The release of Evan Mathis opened up a roster spot. My sources tell me the Eagles considered trading for Aaron Rodgers, JJ Watt or Marshall Yanda, but decided that signing journeyman OL Jared Wheeler would be the more prudent move.
That’s a face only a mother could love. A blind mother, that is. (I kid, I kid.)
Wheeler played collegiately at Miami, where he was recruited by Jeff Stoutland. The reason that Wheeler chose Miami was because of Stoutland, who he said was “a great guy and a great coach.” Wheeler didn’t develop into the kind of players Miami hoped, but became a good backup and eventually started some as a Senior.
Wheeler has spent time in the NFL with Carolina, Buffalo and Seattle.
Why do the Eagles like him? Wheeler, who is nicknamed Hot Wheels (I kid you not), has the kind of frame the Eagles like in an interior OL. He is 6-5, 319. He can play G or C and has experience playing on both sides. The Eagles like their linemen to be as versatile as possible.
He has some athletic ability, but isn’t anything special.
Wheeler certainly sounds like a Chip Kelly type of guy.
You cannot think of Wheeler as the replacement for Evan Mathis. He is a young OL trying to come here and compete for a roster or practice squad spot. He is not going to be a factor when we talk about the starting OL.
LT – Jason Peters ….. Andrew Gardner …… Brett Boyko
LG – Allen Barbre …. Julian Vandervelde … Cole Manhart
OC – Jason Kelce ….. David Molk ……………. Mike Coccia
RG – Matt Tobin …… Dennis Kelly ………….. Josh Andrews
RT – Lane Johnson .. Kevin Graf …………….. Malcom Bunche
I don’t know if the Eagles will think of Wheeler as more of a C or G so I’ll leave him out for now.
In 2003 the Eagles had John Welbourn at LG and Jermane Mayberry at RG. That was a very good duo. Welbourn was a near-Pro Bowl type and Mayberry had been to one Pro Bowl. Both got hurt that year and the duo of Artis Hicks and Bobbie Williams ended up playing for them for part of the season. Hicks played well enough that the Eagles gave him an extension and intended to have him be a key backup. Williams got a big deal from the Bengals in free agency.
Just before the 2004 draft, Welbourn went on WIP and ripped the Eagles organization for not giving him a new deal. He had signed a contract extension 2 years before, but had outplayed that deal in his mind. He was being underpaid at that point, but had been overpaid at the beginning of the extension. The Eagles philosophy back then was to give out contract extensions quickly to avoid having to give huge deals to players once they were free agents and the market could set their value. Some players saw both sides of this. Welbourn didn’t. He wanted his money.
Andy Reid responded by trading Welbourn to the Chiefs. He got a 5th round pick in 2004 and a 4th rounder the next year.
The Eagles projected OGs were Hicks, with 4-career starts, and Mayberry, 31 and coming off a major elbow injury. All the talent and depth that had been there was gone. The team drafted OT Shawn Andrews in the 1st round, OT Trey Darilek in the 4th, OG Adrien Clarke in the 7th and OC Dominic Furio in the 7th. Andrews was not a knee-jerk reaction. Reid loved him and saw him as the replacement for Jon Runyan, whose contract expired after the 2005 season.
Andrews was inserted at RG in his second practice. He was too good to keep off the field. Mayberry slid over to LG. The Eagles thought they would be fine. Then Andrews broke his leg in the season opener. Mayberry battled injuries all year. Hick missed time. Things were so bad at one point that the Eagles played a key game with Steve Sciullo and Alonzo Ephraim as the starting OGs. The Eagles dominated in that game, scoring 47 points and piling up 542 yards of offense.
The Eagles finished the 2004 season by playing in the Super Bowl. Oddly, I can’t seem to recall the outcome of the game.
The situations are similar, but also very different. The Eagles got rid of a talented LG in both instances. Welbourn had to go because he made the situation toxic when he went on WIP and started ripping the team. That bridge wasn’t just burned, it was fire bombed.
Mathis never did anything close to that. He let it be known he wanted more money, but never ripped the Eagles publicly. For the most part, I thought he handled the situation pretty well.
We have come a long way in a year and a couple months, from releasing DeSean Jackson, who failed to show for his 2013 season exit interview, didn’t want to learn all the wideout positions, clashed with his position coach and had several priorities more important to him than team success, to releasing Evan Mathis, who sat out optional OTAs because he wanted a bit more money.
I think if you’d asked Mathis six months ago if he considered himself a Kelly disciple, he would have said yes. Keeps himself in top shape, owns a gym in Arizona, eats right, doesn’t do dumb stuff off the field. Made a point of not saying anything about his contract after he reported last year, to not detract from the team focus. Never grumbled about the pace of practice, or anything else.
As for Chip Kelly…
Chip seems to be building a roster of guys who will commit to what he wants exactly and unquestioningly. But that won’t last forever. At some point, at least a few of these players will want more money, or will otherwise get tired of being treated like 15-year-olds attending football camp for the first time. When that day comes, the Chipper had better be winning, and winning real, real, real big. Because players have choices in the NFL — unlike once they sign the letter of intent in college — and there are plenty of contending teams who offer an easier, more flexible atmosphere than Chipworld.
We’re going to find out this season whether culture really trumps scheme/talent, and we’re also going to find out a lot about maintaining culture, once it’s established.
There is some definite truth to this. Some players are only going to buy in to this if they think the reward is worth it. That means winning.
Other players will buy in because they think like Chip. I mean that in the sense of being competitive enough and desperate enough to be willing to try and do anything for an advantage. Bill Romanowski is probably the most extreme example there is. He used to send off his poop to be analyzed by a lab to tell him how to adjust his diet and vitamin intake so he could get his body to peak performance.
And Kelly can sell the idea of results. He has had multiple guys have career years under him. Nick Foles put up freaky good numbers. RBs and WRs have racked up big stats. Connor Barwin just got voted number 58 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 players list. Fletcher Cox has developed into an elite player. Vinny Curry has become a terrific pass rusher. Brandon Graham played well enough to become a starting OLB and get a big extension.
The big question now is whether Kelly’s methods can help turn some combination of Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly into a good pair of starting OGs for 2015. If that happens, Kelly will look all that much wiser and the team is going to be that much better.
The 2004 team got by with mediocre guard play and still went 13-3, finishing with a trip to the Super Bowl. Kelly isn’t interested in mediocre. He has high expectations for the guys on the roster. Kelly has seen these players look good for short stretches. The challenge is to get them to play well consistently, something Mathis did from 2011 to 2014.
Is Chip Kelly crazy? Dumb? Spiteful? That all depends on perspective.
Kelly obviously doesn’t see as big of a gap between Mathis and Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin or Andrew Gardner as the rest of the world. Mathis is more of a sure thing, but he’s also 34 and coming off a season where he missed 7 games. I’m not going to suddenly rip Mathis and act like he’s not a good player, but it is fair to wonder when he’s going to start declining. Father Time catches everyone.
Tra Thomas was 33 in 2007. He was a good LT, although he did miss 9 games due to injury. He was solid in 2008, at age 34. Until the postseason, that is. Thomas struggled in the playoffs. It was the first time you ever saw big number 72 on the left side and didn’t feel confident. He was a free agent after that season and the Eagles let him walk. Thomas went to JAX and started 3 games, the final starts of his NFL career. Thomas went from franchise LT to being a backup on a mediocre team in a short span.
I’m not saying the same thing will happen to Mathis. Thomas had started for a decade before he started to decline. That’s a lot of wear and tear. Mathis, amazingly, has just 78 career starts. To put that in perspective, Hank Fraley had 119 starts under his belt at age 32. Mathis might remain a quality starter for several more years. The Eagles either don’t think he’s all that good now or that he’ll decline quickly. Or some combination of the two.
Mathis now hits the open market. He’ll be able to pick his team, although I’m not sure he’ll find a scheme that fits him any better than the Eagles. I hope he gets the money he wants, but I have serious questions about whether that will happen.
The timing of this move is awkward. The Eagles got to see Barbre, Tobin and Gardner in action for a couple of weeks, but there was no contact so you can’t really get all that much from watching the OL. I doubt the coaches saw anything that made them suddenly feel Mathis was expendable.
Reports leaked earlier in the week that the Eagles had pulled an offer to Mathis off the table. Maybe this leak upset Kelly and made him just say “Enough is enough.”
I don’t know if the Eagles were holding onto Mathis in case they could somehow make a trade or as insurance in case someone got hurt. Whatever the reason, they changed their thinking today and released Mathis. There is a lot of risk for both sides. Mathis isn’t sure to get someone to pay him the $5.5M he was due from the Eagles.
And OG becomes the weakest position on the Eagles. There isn’t anyone who is a foundational starter. The Eagles need a CB opposite of Byron Maxwell and a Safety opposite of Malcolm Jenkins, but they do have those proven starters. Barbre, T0bin and Gardner have some starts, but none has the kind of track record you want in a player that you would build around.
If there is one benefit to the timing, the Eagles have the upcoming minicamp and all of Training Camp to get reps for the young guys and to find the best 5 starting OL.
Kelly and his OL will have the final say in how this situation looks. If Barbre is good at LG and one of the other players emerges at RG, this won’t be such a big deal. If a DL beats one of the OGs and gets a hit on Sam Bradford that results in an injury, Kelly and the Eagles will never hear the end of it.
One of the strangest offseasons in recent memory continues to be just that, strange. What’s next, re-signing Danny Watkins?
I am going to miss Evan. I hope things work out for him. Forget about the NFL, I’m talking about his desire for a date with Selena Gomez or Katy Perry. How they have resisted him to this point is beyond me.
I am a big Chip Kelly fan. Most Eagles fans seem to love him. Most of the players seem to love him. But not everyone loves Chip.
The headliner of course is LeSean McCoy, who hinted that Kelly might be racist. McCoy seems more like a spurned lover than someone who genuinely hates his former coach. Still, those comments are pretty extreme. Jason Avant was critical of Kelly after leaving the Eagles, but Chip said they talked on the phone and that everything is good between the two of them.
“We was talking about the fact that our conditioning and things like was going to kick in because we worked harder than everybody in the National Football League with the Chip Kelly thing,” he said. “We got out there, we got our teeth kicked in. So all that conditioning didn’t necessarily work. Preparation wasn’t necessarily the greatest neither that week. When you’re going up against teams that prepare well, practice well, coach well, it’s difficult in games like that. I think towards the end of the year we were exhausted and we got out-coached the majority of the games.”
Williams says that when the Eagles lost to the Seahawks last season, it was clear that Kelly’s conditioning program had been a hindrance to the Philadelphia players.
“One, they were fresher,” he said. “Two, they were more physical. And I think in the National Football League, physicality is huge and you need that physicality in order to win games. Coaching is a part of it, too.”
Can you say “delusional”?
Conditioning was hardly the primary cause for the Eagles loss to Seattle. Mark Sanchez was 10-20-96 yards. The offense struggled to move the ball all game long. There were wide open receivers in that game. Sanchez either didn’t see them or failed to get the ball to them. He’s not the only reason the Eagles lost, but you aren’t going to beat one of the best teams in the league with your backup QB very often.
Physicality??? The defense held Marshawn Lynch to less than 90 yards and only 3.74 yards per carry. The run defense had a pretty good day. Russell Wilson made plays with his arm and legs. The Eagles had no answer for him.
Williams just never seemed happy in Philly. He played for the Ravens previously, where the defense is the key to the team. Kelly is an offensive guy. Williams obviously didn’t like or embrace Kelly’s ideas.
There are a pair of current Eagles who likely aren’t big fans of Chip.
Earl Wolff still experiences pain in his right knee. He said it only hits when he makes certain movements and it’s “nothing crazy,” but it’s there and serves as a signal that he is not all the way back.
The third-year safety out of N.C. State acknowledged that he expected to be full-go by this point. Still, Wolff says he has been making big strides lately and feels quite confident that he’ll be back to his old self by training camp.
“At the end of the day, man, my thing is all about being healthy, come back being 100 percent for the first time in a long time,” said Wolff, who participated in individual drills for the first time Tuesday. “Dr. [James] Andrews said sometimes it takes six months, sometimes it takes eight months, you never know. He said the main thing is make sure I’m taking care of myself, make sure I’m doing the things he gave me. He basically gave me a protocol. I’ve been doing everything I can do, just going through that right now.”
Judging by his comments Tuesday, Chip Kelly doesn’t seem to share the belief that Wolff has been showing signs of progress. In fact, he said there’s been “no progress” adding that “Earl has done nothing except stretch.”
“He’s been cleared from Dr. Andrews a couple weeks ago, but it’s what he can tolerate.”
Coach and player do not seem to be totally on the same page here. Wolff said he was cleared by Dr. Andrews, but “When he said cleared, it wasn’t like I’m cleared to go 100 percent,” he explained. “Basically he said, ‘Earl, what I tried to get done was done so now you can push yourself because the procedure I tried to get done was basically fulfilled so now you can go out and now you can go out and really progress and really push yourself.’ It wasn’t like I’m cleared to go 100 percent out there in practice. No, it wasn’t one of those clears.”
It sure feels like Kelly is publicly questioning Wolff’s toughness and that can’t make Wolff happy. Having a soft reputation is deadly to a player’s career. Kelly is clearly frustrated that Wolff isn’t practicing. And Wolff is trying to be protective of his body.
If this were 20 years ago, you could look at this as the team trying to rush Wolff back. These days there are so many doctors and training specialists that it is hard to believe a good organization would rush a player back, especially someone like Wolff who isn’t an impact starter.
Go read the whole piece by Sheil to find out that this situation is even more complicated due to previous questions about injuries with Wolff.
Finally we come to Evan Mathis. PFT reported on Monday that the Eagles had pulled back an offer to raise his salary. Jeff McLane confirmed that report.
Evan Mathis had hoped #Eagles would offer deal from Sept. that could increase salary $1M/year, as @ProFootballTalk said. New regime said no.
Mathis is trying to strike while the iron is hot. He is one of the better starting OGs in the league and wants to be paid like that. A younger player could wait for his next deal, but Mathis won’t be getting another big deal.
Mathis is now willing to settle for less than he originally wanted. Kelly isn’t willing to give him a nickel, not even the deal that had been on the table. That has to make Mathis furious.
If the Eagles cut Mathis, they save money, but OG instantly becomes the weakest position on the team. And there are no guarantees Mathis would get a deal making as much as he is right now. Both sides kinda need each other. And yet Kelly and the players aren’t exactly blowing kisses Mathis way. From the sound of this, Jason Peters won’t be getting a birthday card from Mathis any time soon.
Most of his teammates have stayed out of the contract dispute, but left tackle Jason Peters was asked Tuesday if he would miss playing alongside Mathis?
“Not really,” Peters said. “I’ve been playing beside different guys every year. So it don’t really matter who beside me, I just need to get the chemistry with them.”
I don’t see this ending well, but I’m still holding out hope that something can be worked out. Both sides do need each other.
• As noted above, Agholor had a nice catch in traffic on a pass from Barkley. He also went up and outjumped a defender on a fade route from Tebow. It’s early, but I’ve liked the way Agholor attacks the football in the air so far.
• Jordan Matthews is so fun to watch in practice. I think that stamina is a wildly underrated attribute for a receiver, and Matthews has it in spades. He has incredible energy.
• A player I think the fans are going to love: Seyi Ajirotutu. We’ll have more on him soon.
Ajirotutu got positive comments from a few writers so this isn’t just Bama trying to find some no-name to fall in love with.
And speaking of love, Jimmy had to write about his favorite Eagle of all time…Donnie Jones.
• June prediction! Donnie Jones is going to win the punting job over Kip Smith. Poor Kip has no chance. Jones gets the ball out far quicker than Smith once he catches the snap. From catch to punt, Jones was averaging about 1.3 seconds per punt, while Smith was averaging about 1.5 seconds per punt. It may not seem like it, but a difference of 0.2 seconds is an eternity in the NFL. Smith would have multiple punts blocked per season at that speed. Smith’s directional punting ability also seems virtually non-existent, while that may be Jones’ biggest strength.
Otherwise, Jones has looked good. His 2013 was outstanding, but he fell off a bit in 2014. I timed the hangtime of a number of his punts today.
Against the wind: 4.48, 4.45, 4.61, 4.63, 4.40, 4.73.
With the wind: 4.63, 4.93, 4.83, 4.60, 4.83.
Ideally, Jones wants his hangtime to be around 5.0, which is an excellent time, but the consistency of the above times is good.
— Nelson Agholor continued to make a strong impression. It should be noted that receivers tend to have the upper hand during spring workouts when defensive backs are restricted, but you can often see whether rookie receivers have at the very least the skills to compete at this level. Agholor clearly does. He’s fast. Not DeSean Jackson fast, but he’s gets down the field in a hurry. He’s athletic. He made several catches when he out-jumped a defender. And he appears to run crisp routes.
On a Matt Barkley pass over the middle, Agholor high-pointed the ball and pulled it in. Later, when Tim Tebow threw a fade to his back shoulder in the end zone, Agholor went up and caught the ball away for his body. The Eagles’ top pick had a good day. It’s just one practice in shorts, but the signs so far suggest he was worth the investment.
More on Barkley and Tebow.
Matt Barkley was the main second team quarterback during team drills. He had another solid day. Tim Tebow looked a little more consistent than he had during my previous two visits to practice. The back shoulder pass to Agholor was well executed. He did fine with short passes and even hit a wide-open Matthew Tucker on a wheel route to end practice. But when asked to throw downfield or into tight passes, Tebow had issues. He tried to thread a pass to a receiver near the goal line (I couldn’t catch who it was), but threw behind him and rookie cornerback Eric Rowe tipped to ball to himself for an interception.
Barkley drew praise from a few people. Maybe the light is finally going on for him. I don’t think he lacks the physical ability to play in the NFL. I think he has to play the right way. In college. Barkley was gifted enough to be an aggressive QB. He doesn’t have the physical traits to play that way at this level. He needs to find the open guy and get him the ball. Simple as that. Forget big plays and highlight moments. Just move the chains and good things will happen.
When Bradford gets another shot, he throws one to the sideline, but Jaylen Watkins forces an incompletion. Later, Bradford throws the best ball of the day, finding Zach Ertz down the seam past Najee Goode.
One thing that’s clear with Bradford is he has easily the best arm of any QB on the roster.
Bradford is the most talented pocket passer the Eagles have had in years. I want him to stay healthy because I’m an Eagles fan and he’s the team’s best chance to have a good year. Beyond that…as a football fan, I’m curious to see what he can do in Kelly’s offense. I thought Bradford was a terrific prospect in college. He had poor blocking and mediocre weapons in STL. I’m genuinely interested to see how he does with solid blockers, runners and receivers around him. And in an aggressive, attacking offense.
And here are some misc QB/WR notes.
1:50 – Barkley delivers a strike to Ajirotutu on a post in the red zone. One of the better balls we’ve seen out of him in recent memory.
Tim Tebow throws a fade to Agholor, who once again goes up and gets it in the air. Very nice practice for the Eagles’ first-round pick.
Sanchez tries a fade to Jordan Matthews, who sets up on the outside against Maxwell, but Maxwell breaks it up. Matthews didn’t have much of a chance.
Tebow looks for a receiver in the middle of the end zone, but instead finds Rowe. The second-round pick juggles it for a second before coming down with the pick.
• G.J. Kinne dropped a short pass from Tebow. Doesn’t that just sound funny? Later in practice, Kinne also took some reps at running back. He’s the ultimate team player.
• Josh Huff returned to practice after sitting out last week. He lined up in the backfield on one play and caught a pass in the flat.
• During a red zone drill, Byron Maxwell leaped to break up a Sanchez pass intended for Matthews in the corner of the end zone. Maxwell got up and celebrated the play a little. He definitely plays (and practices) with a swagger.
Good stuff. I think Maxwell is going to be a fan favorite if he’s anywhere near as good as the hype.
You can also count BLG as one of those impressed by Bradford.
Last year, the depth was necessary as 10 different players started at least one game along the offensive line. Kelly, a fourth-year vet, started three games.
“It’s good to get an opportunity, obviously,” Kelly said. “You have to produce when given the opportunity, so just to have the opportunity is a good thing.”
The experience up front is good, but there is concern among some outside observers that the combination of age and last season’s injuries mean the depth will be tested again.
“I don’t necessarily understand why. We have a lot of guys who are proven. Obviously, it was unfortunate last year because of all the injuries, but it got guys a lot of playing time they wouldn’t have had if we stayed healthy,” Kelly said. “I just find it interesting that even though we have proven guys who played a lot of games last year and in their careers it just doesn’t make sense why they’re hating on the depth.”
No matter who eventually starts up front, the Eagles want to renew their focus and commitment to the run game in 2015 after adding DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency.
“We always pride ourselves on having a very good run game since Chip (Kelly) has been here. The moves that we made this offseason I think show that we want to get it going,” Kelly said. “You can tell there was an attitude that we have to fix, because we did so well that first year. It seemed like we were able to run the ball whenever we wanted to. This year, we want to focus on getting back to that.”
I like them giving different guys a chance to work with the 1’s. That rewards those that practice well and lets the coaches see how different lineups look in practice. At a certain point, though, you need to try and settle into a groove with a set group of players.
Kelly has the size and ability to be a starting OL in the league. The biggest issue for me is that he doesn’t use his hands/arms well. The whole point in having long arms is to get them on defenders as quickly as possible. Be aggressive. Use your length. Control the DL. Kelly is too passive. I think he worries about missing and then getting off balance. It would be great if the coaches could ever get him to put it all together. At this point, you just have to wonder if that will ever happen. It sounds like he’s having another solid spring. The challenge for him is to build on that and legitimately challenge for playing time.
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