Everybody Wants Some

Posted: February 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 353 Comments »

Having good players is a good thing. Being able to keep good players around is a great thing. Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin got new deals last year. Vinny Curry just got a new deal a couple of days ago. Fletcher Cox is in negotiations with the Eagles and might land the richest contract in franchise history. Because of the amount of money involved, there is no definitive timetable for that deal.

Those deals mean two things. First, the Eagles are a happy organization because they were able to keep their best players around. Second, but just as important, a lot of happy Eagles players. Apparently football players like money.

Those deals actually mean something else. Other guys want to get paid. Everybody wants some.

The DT position is now very tricky.

Cedric Thornton is a free agent. Bennie Logan is in the final year of his deal. Cox is also in the final year of his deal, but if anything goes wrong in negotiations they would just use the franchise tag on him. He will be an Eagle in 2016 and 2017 at the very least.

I think Jim Schwartz would like to have 4 DTs to regularly rotate. He’ll have Cox and Logan starting this year. There are no clear backups. Beau Allen is more of a 3-4 NT. The Eagles have to figure out if he can be effective in the new system. Taylor Hart has the kind of frame that Schwartz loves, but he might not be DT material. Hart may need to go to a 3-4 team where he is a natural DE.

Travis Raciti was on the practice squad in 2015, but he could be an excellent fit in the new scheme. Here is something I wrote on him last spring when he was signed as a UDFA.

DE Travis Raciti – San Jose State – 6-5, 285

Athletic DL who has played DT and DE. Played in both 3-4 and 4-3. At his best in 2012, when he was an attacking 1-gap DT. Some think he could lose weight and play OLB. I watched the Shrine Game, where Raciti played LDE. Did not look good playing in space. More effective playing in traffic. Has 2-gap experience, but still needs work. Has the potential to challenge for backup role.

Raciti is completely unproven and may not pan out at all, but he is a good fit for the new scheme in terms of size and skill. He might challenge for a roster spot this year.

The key to all of this is Logan.

I think of him as a natural 1-gap player who was talented enough and worked hard enough to be a good 2-gap player. Logan could be really good in the new scheme. The problem is that I think he will be good and will price himself out of the Eagles range. I’m sure they’d love to keep him, but they can’t afford to pay everyone big bucks. Logan isn’t a great player and isn’t worth great money, but all it takes is one suitor to overpay him.

The Eagles may talk to Logan about an extension now, but if I were him, I wouldn’t do a deal. I’d want to show what I could do in the new system and then go test the market. Maybe I’m wrong and he’ll do a deal, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Thornton is the man who gets lost in the shuffle. He was a starting DE the last 3 years, but right now would project to being a backup DT in Philly. He’s not coming off his best year so I’m not sure he’ll have much market value. I’m sure he will test the market. If he can’t find any takers at a reasonable price, maybe he signs a one-year deal with the Eagles and then hits the market again next March. That doesn’t seem likely, but Thornton’s agent could see the big picture and expect Logan to be gone in a year. Thornton would then have a starting role open in Philly.

All of this might be a significant issue if not for Fletcher Cox. When you have him at one DT spot, you can build around him. It is much easier to build around a star than to build from the ground up.

People expected the Eagles to load up on O-linemen in the draft, but they also might be adding multiple D-linemen. A lot will depend on Schwartz and what he thinks of Allen, Hart and Raciti as backups. If the team can get Thornton to re-sign, then the DL could be fairly set. Chances are they’ll be spending at least one pick on a DL this April.

Free agency is also an option. You can find veteran backups for a reasonable price. Still, with the rest of the DL costing so much, the Eagles may prefer to go with the draft. That would lock them into a cheap deal for several years.

*****

Just writing about the 4-3 gets me excited. Can’t wait for August to get here.

*****

Hopefully the post title made some of you think of John Cusack’s great comedy Better Off Dead and this classic scene.

_


Curry’s Turn

Posted: February 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 253 Comments »

The Eagles continued their recent spending spree, this time giving DE Vinny Curry a new deal.

Great news.

Curry is the kind of disruptive force you want on your team. One of the big disappointments with Bill Davis and his staff is that they couldn’t make better use of Curry. In Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme, Curry will play DE in the base defense. When they go to the Nickel or Dime, he can play DE, DT or even NT.

Curry should thrive in the 1-gap, attacking defense. He has the initial burst to beat blockers off the ball. He can also win by using a good rip move or by shooting hard to the inside. He mixes things up with power moves from time to time.

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles use Curry. Will he start at LDE? No matter how he, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are used, there will be more of a natural rotation because of the 4-3. All 3 guys played DE in certain sets under Davis, but Graham and Barwin were LBs in the base 3-4. That made the rotation a bit more complicated.

This is another good move by the Eagles. It is critical to find DL that can get to the QB or at least affect him with pressure. Just think about the Giants. Their DL struggled to get pressure and the team only had 23 sacks for the year. The 4-3 is predicated on having rushers that can penetrate and pressure. Curry has played well in a limited role the past few years, but he now has a chance to shine.

There is some risk. Curry has never been  a starter or guy that played a ton of snaps. You are paying him good money based on potential. There is an interesting point of comparison.

Griffen got paid based on potential and he has thrived as a starter for the Vikings. He has 22.5 sacks since getting paid and becoming a major part of the defense. Curry has the potential to be even better than Griffen.

Next up, Fletcher Cox. That deal is a bit more complex since it will involve a lot of dead presidents.

_


Homegrown is Best

Posted: February 1st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 299 Comments »

The Eagles have done new deals with Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Lane Johnson. I think that is a big deal. I’m a big believer in the value of signing your own guys.

Jimmy Bama and I discussed this in Mobile and he wasn’t as sold on the importance of it. With that in mind, I wrote this week’s PE.com column on the importance of keeping homegrown talent. I mixed in some history and some football history to help make my point.

It is funny how some outsiders so quickly can feel like Eagles. I remember the team signing Brian Mitchell in 2000 to be a backup RB and key RS. He had been a lifelong Skins player, but immediately felt like an Eagle. Maybe it was just the fact he played so hard and did all the little things well. Some free agents play for money. Mitch was all about kicking some ass.

My two best Brian Mitchell memories involved injuries. One of the Gramatica brothers tried to tackle him on a kickoff in an Eagles-Cardinals game. Mitch took up straight up the field. Gramatica was between him and the end zone. Rather than dance, Mitch ran straight at the PK and went full speed. Gramatica reached out to tackle him, but Mitch ran right through the attempt and separated the guy’s shoulder in the process. That’s fantasy material for STs coaches.

I also remember LaVar Arrington coming down to cover a KO when he collided with Mitch. Arrington had a great combination of size, strength and speed. But he hadn’t learned to play a man’s game quite yet. He and Mitch hit head-to-head and Arrington is the one who left the game with the concussion.

Among current Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin felt like lifelong Eagles pretty quickly. I’m sure Jenkins is still a Saint at heart. They drafted him and he won a Super Bowl there. Barwin? He’s been here 3 years and has played his best ball with the Eagles. He might just feel like a lifelong member of the Midnight Green.

*****

Let’s hope this is one of those times that Howard is right.

*****

Q&A

Talk about the QB situation (draft, FA & Bradford).  This will be handled in a lot of posts over the coming weeks and months. One thing you need to keep in mind is that there is no slam dunk solution. Last year going for Mariota made the most sense, but moving from 20 to 2 just seemed like an impossible task.

Some want Bradford back and that just might happen, but there is a strong argument for and against keeping him.

There are 3 key targets in the draft. Each has flaws. Any of them could turn out to be terrific pros. Or all could be busts. There isn’t one that feels like a guy “the Eagles have to find a way to get”.

Who does Shawn Oakman compare to? Someone asked me if Oakman, a 6-8, 267 DE from Baylor, reminded me of Jevon Kearse. Not even remotely. Oakman is more like Jon Harris, one of the biggest draft busts in Eagles history. Oakman could turn out to be a very good pro, but he was an underachiever in college and failed to stand out in Mobile. I’d only have interest in him if the price was right.

Can Barwin play DE in the 4-3 or is that a waste of his ability? Barwin can absolutely play in the 4-3. The first thing you have to realize is that a lot of his snaps in the old scheme came as a 4-3 DE because that was part of the Nickel defense. The Eagles used some 4-2-5 looks with him at LDE. Barwin played DE as a Senior in college and was drafted by Houston to play DE for them. Barwin is more versatile now so you’d love to find a way to use all his skills. It is possible the Eagles could trade him to a 4-3 team, but Barwin is a productive player and key team leader. There is a lot of wisdom in keeping guys like that around.

Where does Marcus Smith fit in the new defense? I wondered about Smith losing weight and playing SAM in the new scheme, but it really feels like his best bet is playing DE. Smith seemed to struggle with OLB in the 3-4 in part because he was asked to do a lot of things. Think about those times when he had success (few and far between to be sure). Smith was usually rushing the QB in a known passing situation. He didn’t have to think, just to attack.

Check out #91 on these college highlights.

Smith might struggle just as much in the new scheme, but this does provide him with a chance to show that he can play in a different system and for a new staff.

_


Wentzless?

Posted: January 31st, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 381 Comments »

The Eagles, along with plenty of other NFL teams, took a long, close look at Carson Wentz during Senior Bowl week. I feel confident in saying that just about everyone came away impressed. It’s good that a potential prospect had a strong showing, but it also could cause a problem.

What if Wentz doesn’t make it to pick 13?

Jimmy Bama took a look at the first 13 picks to see which teams might have interest in a QB. At least one QB feels like a lock to go early. It is very possible two could be off the board.

I haven’t had a chance to fully study the top 3 QBs…Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch. After the week in Mobile, I have a good feel for Wentz. He is a legit 1st round pick and could be the first QB off the board. I have watched some tape on Goff and Lynch. Both are impressive.

It feels like Goff and Wentz are the top QBs right now. If they’re gone, would Paxton Lynch be worth pick 13?

I need to do more research, but I lean toward “yes” right now. He has good size. He is an above-average athlete. Lynch has a very strong arm and a quick release. Rather than focusing on his best game, let’s look at Lynch’s performance against Temple, an outstanding defense.  Read the rest of this entry »


Senior Bowl – The Game

Posted: January 30th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 415 Comments »

The Senior Bowl is today at 2:30pm on The NFL Network. While practices are more important than the game, there is value in the game. That’s especially true for O-linemen. The practices give a clear advantage to DL. Games even things out.

So who should we focus on for the Eagles?

QB

Carson Wentz – Will he be on the board at pick 13? If so, do the Eagles pull the trigger? There isn’t anything specific to look for. You just want to see how he looks.

Kevin Hogan – Up and down showing this week, but Hogan isn’t the kind of physically gifted player that is going to shine in practice. A game setting should bring out the best in him. Hogan could be an interesting target for Doug Pederson’s offense.

Jacoby Brissett – I think he’s a project, but he is talented. Brissett is the kind of prospect you would take and develop for a couple of years. He got better as the week went along. This is not a great group of QBs in Mobile and Brissett could really help himself with a strong showing. The key will be to see how does as a passer.

WR

Braxton Miller – Unfortunately, Miller will probably be a 2nd round pick. And the Eagles don’t have a 2nd. If the Eagles move Jordan Matthews outside, Miller could be a great fit in the slot. I’m interested to see how he does with route running in the game today. Can he get open?

Jay Lee – Has good size at 6-2, 214. Has long arms. The Eagles could use a receiver like that. Lee won’t be an early pick so he could be an interesting target. I don’t have any specific things I’m looking for. Just want to see how he plays.

OL

Cody Whitehair – Could be a target at pick 13. Should play at a high level. Watch the way he blocks at the 2nd level.

Joe Dahl – Another guy going from LT to OG. Had a good week. Want to see if that carries over to the game.

Josh Garnett – Pure LG. 317 pounds. The Eagles could use someone on the inside with size. Garnett has size and strength. Needs to show he can handle quick, athletic DTs.

Le’Raven Clark – I’m curious to see if he will just play OT or OG. Had a good week. Want to see where he plays and how he plays.

DL

Bronson Kaufusi – Jim Schwartz loves long, tall DL. Kaufusi has size. He was more of a LB in college. The game will give him a chance to show what he can do as a 4-3 DE.

Jihad Ward – Has played DT and DE. Schwartz loves versatile DL as well as big guys. Ward is 6-5, 296. Can play inside or outside. Curious to see where he plays in the game.

Dadi Nicolas – Only 6-3, 235. At the right spot in the draft, could be good value because of his ability as a pass rusher. I’ll be watching today to see how he does as a run defender, as well as whether he brings impact as a pass rusher.

S

Miles Killebrew – Huge at 6-2, 219. This will be his only chance to face big time competition. Killebrew needs to show he can be effective in coverage.

KJ Dillon – Talented FS prospect. Just want to see how well he plays.

Kevin Byard – Can he cover well enough to start in the NFL? Needs to show he’s got that kind of potential.

Jeremy Cash – Duke lined Cash up in the box a lot. He’ll be used in a more conventional role in the Senior Bowl. He needs to show he can handle being a “typical” Safety.

Sean Davis – Played some CB this week and wasn’t at his best in that role. Much better at S. Will be interested to see where he plays in the game.
The Eagles are moving to the 4-3. They will need depth at DL and LB since we can’t be sure that some of the current backups will fit the new scheme.

Obviously the Eagles are going to be looking at all the players on the field. Every year we have some players that unexpectedly stand out. It will be interesting to see who those guys are today.

_