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July 21, 2019

Eagles training camp battles to watch

The Philadelphia Eagles' 2019 training camp will kick off on Thursday, and most of the starting spots are all but set in stone. There are no sexy competitions to be sorted out over the next month and a half, but there are a few interesting camp battles to watch at varying roles.

Zach Brown vs. Kamu Grugier-Hill

Grugier-Hill has been in the league for three years, mostly serving as a core special teamer, with a somewhat increased role in the regular defense in 2018. During that three-year span, here are Grugier-Hill's numbers vs. Brown's:

 PlayerDefensive snaps Tackles (TFL) INT (PBU)Sacks FF 
 Zach Brown2517 372 (33) 1 (7)7.5 
 Kamu Grugier-Hill415  55 (7)1 (2) 

Because of Brown's experience and impressive numbers, when the Eagles signed him, the feeling among many was that he would be the starting linebacker opposite Nigel Bradham.

Don't be so sure of that. The Eagles like Grugier-HIll, and the belief here is that they want him to earn a starting job during training camp.

"He’s made incremental progress every year that we’ve had him here," linebackers coach Ken Flajole said of Grugier-Hill in June. "I fully expect him to be able to take the next step, and be more than just a special teams guy and a spot player on defense. I’d like to think that he can be a real factor for us.

"He runs great, he’s a great space player, so the way we’re getting offenses nowadays where everybody spreads you out and forces you to defend all of the field, this really plays to his game.

"He’s done a nice job as far as trying to get his body weight up, and his strength up, so he’s not a safety playing linebacker anymore. He’s actually getting fit into a linebacker body, so that’s good to see."

#JimmyPrediction: Grugier-Hill starts opposite Bradham, and Brown is a base down linebacker in the middle of the defense, in a role similar to that of Joe Walker or Dannell Ellerbe in years past.

Josh Sweat vs. Shareef Miller vs. Daeshon Hall vs. Joe Ostman vs. some other DE either on the street or on another roster

The Eagles' starters at DE are Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Behind them, Vinny Curry will eat up some early-down snaps, and then there's a question mark at that other backup DE spot.

First, there's a question as to whether or not the Eagles should look outside the organization for added edge rusher help. In June, defensive line coach Phillip Daniels was asked about the team's perceived lack of depth at defensive end. 

"I don't see it that way," Daniels said. "I think we have a lot of depth. We have a lot of young guys fighting for positions. You have guys that were drafted for that reason, so I think we're going to be fine at defensive end. We'll take those guys and they'll just keep improving every day, and we'll be fine with them."

Obviously, Daniels isn't making personnel decisions, but his view seems to match the Eagles' overall view of the position.

After spring practices, we picked Sweat as a player whose stock was up:

Before we praise Sweat's play, we should make two important disclaimers:

  1. There are no pads, so evaluating offensive and defensive line play is somewhat pointless.
  2. Sweat was mostly working against Jordan Mailata, who is learning a new position at RT, as well as some second- and third-team tomato cans.

That said, Sweat has shown an unmistakable burst, and is clearly the front-runner for the fourth DE spot. 

#JimmyPredictionThe belief here is that the team won't sign an outside guy, such as Connor Barwin, for example, and will ride with the youth on their roster, with Sweat emerging as the fourth DE.

The cornerback situation

By far, the most difficult position on the roster to predict is at cornerback, for two reasons:

• Two are injured. Jalen Mills didn't practice at all (or even work out on a side field like other teammates) during spring practices, and Ronald Darby is still recovering from his torn ACL last year. It remains to be seen whether (a) either guy will be a full go for the regular season, and (b) whether their injuries slow them even if they are.

• The Eagles' top six corners -- Mills, Darby, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, Sidney Jones, and Cre'Von LeBlanc -- are all 25 years of age or younger. Young players tend to make big leaps in their play from Year 1 to Year 2, and Year 2 to Year 3. We'll get a glimpse into which players make those leaps, and to what degree, during camp. To note, Maddox looked terrific during the spring. Among that group, Jones is the most interesting player to watch this summer, given how much the Eagles have invested in him, both in terms of draft capital and time.

#JimmyPrediction: The one thing I feel strongly about is that Maddox should never come off the field. In my view, he may already be the Eagles' best corner, and I envision a role for him in which he starts, and moves into the slot in nickel. I think he's too good to "just" be the slot corner, important and difficult a position as it may be. I do think it's possible that Jim Schwartz will use him as the slot and maybe also as the third safety, but not on the outside (and thus not on the field at all) when they're in they're base defense. This would put Maddox on the field for around 70-75 percent of the snaps, and would be the result of overvaluing Mills and/or Darby.

I do think Douglas also deserves a legitimate chance to start, but I think his time in that role will come in 2020, if Mills and/or Darby have moved on to another team in free agency.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | G/C
DE | DT | LB | CB | S | ST

L.J. Fort and Andrew Sendejo vs. 2020 draft picks

The Eagles are currently in line to receive a pair compensatory picks because they lost more comp pick-qualifying players (four) in free agency than gained (two). They are in line to receive a 2020 third-round pick for the loss of Nick Foles, and a fourth-round pick for the loss of Golden Tate.

They would also be in line for an additional fourth-round pick for the loss of Jordan Hicks, and a seventh-round pick for the loss of Jordan Matthews, had they not signed L.J. Fort and Andrew Sendejo in free agency. 

Fort and Sendejo are both free agent signings who currently count toward the compensatory pick formula as players gained. If one of those players were to be cut at any time prior to Week 10 of the regular season, they would no longer count toward the formula, and would no longer cancel out Hicks. In other words, the Eagles would essentially gain a 2020 fourth-round pick if they cut Fort or Sendejo.

Here's a visual of the cancellation chart (via OverTheCap):

Players lost (APY) - Projected round Players gained (APY) - Projected round 
 Nick Foles ($22,000,000) - 3L.J. Fort ($1,633,333) - 7 
Golden Tate ($9,375,000) - 4Andrew Sendejo ($1,300,000) - 7 
 Jordan Hicks ($9,000,000) - 4 
 Jordan Matthews ($1,800,000) - 7 

The Eagles have to keep that in mind when evaluating the play of Fort and Sendejo during training camp. If the Eagles were to cut Fort, he would count for $1,900,000 in dead money. That's not cheap. Sendejo would count for $500,000.

#JimmyPrediction: The Eagles shouldn't have signed Sendejo in the first place, as there were other equally skilled safeties available who would not have counted toward the formula. But what's done there is done.

The guess here is that the Eagles simply keep Fort and Sendejo.

Oh, and the Eagles would also be smart to monitor Matthews' situation in San Francisco's camp, as he is not a lock to make their roster. Should he get cut, he would no longer count toward the formula, and the fourth-round pick for Tate would be cancelled out instead of the seventh for Matthews.

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