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January 30, 2020

What they're saying: Eagles free agent WR targets, where the rookies ranked, and why Andy Reid is great

We're just a few days away from Super Bowl LIV in Miami between the Chiefs and 49ers, a game that will feature a few familiar faces for Eagles fans, as well as the Birds' next potential offensive coordinator

Once the Super Bowl ends, the football world will shift its focus to free agency and the draft, both of which will be extremely important for the Eagles this offseason, as the team not only looks to get younger but better as well following a disappointing 2019 season. 

If that's going to be the case, they'll need to do better than they did a season ago. And that's where we'll start this edition of What They're Saying, with a look back at how poorly their draft picks from last year fared as a whole. We'll also look at some free agents who could help make Carson Wentz' life a little easier, Andy Reid's return to the Super Bowl, some thoughts on the Eagles potential coaching hires and more. 

Plenty of room for improvement

Ben Linsey | Pro Football Focus

Thank god for Mile Sanders. According to Pro Football Focus, the Eagles had one of the worst rookie classes in the NFL this season, and that's saying something considering Sanders is a candidate for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Sure, this was always going to be a tough year for the Eagles to get contributions from their rookies, considering they only made five total selections and their first-round pick, Andre Dillard, was drafted to sit and learn behind Jason Peters for a year. 

That being said, while Dillard was showing improvement when playing on the left side in place of an injured Peters, he was absolutely awful in the brief action he got on the opposite side from where he's used to playing. And J.J. Arcega-Whiteside wasn't able to find a role in the offense despite an absolutely decimated WR corps that should've afforded him plenty of opportunities to make plays. 

And as a result, PFF had the Eagles' rookie class ranked as the 25th most productive in football.

25. Philadelphia Eagles. 

Why they’re ranked here: The Eagles drafted two players in the first two rounds (offensive tackle Andre Dillard and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside) who added negative wins above replacement values. That isn’t great. Arcega-Whiteside was especially disappointing, earning targets on a higher percentage of his routes than only Andre Patton of the Chargers. All the opportunity was there to take advantage of a larger role with the offense’s injuries, but it never materialized. 

How their top pick fared: Dillard (No. 22 overall) was limited to reserve work when Jason Peters or Lane Johnson went down because of injury, and that was a good thing for Carson Wentz based on how he graded. He allowed a pressure rate of 14.7%, higher than any other tackle in the NFL.

Best value pick: Running back Miles Sanders (No. 53 overall) still has some work to do as a runner, but he has already shown that he can be a positive in the passing game out of the backfield. He led a depleted Eagles' roster with 165 receiving yards on passes 20 or more yards downfield.  []

Window shopping

Dave Zangaro | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Well, now this is interesting. 

We already know that the Eagles are in desperate need of WR upgrades this offseason, and given their recent history in the NFL Draft, they could look to free agency to add some much-needed help for Carson Wentz (although they've found mixed results there as well). Over at NBC Sports Philly, Dave Zangaro wrote about five possible free agent targets at wide receiver, and there were some eye-opening names. 

Emmanuel Sanders makes sense, as he was considered a possibility for the Eagles ahead of the trade deadline, before Denver traded him to the 49ers. But the much bigger deal would be Amari Cooper, not only because of what he would bring to the Eagles, but because of what he exit would do to the Cowboys offense. Unfortunately, it's going to be tough to pull off — and the reason why isn't going to help Alshon Jeffery get out of the Philly dog house any time soon. 

Amari Cooper: Cooper is one of the biggest pending free agents in the NFL this offseason and he’s not going to be cheap. You’d think the Cowboys are going to sign him to a long-term deal but they have to get their quarterback under contract too. Cooper (6-1, 210) is one of the best receivers in the league and would definitely help the Eagles but he’s going to be very expensive. Spotrac estimates his next contract to be five years, $98 million, for an average salary of nearly $20 million per season. That would be tough to swing, especially considering Alshon Jeffery’s expensive contract is guaranteed next session. But Cooper is still just 25 and is coming off his fourth Pro Bowl season and the best year of his career.  

Emmanuel Sanders: Howie Roseman said the Eagles want to get faster and younger. Sanders (5-11, 180) fits only one of those requirements. He’ll turn 33 the day before free agency begins, which might be enough to cross him off the Eagles’ wish list. But he is about to play in a Super Bowl and in 10 games with the 49ers this year, he had 36 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. When Sanders was on the trading block during the season, the Eagles were mentioned as a possible landing spot.  []

A good Reid

Kevin Clark | The Ringer

Now we move on to the "Andy Reid is coaching in the Super Bowl on Sunday" section of this week's What They're Saying. Don't worry, we're not going to troll you with non-stop Andy Reid Appreciation Day coverage or anything like that. But Reid was a massive figure in this town (no pun intended, seriously), and did a lot to help shape the Eagles franchise throughout the decade and a half he was in Philly and beyond. 

These next two stories do a good job of explaining why Reid has been so successful in the NFL, despite not winning a Super Bowl (although that could change this weekend). First up, we take a look at Andy Reid the football mind.

Football is not a sport of giant leaps. There are only, by rule, so many ways you can line up on a football field, and even the biggest innovations are small, nuanced changes building on decades of other modifications before it. The best minds, like Andy Reid and Bill Belichick, are to football what Malcolm Gladwell once dubbed Steve Jobs: tweakers, who don’t invent a lot but change a lot. Reid started as a West Coast offense scheme baron. He worked under West Coast offense legend Mike Holmgren as an assistant before taking the offense, which relied on short, horizontal passing routes, with him as a head coach in Philadelphia. Reid kept incrementally building the offense until it included, well, basically everything. The Fast and the Furious started out as a pretty basic car racing movie in 2001, and by 2017, its plots involved Russians with nuclear weapons. Reid began his career as a West Coast savant who built an offense that folded in nearly every innovation of the sport. But, in both the Fast franchise and in Reid’s career, the main ingredients are still there.  []

And it's been that willingness to evolve combined with the ability to stay ahead of the curve that has kept Reid winning more than 20 years after coaching his first game with the Birds. Here's more from The Ringer's Kevin Clark:

In 2013, I sat down with Reid in a plain room in a college building in St. Joseph, Missouri, where the Chiefs held their training camp. He told me that the college game is five years ahead of the pro game and that in five years, the spread offenses that had thoroughly dominated the college game would finally dominate the NFL. Five years later, it happened. The Eagles beat the Patriots in what Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told me looked like a Big 12 game. I tell this story often for two reasons: Because it’s amazing how prescient Reid was, and because it explains Reid perfectly. He not only sees the future, but he helps shape it. Reid spent those five years borrowing liberally from other levels of football and has now perfected the form. In 2017, spread plays he ran against the Patriots were stolen by the Patriots and a slew of other teams. Reid famously stole a play last season from North Dakota State. The result? “College” plays are rarely discussed anymore. The levels of football have merged, which Reid helped. There are no longer NFL or college plays anymore, only football plays.  []

Big Red memories

Bo Wulf | The Athletic

And then there's Andy Reid the person. The media may not have always loved him. The same can be said about the fans. But his players, to a man, all love Big Red. 

Over at The Athletic, Bo Wulf republished a story from before the Eagles faced the Chiefs in 2017 that features some past and present Eagles recounting their best Reid memories. They did NOT disappoint. 

Brent Celek: There was one time I was running a route down the middle and I like did a crazy dive-back and it looked so awful. I came back and he was like, “What the hell are you doing out there? You look like a (expletive) dolphin flipping around.” I won’t forget that. I was really young. I think I was a rookie. He said, “You look like a (expletive) dolphin flipping around out there.”

Fletcher Cox: The night before the game, he’d always tell us, “Good luck, and I got you guys some cheeseburgers. Some ice cream.”

Jeffrey Lurie, owner: I have so many, but I’ll give you an early one, a really early one. It’s the first, second time I think, I ever went out to dinner with Andy. So we order and, you know, go around the table and everyone orders their dish. But Andy asks for three. Three! It wasn’t one. It was like, “I’ll have one steak,” or whatever it is. He asked for three. And it was like normal. So it was sort of like, “OK!”

Jason Peters: Probably when I first got here (in 2009). I came to minicamp and went to practice in the indoor and was battling Trent Cole for the first time. And I crushed him all practice. It was about an hour-and-45-minute practice, but in the indoor you sweat a lot. So I crushed him all practice and then after practice (Reid) called us up and I thought we were done. He’s like, “We’ve got 12 hash gassers.” So we start running the gassers. I got to about eight or nine and I fell out. When I opened my eyes, he was straddling over the top of me and he’s like, “Yeah, big fella, I’m gonna get you right. Don’t worry about it.” That was one of my first moments with him that I remember.  []

A 'Dawkins-like' coach for Eagles

Mike Kaye |

Speaking of Eagles coaches, let's take a quick look at one of their (reported) future coaches, Marquand Manuel, who is expected to be named their defensive backs coach when they finally announce their coaching hires, which will reportedly happen next week.

Mike Kaye of caught up with Lito Sheppard, who was a college teammate with Manuel and could tell even back then that this guy had "future coach" written all over him...

Former Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard, who spent his entire college career in Gainesville, Fla. with Manuel, remembers the young safety focusing more on the Gators’ playbook than partying and having fun during their time together.

“That guy knew the playbook probably better than the coach did," Sheppard told NJ Advance Media on Monday. "He took on that type of leadership, even in college. To be that leader, to be that professor, to be that guy who gave every blood, sweat and tear he had with 130 percent.” ...

“What I think he’s going to bring is a very Brian Dawkins-like inspirational mentality,” Sheppard said. “He’s a really pumped up guy, he’s a very exciting guy, he’s a very passionate guy about his craft.”  []

Sticking with Schwartz

Brandon Lee Gowton | Bleeding Green Nation

And, finally, let's take a look at a current coach: defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. There was a thought the Eagles might move on after Doug Pederson gave a glowing assessment of Mike Groh and was a bit dodgy on Schwartz. Of course, the next day, the Eagles parted ways with Groh and announced that Schwartz would be back. Perhaps one of the reasons the Eagles want to keep him, despite some issues on defense, is because of what he's able to do with limited resources. Here's more from the Bleeding Green's version of Stay or Go, where 93 percent of fans (as of this writing) want to see Schwartz back next season.

Schwartz isn’t a perfect DC but he’s definitely a good one. I mean, the Eagles have allowed the fewest home points in the NFL since he was hired back in 2016. Factor in road games and Schwartz’s defenses have allowed the fifth fewest points in the league.

If the Eagles want to see some defensive improvement, it’s up to Howie Roseman to give Schwartz more resources to work with. Such a strategy has worked in the past:

In addition to the lack of cap spending, the Eagles haven’t used a Day 1 or Day 2 draft pick on a defensive player since the 2017 NFL Draft. Tough to demand a great defense without having the proper tools for one.  []

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