicke was Washington’s de facto starting QB last year, and he had some major peaks and valleys. If Wentz is worried about anyone, it’s Heinicke, who now has to watch his own back with Howell. In theory, the Commanders could have Howell and Heinicke battle to back up Wentz, as Washington has already made a rather large financial and asset investment in him.

Wentz is safe and should get the year to prove himself. This is his last stand as a starter, and Washington should do everything to support him, given his salary and the two third-round picks it gave up for him.

Will the Jaguars’ defense improve following investments in free agency and the draft?

The Jaguars clearly want to have a lot of movable pieces in the front seven.

The team selected defensive lineman Travon Walker and linebackers Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma with three of their first four picks. Walker will be a versatile piece upfront, while Lloyd and Muma will partner with a well-paid middle linebacker, Foyesade Oluokun, behind the first overall pick.

New DC Mike Caldwell spent time in 3-4 and 4-3 defenses during his playing career and has coached both fronts. He probably would prefer to stay versatile with his play-calling, and having Walker and three interchangeable and talented linebackers will help him accomplish that goal.

I do think the Jaguars’ defense will be relatively improved this year, though it’s important to note that this will be the unit’s third new DC in as many years. There will be growing pains.

That said, Walker should positively impact edge rusher Josh Allen, who should see more 1-on-1 matchups on the way to the QB. Improving the defensive front should also help the secondary, especially with the strong addition of Darious Williams at cornerback.

On paper, this unit is significantly better than last year’s group, but it’s really dependent on the coaching staff to make it all work.

Will the Jags suffer from a lack of a true WR1? If Kevin Austin Jr. makes Jacksonville’s roster, who will he push out?

Good question. Despite the X receiver’s reputation among fans, Doug Pederson doesn’t actually have a heavy background in feeding the position.

His first year in Philly was a wash from a receiver standpoint, as they essentially had practice-squad level talent at the position. Seriously, last year’s Atlanta Falcons had a better wideout group than the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles.

Then, the Eagles wisely invested in the X spot with Alshon Jeffery, who caught 65 passes for 843 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2017 on the way to a Super Bowl. However, tight end Zach Ertz served as the primary passing target and possession receiver for the Eagles throughout Jeffery’s radical up-and-down tenure.

Pederson has used the X spot in different ways. When Jeffery was out of the lineup, he used the position as either an extra blocker (Mack Hollins) or a complement to the tight end and Z spots (Travis Fulgham). The X spot was never a featured marquee position for Pederson in Philly, partially due to talent and Jeffery’s inconsistent availability.

The Jaguars paid Christian Kirk a ton of money (four years, $72 million) to be their primary receiver. Kirk is an excellent flanker, and he can get open in the slot and Z positions. Despite the classic X reputation that Tim Brown and Michael Irvin set in the past, the Z spot can be the primary outlet receiver.

Pederson, who was part of the Eagles’ decision to draft Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson, is fond of speed over size, and his first offseason in Jacksonville has further proven that point.

The Jaguars have a lot of Z/slot types. Kirk, Marvin Jones, and Zay Jones can all be on the field at once and play all three positions, even if press coverage essentially limits one of them. The guess here is that Kirk will play X quite a bit while the Joneses rotate in every now and then. Laquon Treadwell and Laviska Shenault Jr. could see opportunities at X as well.

I’m not sure why we would assume Kevin Austin Jr., a UDFA out of Notre Dame, would make the roster, but let’s play along. He’s 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, so the presumption is he could handle playing the X position if called upon. Pederson has typically kept five or six wideouts, and that’s likely to be the case this year.

If Austin were to make the team, the depth chart would probably look like this:

  • WR1: Christian Kirk, Laquon Treadwell
  • WR2: Marvin Jones, Kevin Austin Jr.
  • WR3: Zay Jones, Jamal Agnew

So, Shenault, who a previous GM selected, would probably serve as trade bait. It’d be interesting to see what he could fetch on the open market if another team has injuries.

Mike Kaye is the Lead NFL Reporter for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @mike_e_kaye.

Mike Kaye is the Lead NFL Reporter for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @mike_e_kaye.

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