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November 21, 2017

Some Eagles kicker hypotheticals: Jake Elliott, Caleb Sturgis, or 'Option C?'

In the Philadelphia Eagles' thumping of the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night, kicker Jake Elliott suffered a concussion and may or may not be ready for the Birds' Week 12 game against the Chicago Bears this Sunday.

Elliott took over for the Eagles' previous starting kicker, Caleb Sturgis, who suffered a hip flexor injury Week 1 against the Redskins, and has been on IR ever since. Sturgis is eligible to come off of IR if the Eagles choose to activate him.

In his Monday morning press conference, Doug Pederson shied away from giving any substantive answers in regard to the readiness of Sturgis, but he did say that if Elliott is healthy, Elliott is his guy the rest of the season.

"If (Elliott) is healthy and can play, you'd hate to disrupt that right now," Pederson said.

That leaves the Eagles with three potential options at kicker:

1) Elliott is ready to play on Sunday

Easy peasy. Problem solved.

2) Activate Sturgis from IR

If Elliott is not ready to play on Sunday, as noted above, the Eagles can activate Sturgis off of IR until they feel that Elliott is ready. Sturgis is a reliable kicker who was solid for the Eagles in 2016, and has improved each year in the NFL:

Caleb Sturgis FG percentage 
2013 76.5% 
2014 78.4% 
2015 81.8% 
2016 86.8% 

He also did a great job on kickoffs, lofting kicks with good hang time, allowing the Eagles' coverage units to get down the field to almost always make tackles shy of the touchback mark at the 25-yard line. In fact, opposing teams averaged 19.1 yards per kick return, which was second-lowest in the NFL.

3) Sign a kicker off the street and leave Sturgis on IR

Wait, what? Why would the Eagles do this when they have a perfectly good kicker just sitting there ready to go? Two reasons:

  1. You don't want to help another team you might have to face in the playoffs.
  2. Sturgis could count toward the compensatory pick formula.

On the first point, if you watched Monday Night Football last night, you saw that the Seahawks had a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation if Blair Walsh could hit a 52-yard field goal. Walsh's kick fell short, and the Seahawks lost. 

If the Eagles activated Sturgis for, say, one game, whenever Elliott is ready to return, they would have to cut Sturgis, as they are not going to carrying two healthy kickers on their 53-man roster. Sturgis would be an upgrade over Walsh, and at some point the Eagles could face the Seahawks in the playoffs. You don't want that coming back to haunt you.

And then there's the compensatory pick point. At the end of this season, Sturgis is set to become a free agent. If he signs a decent enough contract with another team, he could count toward the Eagles' compensatory pick formula. 

You can go here for a much more detailed explanation on how compensatory picks are awarded, but the TL;DR version is that if the Eagles were to lose more free agents than they gain during the 2018 offseason (a real possibility for the first time in a long time), they could be awarded compensatory draft picks by the league in 2019.

Sturgis would not count toward the compensatory pick formula if they released him during the 2017 season.

So what could the Eagles do instead? They could sign a kicker off the street for one week against a crappy Bears team, thus preserving Sturgis' potential return of a draft pick in 2019, while not gift-wrapping a competent kicker to a playoff contender. 

Or, you know, they could just have Kamu Grugier-Hill continue to serve as a kickoff specialist, while going for it on fourth down deep on the Bears' side of the field and just going for two after every touchdown. (Kidding on that one, mostly.)

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