What a Difference a Year Makes

Posted: February 21st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 86 Comments »

Can the Eagles find an elite receiver? Can the team find a good CB? Who is going to be the starting tailback this year? There are some interesting questions as we head into this offseason. But those questions seem pretty easy when you think back 365 days. A this time last year there was tremendous uncertainty for the organization.

I wrote about that for PE.com.

All we knew about Doug Pederson is what we heard in his press conferences, and that was pretty scary. We had no clue if he could be an effective head coach. There was also a fear Pederson would be Andy Reid Jr, mis-managing the clock and refusing to run the ball. Pederson was far from perfect, but he did okay with the clock and he did run the ball. There is hope for him.

Nobody knew what to expect from Howie Roseman. Would other teams deal with him the way they had in the past? Would he remain good with contract negotiations? Would the team draft okay? Would he get along with the new coaches? Overall, Howie had a very strong offseason. He moved players the Eagles didn’t want and managed to get the Eagles up to #2. He drafted Carson Wentz. The overall rookie class looks promising. The Eagles landed good free agents and extended Fletcher Cox. Not every move worked perfectly, but doing all that and then trading Sam Bradford for a 1st round pick is a good offseason in my book.

Last February we had no idea what to make of the Eagles. From management to coaches to players to schemes, we had no idea exactly what to expect. It looks like the Eagles made mostly smart moves and now have the foundation in place to get back to being a winning team. Can the team take the next step and become a Super Bowl contender? We’ll have to wait and see on that.

The next 6 months are going to be huge for the Eagles. They need to make the right cuts/trades to create cap space. They need to sign the right players. They need to scout and draft well. And the coaches must develop the young players already on the roster. If the team can make enough of the right moves, a year from now we’ll be talking about what a difference a year makes, only this time it won’t be about laying a foundation, but rather winning games and getting back to the playoffs.

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I’ve mentioned this as a possibility in previous posts.

If Maclin hit the market, his price would certainly be cheaper than it was last time around. He’s older now and isn’t a star player. Still, he would be a high character, quality veteran receiver to add to the offense. He has RAC ability and is still fast enough to get deep. The Eagles might be interested.

There are reports that the Eagles are targeting Alshon Jeffery. If true, that would make Maclin and other receivers backup options if the Eagles aren’t able to land their primary target. The good news is that there are enough receivers who will definitely be on the market that the Eagles can find at least one to add to the lineup.

Help is on the way.

We just don’t know who yet.

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Words Matter

Posted: February 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 119 Comments »

Did you hear?

That would be great if the Eagles could deal Barwin. It would help the cap situation and it would be nice to get something in return, even if just a late round pick.

There is only one problem. This tweet is based on a piece written by Mark Eckel. It is pure speculation. Eckel said those teams “could have interest”. There is nothing wrong with what he did, but someone made the jump from that to the idea that there are teams definitely interested.

That came from a piece by Mike Jones of the Washington Post. The problem is that Jones was just speculating and named the Eagles as a team “expected” to be interested in Garcon. The Eagles have the worst (or close to it) set of WRs in the league. NFL writers and analysts know the Eagles need help. Expecting them to have interest in a free agent receiver is obvious, not insight. Jones implies he knows something by using the word “expected”, but doesn’t go all the way and say the Eagles will have interest. To me, this means he is simply speculating.

Every offseason I have to write a piece on how confusing this time of the year can be. You have to know who to trust and you have to read things very carefully to understand whether they are reporting something or just speculating.

The biggest issue has to do with sources. Some people get a lot of info from agents. The problem there is that agents have agendas. If they offer legit news, the item will still have a positive slant for their client. Other times the agent is lying and trying to generate rumors about their client. Good writers can usually tell what is legit and what isn’t, but there are times when even a veteran writer will go with a errant report.

Jay Glazer is the one guy I trust implicitly. He doesn’t report that much, but when he’s got a nugget, it is real. He isn’t a middle man for agents. Glazer has ties to a lot of players and coaches. He knows what is actually going on.

Most of the national guys are solid. Adam Schefter gets more scoops than anyone, but he will be wrong at times. Ian Rapoport, Albert Breer, John Clayton and Jason La Canfora are all worth following on Twitter and keeping up with. They all have some good connections. La Canfora seems to be the guy with the closest ties to the Eagles of that group. That doesn’t mean you have to trust everything he writes, but at least pay attention to what he puts out there.

All of the local guys that I have met in person are stand up guys who work hard to develop sources and get information. Les Bowen, Jeff McLane, Tim McManus, Zach Berman and even Jimmy Bama do their best to provide you with breaking news.

We’ll have all kinds of news and rumors coming out soon. The Scouting Combine is about 10 days away and then free agency starts on March 9th. Teams and agents will do a ton of talking in that time frame. Read every nugget and every report that you can, but make sure to be careful so you can figure out what is a rumor and what’s actually got some substance to it.

Rumors can be fun, but also very misleading.

The crazy thing about this time of the year is that no one knows what is going to happen, even the teams. The Eagles might desperately want to sign Alshon Jeffery, but there are 31 other teams that could be involved. And you never know what the player wants. I remember years ago when the Eagles really wanted CB Fred Thomas. He came to visit and then decided he wanted to stay in New Orleans. Thomas snuck out of town and headed home. Back in 2010 the Eagles were desperate for Julius Peppers. Before they could make a run at him, Lovie Smith was already in town talking to him. Peppers headed to the Windy City and the Eagles were forced to change their plans.

Stay tuned. The next month should be very interesting.

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Young Runners

Posted: February 18th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 32 Comments »

Ryan Mathews will become an ex-Eagle sometime in the near future. He was the Eagles leading rusher in 2016, but age, price, durability and fumbles are among the reasons the team is ready to move on. There is no clear replacement for Mathews on the roster.

That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare.

Darren Sproles remains a terrific role player. He ran for 438 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry last year. I don’t think people understand what a good runner he is because there is so much focus on him as a receiver and returner. Sproles is at his best in space, but he’s better than people think at running between the tackles. He’s just not a guy you want to feed the ball to 20 times a game.

What about the young guys?

Wendell Smallwood played in 13 games and showed good potential. I loved his vision and patience. Those are key traits for a good RB. You must allow your blockers to do their job and you also need to be able to see where the hole is.

https://twitter.com/iNubyy/status/783340853309898752

Smallwood did have a costly fumble in the Dallas game. He also got hurt late in the year and missed the final 3 games. I don’t know if he has what it takes to be a starting RB in the league, but at the least I think he can be a good backup.

Byron Marshall was very impressive in the preseason, but that was mostly against 3rd stringers. I wasn’t sure if he was ready to play as a rookie. When Smallwood got hurt, Marshall was added to the roster and he took advantage of the situation.

Marshall showed vision and burst. He can make sharp cuts. He has outstanding lateral agility. He reminds me a lot of Darren Sproles. I don’t know that he’ll be that good (not many are), but Marshall can be a terrific role player in his own right.

Terrell Watson is a big, physical runner. He showed potential late in the year.

https://twitter.com/Eaglesfans9/status/815665030846935044

I still see him as more of a project / long shot. This spring and summer are going to be crucial for his NFL future.

Kenjon Barner is the mystery man. There are times when he shows really good ability. At the same time, he only has 61 carries in his 4-year career and is about to turn 28 in April. The coaches like him enough to keep him around, but never seem to want to play him on a regular basis. Barner is a restricted free agent this year. It will be interesting to see what the Eagles do. They will tender him low, if they want him back at all. It is possible they’ll just let him walk.

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Something Special

Posted: February 16th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 126 Comments »

Dave Fipp is a darn good coach.

Not only does he have the eyes to back that up (and steal your soul), he’s got the stats.

I remember the 1995 Eagles, where STs were a joke. Tommy Hutton had a punt blocked and returned for a TD. Gary Anderson hit 73 percent of his FGs, and he was a weak-legged kicker at that point who specialized in accuracy. His longest FG was 43 yards. 43!!! Those Eagles allowed a pair of PRs for TDs. They gave up 26 yards per KOR.

Ray Rhodes loved veteran players so he loaded the roster with those guys. Players in their late 20’s and early 30’s are not great STers for the most part. They want to play on offense or defense. If they weren’t the worst STs in the league, they were close.

The current Eagles are worlds different.

The Eagles impacted the game in every way on special teams this past season. The Eagles ranked second in the NFL with a franchise-record 27.3-yard per kickoff return average, thanks to a promising rookie year from Wendell Smallwood. Philadelphia led the league with five kickoff returns of 50-plus yards, and was the only team with multiple kickoff return touchdowns. The Eagles also finished second in punt return average (12.9 yards per return) with Darren Sproles leading the way. Another benefit from the special teams unit was that the Eagles had the best field position following a kickoff on both offense (27.2-yard line) and defense (22.7-yard line) in 2016.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis also made history for the Eagles’ special teams. In his first full season with the team, he connected on 35 field goals, both a career high as well as the most by any Eagle in a single season. Sturgis began Training Camp in a battle with Cody Parkey, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2014 but was placed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury the following season. Sturgis won the job and Fipp is excited about the future with him.

Fipp is a very good coach and the organization uses resources to build up STs. They traded for Darren Sproles. They signed Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman. They added Kamu Grugier-Hill last summer because they thought he could be a stud on STs.

I’m interested to see what happens this offseason. Braman is a UFA. Will the Eagles bring him back or will they try to find a 4-3 LB to fill his role? Braman played a little defense this year as a DE, but was almost exclusively a STer.

Sproles has said this is his final year. Will the Eagles try to add someone to learn for a year or will they wait until next offseason and just fully replace him at that time? Could Byron Marshall and/or Kenjon Barner be his replacment(s)?

Doug Pederson was very wise to keep Dave Fipp around. He’s done a terrific job of working with the kickers/punters, the cover guys, the blockers and returners. I can’t imagine where the Eagles would have been the past 3 years if they had mediocre or bad STs. Things were hard enough with them being an elite unit.

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Gregg has a feel for these things. That doesn’t make him right, but he’s worth paying attention to.

I don’t want the team to be overly-active. I want them to be smart shoppers. As fun as it is to see them make a lot of moves in March, offseasons like that rarely pay off. You need to add a big piece or two and then find some good fits.

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A lot of times we see teams get active before the Scouting Combine. That starts on Feb 28th this year. Cuts could happen next week or early the next week. Teams cut veterans they know they can’t deal before free agency to give those players a chance to shop themselves. That’s how you maintain good relations with players and agents.

It would be nice if the Eagles were able to deal guys like Mychal Kendricks, Connor Barwin and Jason Kelce. I think Barwin is cut. The other two I think will be dealt, but that might happen in March or it might drag out a bit. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Eagles will be making some cuts soon. They need the cap room.

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An Interesting Question

Posted: February 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 246 Comments »

Albert Einstein was a pretty smart dude. He enjoyed “thought experiments”, where he would think about a problem, come up with a hypothetical solution and then try to imagine the consequences, good and bad, of what might happen.

Here is an interesting Eagles thought experiment. Think about the 2016 Eagles. Imagine you could swap out Julio Jones for Nelson Agholor. Or you could swap out Richard Sherman for Leodis McKelvin. Okay, now throw a glass of water in your face and come back to reality.

The question is which player would make the 2016 Eagles better. The team went 7-9 as is. With which player would they have a better record?

I’ll post my thoughts later. For now, I’d like to know your take on Big Al’s Eagles question.

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