No More Drama

Posted: June 11th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 437 Comments »

The Eagles released Evan Mathis on Thursday.

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.

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Chip Rippers

Posted: June 10th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 506 Comments »

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.

Cary Williams spoke to the media about his time with the Eagles and had mixed comments on Kelly.

“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.

Kelly and Earl Wolff clearly aren’t on the same page. Sheil Kapadia has the details.

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.

This is a complex situation.

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.”

Yikes.

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.

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Monday OTAs Roundup

Posted: June 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 236 Comments »

The media got to go watch another training session (practice to the rest of the NFL). Here’s some of what they noticed.

Jimmy Bama had good things to say about the young WRs.

   • 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.

What happened to unbiased journalism?

* * * * *

Jeff McLane liked what he saw from Agholor as well.

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.

* * * * *

Sheil Kapadia had good stuff on Sam Bradford.

Sam Bradford, who participated more Monday than he had previously, finds Seyi Ajirotutu deep down the right sideline. It looked like a busted coverage, as Ajirotutu was wide open, but still nice to see Bradford go downfield.

As we mentioned in our All-22 breakdown of Bradford, he didn’t go deep much in St. Louis, but when he did, he had some success.

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.

* * * * *

Misc notes from Brandon Lee Gowton:

• Attendance update: Fletcher Cox andDarren Sproles weren’t at practice. They were here last week, but remember: these practices are voluntary. Evan Mathis still hasn’t shown up.

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.

* * * * *

PE.com has notes of their own.

On Monday, Dennis Kelly worked with the first-team offense at right guard. Allen Barbre has manned the left guard position, so the Eagles have allowed Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin and now Kelly the opportunity to take reps with the starters.

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.”

Interesting stuff.

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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The Vision Comes to Life

Posted: June 8th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 287 Comments »

I know this will be painful, but think back to the final game of 2012. The Eagles played on the road and lost to the Giants, 42-7. Here is the starting lineup for that game.

QB Michael Vick
RB LeSean McCoy
WR Jeremy Maclin
WR Riley Cooper
WR Jason Avant
TE Brent Celek
LT King Dunlap
LG Evan Mathis
OC Dallas Reynolds
RG Jake Scott
RT Dennis Kelly

DE Trent Cole
DT Derek Landri
DT Cullen Jenkins
DE Brandon Graham
LB Mychal Kendricks
IB DeMeco Ryans
LB Jamar Chaney
SS Colt Anderson
FS Kurt Coleman
CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
CB Nnamdi Asomugha

Yikes.

I assume at least a few of you haven’t gone running off shouting in horror after thinking back to that day. I do apologize to all the victims.

Obviously injuries played a huge part in that lineup. DeSean Jackson, Jason Peters, Todd Herremans, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Nate Allen were all missing from the lineup.

Think about how much has changed since December 2012. Chip Kelly had a vision for the kind of team he wanted on the field. He started that transformation in March 2013 and has been working on it ever since. After 3 drafts, 3 free agent classes and a lot of miscellaneous pro personnel moves, Kelly has gotten this group to look like what he wants. I wrote about Kelly’s transformation of the roster in this week’s PE.com column.

There is still more work to be done. Sam Bradford might be the answer at QB, but is far from a sure thing. Even if Walter Thurmond starts at FS and plays well, he and Malcolm Jenkins will be 28 by the end of the year. The Eagles need some young players to step forward there and prove to be viable depth. Earl Wolff, Jaylen Watkins, Jerome Couplin and Ed Reynolds offer potential. There are young OL to develop. And so on.

Culture plays a part of this. That 2012 team was borderline despicable by the end of the season. Jeremy Maclin wouldn’t block anyone. DRC had to be brought to Andy Reid’s office and shamed into tackling someone. Nnamdi ate lunch alone in his car.

Kelly has loaded his roster with grinders. Often we hear a word like that and think of overachievers like Trent Cole or Brent Celek. Stars can also be grinders. No one worked harder than Jerry Rice. Tom Brady is one of the great QBs ever and he pushes himself relentlessly. Walter Payton did amazing workouts in the offseason. He’s the first guy I ever heard about running a hill over and over.

No one is going to think of Nelson Agholor as an overachiever type. He was a star in high school and college. He was a 1st round pick. Yet, he talks like a 6th rounder who has a huge chip on his shoulder. DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy have immense talent. But they lack that special something it takes to push beyond talent. Neither player is lazy or anything close to that, but they aren’t driven to improve. They know how talented they are and are willing to settle for that. They will improve a bit here and there, but they lack the drive to take their game to the next level.

Kelly wants players who continually strive to get better. No one is perfect, but you chase perfection anyway. That leads you to places other players won’t get to.

Achieving success is hard. Sustaining success is incredibly difficult. Continually improving? That’s a whole other level. Al Davis had the phrase “Commitment to Excellence”. Kelly takes that to a whole other level. His players sleep, eat and drink football. Literally. He is looking for any edge he can find and he needs players that have the obsessive, competitive spirit to embrace that. Think of this as Total Football.

Kelly will never have a roster that is exactly what he wants (25 Oregon players, 25 New Hampshire players, and 3 guys from Oklahoma), but this roster is the way he wants it and gives him a chance to take the next step. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win 11 games this year, but the team will play more like what he wants. They’ll be one step closer to making his vision come to life in the NFL.

* * * * *

Daniel Jeremiah had an interesting culture discussion on his podcast.

Jeremiah asked Gordon how much a role culture played in some of the Eagles’ roster moves over the past two offseasons.

“When I see that from the outside, I get the sense that this coach wants to build his culture and maybe their influences are too strong,” Gordon said. “The longer you allow someone from an old culture to contaminate the new culture that you’re trying to build, the longer it takes to turn things around. You have to make sure you’re getting those energy vampires off the bus. Maybe these guys were contaminating the culture that he was trying to create. Maybe they weren’t all in. I’m not sure, but maybe that’s why.”

Interesting stuff.

* * * * *

If you enjoyed the Fletcher Cox highlights from yesterday, you can see more stuff like that. Larry Mitros posts them at Inside the Eagles.

Or follow him on Twitter.

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Special Player

Posted: June 7th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 51 Comments »

It would be really cool if the Eagles had been able to pull off a deal for QB Marcus Mariota. That didn’t happen and I am glad for one big reason…Fletcher Cox is still an Eagle.

In the lead-up to the draft, we began to hear rumors about the Eagles possibly including Cox in a move to get the second overall pick. He is the team’s best player so I can easily understand teams asking about him, but I don’t believe the Eagles included him in any real offers.

The Eagles have struggled to draft and develop defensive stars for much of the past decade so I think the team would be extremely hesitant to talk about dealing an impact DL. Cox isn’t just good. He’s special.

You see the traits that make him a special player.

* Rare combination of size, speed and strength.

* Able to disengage from blockers on a regular basis using both strength and technique.

* Quick enough to fire off the ball and get into the backfield.

* Very good motor. Chases the ball all over the field. Fast enough to close on QBs that are running in space.

* Regularly disruptive.

* Able to finish plays. Some DL can disrupt, but not finish. Cedric Thornton has 3 sacks in 48 career games. Cox had 4 sacks last year.

* Versatile. Can play left or right side. Can play DE, DT and NT.

And he can still get better.

Cox won’t turn 25 until December. This is a young man who has his best football ahead of him. He is in the final year of his contract so there will be pressure on him to have a big year and pressure on the Eagles to get him extended. It won’t be an easy negotiation because he is a 3-4 DE and they usually don’t have the impact of a pure DT or DE. How much can you afford to pay a 2-gap DE?

Chip Kelly has sung his praises, referring to Cox as the team’s MVP. Kelly values him and will hopefully have the Eagles begin working on a way to keep Cox around.

UPDATE – A couple of readers pointed out the Eagles have picked up the 5th year on Cox’s deal so he will be an Eagle in 2015 and 2016. That gives both sides time to work on an extension.

* * * * *

A bit of humor from Jimmy Bama.

Well done, sir.

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