Philadelphia Eagles: Greg Ward looks like a long-term answer in the slot

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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The Philadelphia Eagles have a slew of needs on the offensive side of the ball, but slot wide receiver may not be one of them thanks to Greg Ward.

Greg Ward may very well be the brightest spot of the Philadelphia Eagles‘ 2019 season.

A converted All-American quarterback from the University of Houston, Ward tried year after year to make waves with the Eagles since going undrafted in 2017, only to come up short over and over again.

But as these things so often go, persistence eventually paid off for the 5-foot-11 footballer.

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After failing to stick with the Eagles after signing a futures contract in January of 2018, Ward opted to sign a deal with the then optimistic upstart spring football league the AAF, where he played wide receiver for the San Antonio Commanders.

While Ward didn’t exactly set the short-lived league on fire or lead it in receiving yards – that honor would actually go to his eventual training camp teammate Charles Johnson – his 22 catches for 214 yards campaign did impress Howie Roseman enough to give the 24-year-old rookie yet another chance to compete for a roster spot.

As it turns out, the third time was quite literally the charm – eventually.

Following yet another trip through waivers in the final trim down to 53 in lieu of the Birds’ Week 1 bout against the Washington Redskins, Ward signed on as a member of the team’s practice squad on September 1st. From there, Ward was elevated to the active roster in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions, where he played all of two offensive snaps, before returning to the practice squad until Week 12, where a string of injuries left the Eagles in dire need of offensive production of any kind.

With only one day to get re-acclimated to playing wide receiver on the 53 man roster, presumably after spending the week impersonating Russell Wilson on the practice squad, Ward became fast friends with Carson Wentz in the Eagles’ post-bye week loss to the Seattle Seahawks; a forgettable game that saw Ward haul in 6-7 passes for 40 yards.

Now on a normal team, that stat line wouldn’t be nothing to shake a stick at, but on an Eagles team without Alshon Jeffery, without DeSean Jackson, and without Nelson Agholor, but with the starting tandem of JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jordan Matthew, Ward’s emergence as a solid option out of the slot was a borderline revelation.

But just because Ward was competent in 2019 – a front-runner for the weirdest wide receiving season in Philadelphia Eagles history – doesn’t guarantee him a similar role in 2020, when the team has presumably reloaded with a slew of fresh offensive firepower, right?

It doesn’t, but I think Ward has a pretty good shot of sticking around as the Eagles’ new starting slot receiver.

First and foremost, let’s state the obvious: Nelson Agholor will not be back with the team next year. While I guess anything is possible, I guess, can you think of another player in recent memory who needed a change in scenery more than Agholor? Markelle Fultz maybe, but don’t even get me started on that guy *shivers*.

So with Agholor gone, the assumption would be that the Eagles would simply find someone else to fill his role in 2020, hopefully someone a bit more consistent with a higher ceiling, right? Not so fast, my friend. While sure, technically the team will have to play someone in the slot when they go into the 11 personnel package, and potentially even multiple players in the slot if Doug Pederson opts to incorporate any air raid elements into his offensive scheme, the chances of the Eagles playing a third wide receiver for 70 percent of their offensive snaps in 2020 appears rather slim.

With the best tight end duo in the league, a pension for fielding six offensive lineman, and a pair of versatile running backs equally comfortable with catching or running the ball, it would be borderline irresponsible to pay big money to a slot specialist in free agency regardless of the cap space; especially when you factor in Alshon Jeffery’s status moving forward.

Ward isn’t a world-beater, at least not yet, but he is a bargain at $570,000 – a number so small you can write out the whole thing.

Agholor may be bigger, faster, stronger, and a former first-round pick, but in 2019, Ward actually averaged two more yards per target, 3.3 more yards per game, and as crazy as it sounds, a 13.5 percent higher catch rate. Sure Agholor had more yards overall, but he also had 29 more targets in only four more games.

Factor in Ward’s ability to shake things up as a wildcat quarterback, a facet the Birds may seldom use but opposing defensive coordinators will have to repair for regardless, and it becomes increasingly apparent that Doug Pederson‘s offense may have stumbled upon a fantastic low-usage piece who punched far above his weight class.

And that’s all excluding the elephant in the room: A full offseason to practice as a starting wide receiver.

Next. LeSean McCoy wants to retire as an Eagle. dark

Unlike every other season of his career, Greg Ward won’t be looking for his next opportunity and can instead focus on getting stronger, sharper, and more in-line with Carson Wentz’s preferences. If he can take a step forward as a player, the Philadelphia Eagles may have their very own, homegrown answer to Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, or Cole Beasley.