There are a multitude of decisions to make in regards to the Eagles roster this offseason. It is safe to say it needs to be rebuilt, and free agency is one way of finding solutions to the weaknesses and voids.
With the likelihood running back Ryan Mathews will be released in the next several weeks, the team will be seeking to add to the position, whether it is through free agency or the draft. Let's take a look if any of the free agent names are possible solutions to at least add depth to the backfield.
Mathews' two-year run in Philadelphia has been a rollercoaster ride. It has been mired by several injuries -- the story of his career so far -- plus five fumbles lost being a significant problem too.
After averaging 5.1 yards per carry in limited action in 2015, this past season his yards per carry average declined to 4.3. He suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 16 against the New York Giants. The herniated desk concern, plus the overall injury history, inconsistent production and a cap hit of $5 million are all reasons he will not be in an Eagles' uniform in 2017. The team will save $4 million in cap space if they release him.
What will Mathews' departure mean for the Eagles' backfield? The depth at running back will take a big hit, but the team is in desperate need of a consistent playmaker at tailback. Wendell Smallwood showed promise as a rookie, but appears to be a change-of-pace type of back compared to a workhorse. Darren Sproles will be back with the team, but his carries need to be scaled back significantly. His 94 rushes in 2016 were a career high. His role in 2017 should be more of an all-around type back - who will be more impactful and useful as a slot receiver. When he is in space and given the ball - he remains a threat to score no matter where he is on the field.
With Smallwood and Sproles as the main options in the backfield, assuming Mathews will be let go, which free agents should the Eagles pursue? Byron Marshall, Kenjon Barner and Terrell Watson saw time in the backfield in 2016, too, but if the team is serious about upgrading the offense, it will be best to not have them as part of the plan.
Latavius Murray, 27, has played his first three seasons of his NFL career in Oakland. According to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Raiders are expected to move on from Murray. After a 12-touchdown campaign in 2016 and 20 touchdowns in three starting seasons, including one 1,000-yard campaign, the Raiders are opting to spend their resources in other spots. He also had an 8-yard per catch average out of the backfield this past season.
With Taiwan Jones, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard as the other options for Oakland, Murray has likely become expendable. If the Eagles could get him at a price similar to the Ryan Mathews contract he signed in the spring of 2015 (3 years, $11 million with $5 million fully guaranteed and $3 million signing bonus), then it could be a solid investment. Despite missing two games in 2016, Murray has only missed three games total in three seasons. At age 27, he has solid playmaking ability and a nose for getting into the end zone. At the very least, he can help improve the Eagles' red zone efficiency.
Free-agent running backs are normally a crapshoot. If a team views a running back as a long-term option, they usually keep them. If there are any signs of decline, a team is quick to get rid of them. Murray appears to have untapped potential, and he is at a prime age for the position. Christine Michael and Eddie Lacy are interesting options as well. Green Bay will likely retain Lacy in a one-year, "prove it" type deal. Michael has bounced around the past several seasons, and hasn't lived up to expectations.
LaGarrette Blount is coming off a career season in New England. The 30-year-old running back rushed for 1,161 yards, and was tops in the league in rushing touchdowns with 18. He carried the ball a career-high 299 times, but only at a 3.9 yards per carry clip. There are some concerns about Blount, especially since he isn't a viable pass catcher out of the backfield (only seven catches for 38 yards in 2016), but as a short-term, red zone threat, it shouldn't be ruled out as a possible option for the Eagles.
Other than these four free agent options, the others aren't even worth a short-term investment. Factoring the depth at running back in the upcoming NFL Draft, that will probably be the best avenue to upgrade the position. Sure, the Eagles can sign and draft a tailback this offseason. But the front office needs to be careful how they spend the cap space that could be available to them. At the moment, the team has approximately $11 million in cap space, according to spotrac.com, but more should be available with the possible releasing of other players, including Mathews.
Free agency is a start, but it can't be the only way the Eagles rebuild the roster. Adding youth, especially on the defensive side of the football should be a necessity. Adding a first-year running back and wide receiver to the fold remains a likely outcome as well.
It should be an interesting couple of weeks ahead as more rumors swirl about free agent destinations and players that will be cut.