Attitudes and Agendas

Posted: February 11th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 264 Comments »

The big questions involving the Eagles right now involve Sam Bradford and the QB position. Should the team re-sign or tag him? Should they draft a QB at pick 13? Should they possibly do both? Before you can really address those questions, you need to look at the big picture. What exactly are the Eagles trying to accomplish in 2016?

When Ray Rhodes took over the Eagles in 1995, he made it clear. He wanted to win right away. His goal was to win the Super Bowl that season. Heck, Ray wanted to win the Super Bowl in the preseason. Patience and planning were not his strengths.

When Andy Reid took over the Eagles in 1999, he wanted to build a program. He wanted a young core of players that could be good for a long time. He wasn’t on a youth movement to some extreme level. He mixed in some vets with young players. He wanted to win, but had a 5-year plan and always kept the big picture in focus.

When Chip Kelly took over the Eagles in 2013, he never really announced his intentions. He wanted to win right away, but had 4 rookies starting or playing key roles. He never really talked about long term plans, which makes some sense with him coming from college. There, every year and every team is different.

Doug Pederson has mentioned wanting to compete right away, but he’s also talked about adding a young QB to develop. Beyond that, he hasn’t really given us a good feel for his vision.

We can talk about coaches and their goals, but circumstances also play a huge role in determining what happens. Reid took over one of the worst offenses in modern NFL history. They weren’t ready to be a playoff team. Kelly got a team coming off a terrible record, but there was more talent on hand than people realized. That team fell apart due to intangible issues. A new coach and some new players made all the difference in the world.

Trying to figure out the current Eagles team is tricky. There is some good talent in place, but also holes to be filled. There is some good structure already, but there is also dysfunction. Pederson and Howie Roseman have to look through the fog of failure to try and figure out what needs to be fixed.

Pederson and Roseman may each have a vision for how they would like the next 3 years to go in a fantasy world, but reality says the burden of expectations and job pressure will affect their thinking.

Reid came to the Eagles after having helped develop an elite QB in Green Bay. Reid helped the team win a Super Bowl in 1996 and get back to the big game in 1997. He had a solid resume. Pederson doesn’t have the same track record. There is no QB pupil for him to point to. He only coached in one playoff win, a wild card game this past season.

If Pederson gets off to a really slow start in his first year or doesn’t show the right kind of progress in his second year, there will be a strong outcry for Jeff Lurie to fire him and “hire a real coach”. I’m sure Pederson is smart enough to understand this so it won’t surprise me at all to see him push for the Eagles to really compete this year.

Roseman is under pressure as well. He needs Pederson to win to show people that he helped to hire the right guy and also gave him enough talent to work with. I think Roseman knows he’s on a short leash with Lurie at this point so they can’t afford a disaster.

This doesn’t mean the Eagles can’t get off to a slow start. I think people understand change does take time. Rhodes began 1-3. Reid was 0-4. Chip was 1-3.  Their teams all played better after that. Pederson would be in trouble if he started 0-8 or something like that. Or if the team went 3-13 for the year. People aren’t sure what to make of Pederson. They need some success to help them buy in.

Gus Bradley has a horrible record, but the Jags just gave him an extension. He had a strong track record when they hired him and all the fans wanted Bradley. The owners are being incredibly patient with him. I’m fascinated to see if that pans out or if he’s just not a good coach. The Eagles can’t do that. This is a much bigger market and the fans are more aggressive.

Pederson and Roseman need to try to find a balance between winning now and long term. As dysfunctional as the Eagles were in 2015, they still almost won the NFC East. But the goal is to build a championship team. Just getting to the top of a crappy division isn’t good enough. The key to becoming a championship caliber team is finding the right QB.

There are 3 top shelf QBs in this draft: Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch. Pederson and Roseman need to decide which guy they feel strongest about. They also need to decide if all 3 are viable targets. Just because those are the top guys doesn’t mean the Eagles will have interest in all of them.

What if Pederson thinks Bradford can be a top QB? If so, then money shouldn’t be an object. I doubt Pederson will feel that strongly about him, but it is possible.

There are other QBs in the draft and other veteran options, but all come with baggage and are more of a long shot. Unless Pederson just loves some other QB, it will be disappointing not to come away with Bradford and/or one of the top college QBs. I know the Eagles could tag Bradford, but if Pederson decides that’s a guy he really wants, then you need a long term deal. The QB has to want to be here. He can’t have one eye on the future. He’s got to be “all in”.

I don’t know Pederson’s thinking on QBs. He and Reid might have similar tastes. Reid loved Bradford coming out in the draft. He also loved RGIII. I don’t know how Reid felt about Colin Kaepernick as a draft prospect, but the Niners did offer him in a trade prior to 2012 and Reid had no interest.

Beyond finding a QB, Pederson and Roseman need to figure out how to build around him. Should they sign an  OL in free agency so they can plug him in as a starter or focus on adding players in the draft? Do they give Nelson Agholor a chance to show what he can do at WR or add a big time talent in free agency or with pick 13?

There is no right or wrong answer to all of this.

Pederson and Roseman need to figure out what they want to do at QB and then go from there. They need the Eagles to be competitive in 2016, but you can argue that leaning more toward a youth movement is the way to go for building for the future. Is it better to go 6-10 and have an extra couple of rookies in the lineup vs going 8-8 with veterans in those spots?

It will be interesting to see if there are any disagreements and how they play out. Roseman isn’t the most patient guy, but the offseason moves of 2011 and 2015 might be enough of a lesson that he’s willing to pass on quick fixes. Roseman had nothing to do with Chip’s decisions last March so that might help the perspective of that situation to resonate even stronger than it would if those were his moves.

Pederson was part of Reid’s first Eagles team so he knows about building a strong core and how that can pay off. Will he have the patience to go that route? Just how good does he think the Eagles roster is?

Soon enough we’ll start to see what the Eagles plans are. We’ll see how they handle Bradford. We’ll see what they do in free agency. Those will give us some hints about pick 13 and what we should expect in 2016.

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Dominant Defense

Posted: February 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 426 Comments »

The Super Bowl wasn’t fun for those who wanted points, big plays and lots of offense. On the flip side, if you enjoy seeing defenses overwhelm blockers and punish QBs, you loved that game.

I enjoyed the game. It was cool to see Wade Phillips be part of a Super Bowl winner for the first time in his 40 or so years of coaching. He has been part great defenses in 5 different decades. If you were to ask Phillips who was the best player he ever coached, he would be able to choose from Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Bruce Smith, JJ Watt and Von Miller. And that’s keeping the list way too short.

Seeing that great defense got me excited for what Jim Schwartz is going to do with the Eagles. I’m certainly not expecting the Eagles to play that well in 2016, but just seeing them get back to an attacking style will make me a happy camper.

I wrote some thoughts on the 4-3 for PE.com, covering Reggie, Buddy, Jim Johnson, Wade Phillips and of course, Schwartz.

As long as the Eagles stay healthy, they have a chance to be outstanding up front. The LBs could be very good, but that’s not a sure thing. The secondary is the real mystery. Even there, the Eagles have potential. They might need to find a SS that can play in the box. It doesn’t feel like Walter Thurmond is a good fit for the defense we expect to see.

Scheme aside, the other aspect of having Schwartz run the defense is that he’s the team’s best DC since JJ. Sean McDermott was good, but learning on the job. Juan Castillo…just bizarre. Todd Bowles only had the job for part of a year and wasn’t running his scheme. Bill Davis has his limitations and worked under very challenging circumstances.

Schwartz has 9 years of experience as an NFL defensive coordinator. He was a head coach for 5 years. The man isn’t perfect, but he knows what he’s doing and understands how to teach his scheme to players and assistant coaches. There is tremendous value in that. Schwartz’s players knew what to expect from him and they had confidence that he would have them prepared for each game.

Players credit the defensive coaches for their ability to correct mistakes quickly — the Chicago Bears converted three consecutive third-down attempts on their opening drive against the Titans, but none the rest of the game — and for the detailed preparation that dovetails with what linebacker Keith Bulluck called Schwartz’s “little hobbies.”

Kyle Vanden Bosch said: “Especially from a defensive lineman standpoint, we don’t usually pay attention to formations and down and distance. He has that broken down for us. We know what to expect out of certain formations, and what plays they can run. It’s unusual for a defensive line. But we have a quiz in front of the whole defense on Friday, and he expects everybody to know that.”

I really do look forward to seeing what a smart, successful, veteran coach can do with the Eagles defense.

*****

I watched the 30 for 30 documentary on the ’85 Bears and it was great.

For many, that will be a trip down memory lane. For some, it will serve as an introduction to the greatest defense in the history of the NFL. I love Gang Green as much as anyone, but the ’85 Bears are the best defense I’ve ever seen. They had a 6-game stretch where they didn’t allow more than 10 points and shut 2 teams out.

They allowed 22 TDs all year and scored 5 TDs of their own.

The highlight of the 30 for 30 special is seeing the relationship between Buddy Ryan and Mike Singletary. It’s really powerful. Those men had a special bond that lasts to this day. Singletary went to visit Buddy recently and they show them talking about the old days. Buddy’s health is a major issue, but you can see the impact Singletary has on him.

At the end of the special, they show a letter Buddy recently wrote and sent to his defensive players. Those guys try to open the letter and read it on camera, but several break down before they can even come close to finishing.

Special coach.

Special players.

Special team.

I urge you to see this. Part of the special is former players talking up the glory days and we’ve seen that plenty of times, but the segments with Buddy and Singletary are really moving. Sometimes we forget about the power of the player-coach relationship. We got to see something special with Brian Dawkins and Jim Johnson. The difference is that here you have video of the two men in the 1980s and the present day so you see them in an up close and personal way that is very touching.

I never thought in a million years I would write that sentence about Buddy and Singletary, but go watch the special and you’ll see what I mean.

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Riley Flew the Coop

Posted: February 8th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 251 Comments »

The Eagles cut Riley Cooper today. Not exactly shocking news, but a transaction worth reporting.

Cooper wasn’t earning his contract and that made the cut pretty easy. Some people are going to talk about this as the Eagles trying to get rid of a Chip Kelly guy. I really don’t see it that way. Cooper was drafted by Howie Roseman and played for Andy Reid for 3 seasons. They liked his size and toughness.

Cooper’s breakout season and subsequent contract extension came on Kelly’s watch. I think the real reason he is seen as a Kelly guy is that Chip was so defensive about Cooper when the media would ask about his lack of production or any mistakes he might have made.

I don’t want to get too much into the whole race angle. I’ll just say this. Jason Avant and Michael Vick stood up in the locker room and spoke on Cooper’s behalf, asking other players to forgive him and to keep him around. If those two hadn’t done that, I don’t think Kelly would have tried to keep Cooper around. Anyway…that’s all water under the bridge at this point and I’ll be glad not to talk about Cooper or the incident.

He is now a part of Eagles WR lore, just like Na Brown, Michael Gasperson, Plaxico Burress (go ask Roob on Twitter if the Eagles should sign him) and Freddie Mitchell. How’s that for a trip down memory lane?

Now back to Earth.

The Eagles do have a young set of WRs in Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff. Bottom of the roster players like Seyi Ajirotutu, Jonathan Krause and Freddie Martino will be fighting for spots, but none are guaranteed to return.

I’m interested to see if the Eagles go for a veteran or another young guy to add to the mix.

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The Saints cut OL Jahri Evans today, which led to this.

https://twitter.com/MalcolmJenkins/status/696832658454749184

Evans is from Philly. He was the Saints RG from 2006-2015, making 6 Pro Bowls. Evans will turn 33 this summer and isn’t the guy you sign to make your OL younger.

That said, if the Eagles do want a proven OG to help for a year or two while a young guy develops, Evans would make some sense.

I wouldn’t see this as a likely move, but it is kinda cool that Malcolm Jenkins is openly recruiting old teammates to come join him. That is an encouraging sign since Jenkins is in the final year of his deal and could be a target for an extension. Sounds like he wants to stay with the Eagles.

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Schefter is not backing down from his weekend report.

I’ll write more at length about the franchise tag in another post. That’s a complex discussion.

As for Foles, notice the comment is that the Eagles will inquire about him. The Eagles clearly aren’t going to give up much to get him (a conditional pick or maybe some butterscotch pudding that no one in the NovaCare ate at lunch). The key with him is the contract. The Rams don’t want to pay Foles, but have to decide if they can make that work or if they have to just suck it up and keep him around a year as an overpaid backup.

I don’t have a problem with him as a band-aid QB. Someone has to start for the Eagles in 2016. I’d love to have Sam Bradford back, but not if he wants huge money. Having Foles start half the season until a rookie is ready to take over wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. He is a good leader and locker room guy. If you’re going to have a short term veteran starter, that’s the kind of guy you want.

Don’t get too fired up about any of this. Someone is feeding Schefter a nugget. Might be the Eagles. Might be the Rams. Might be an agent. We’ll know more in a couple of weeks.

*****

Need your dumb laugh for the day?

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Nick Foles?

Posted: February 7th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 682 Comments »

I didn’t expect to read this when I woke up.

Are these agents playing games? Or Eagles leaks?

Jeff McLane indicates they aren’t true.

I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely looking forward to more of this nonsense for the next 30 or so days.

Howie Roseman will use the media to get info out in the open. Some of this is true and some not. The goal is to either confuse other teams on what the Eagles want to do or to help create leverage with agents when it comes to bargaining on contracts.

So you have Howie playing his games and agents playing their games. Add in the fact that the top free agent QB is Sam Bradford of the Eagles and you can see where this is going to be Rumorgeddon.

Some quick takes:

  • The Eagles should not tag Sam Bradford. He’s just not worth that money.
  • Jimmy Bama raised the idea of tagging and trading Bradford. I think the market for Sam will be so limited that I don’t think it would make sense to try this.
  • Bringing back Bradford at the right price would be ideal. Good player. Just not worth overpaying for, unless you feel like you’re on the verge of being a title contender. I doubt Howie and Doug Pederson will see the Eagles in that category.
  • Bringing back Nick Foles would be fine with me. I’m not talking about him as a long term starter. Foles has shown that he’s not a guy you build your franchise around. He could be Doug Pederson’s Doug Pederson, so to speak. Have him run the team until a rookie QB is ready to take over. Foles is a high character guy and has proven he can be an adequate starter, good under the right circumstances. I think he would be a good backup QB.

Expect all kinds of crazy rumors and reports in the next month. There are a lot of different scenarios involving the Eagles and the QB position.

Ideally the Eagles will find a long term solution to the QB position, whether that is a draft pick or getting Bradford or some other quality veteran signed to a long deal. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.

One thing we have to remember in all of this is that Sam Bradford has something to say about where he plays. Yes, the Eagles can tag him. But they should only do that if he wants to be here. Per Tim McManus:

We made a case for placing the franchise tag on Bradford last week, a move that would likely cost the Eagles $19-20 million in ’16. It would allow them the opportunity to put their best foot forward this year while leaving flexibility long-term should they land their quarterback of the future in the upcoming draft.

Bradford, we’re told, isn’t dying to come back to Philadelphia, which might be part of the equation here. But there are worse fates than banking $20 million in a familiar setting for a season, and Bradford is a professional. It’s hard to picture him not investing himself in a season just because he’s not in his ideal setting.

I’ve also heard some hints that Bradford might not be in love with coming back. The key is that he has to find a suitor that wants him and that he is interested in. If the right teams don’t reach out to him, maybe returning to the Eagles will suddenly be the best option.

It is going to be interesting to see how this QB circus plays out, for the the Eagles, as well the other teams and all the QBs involved.

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Everybody Wants Some

Posted: February 4th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 633 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.

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

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

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