January 02, 2017
The Eagles made some major strides in what ultimately became a 2016 season of rebuilding. They found a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz, Brandon Graham finally emerged as a first-round talent, Malcolm Jenkins became an elite leader on their defense. Darren Sproles remained ageless.
What they also established – if they are truly honest with themselves in this pivotal off-season – is which people dragged them down to another losing season at 7-9, people who need to go before the opening of training camp in six months.
Here is my top-10 list of players (and one coach) who should not return for the 2017 season. Some are obvious. Some are not. But in each case they project as more of a problem than a solution in the immediate future of the franchise.
Jason Peters – The beloved anchor of the offensive line is getting old – 35 later this month. He is still effective, but at what price? He’s scheduled to make close to $10 million next season. With his obvious decline in foot-speed, his knack for false starts and his litany of injuries, he is no longer worth the money.
Cory Undlin – The only coach on my list had some dubious defensive backs to work with in the past two seasons, and he found a way to make them worse. Just listen to ex-Eagle great Mike Quick wonder, game after game on the radio broadcasts, why the pass defenders rarely look back when the ball is in the air. Goodbye, Cory.
Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll – Both of the starting cornerbacks do not belong on an Eagles team with higher ambitions. McKelvin was worse than Carroll, but neither is able to cover a top receiver. It’s that simple. There will be better corners available this winter than either of these two underachievers.
Vinny Curry – Reborn GM Howie Roseman made some good moves last off-season, but signing Curry to a five-year, $47-million contract was not one of them. Curry ranks among the highest-paid defensive ends, and he had 2½ sacks this season – as a part-time player. If he isn’t good enough to play every snap, why keep him?
Connor Barwin – Curry was so bad, he couldn’t unseat Barwin, whose career is in sharp decline. Two years after recording 14½ sacks, Barwin had five in 2016. Most of the season, he disappeared in coordinator Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 defense. Barwin is 30 now, not suited to the defensive scheme and far too expensive ($7.75 million.)
Ryan Mathews – His fumble late in the Detroit game was the defining moment of the season for the Eagles, but that’s not why he should get a pink slip. Mathews turns 30 next season, and his punishing style is not conducive to good health, especially at that age. Also, he’s just not explosive enough to be a No. 1 running back.
Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham and Bryce Treggs – Obviously the biggest need is wide receiver, and these guys all stink. There’s no more accurate way to say it. Agholor is a head case with bad hands, Green-Beckham is big – as in big bust – and Treggs is a one-dimensional deep threat who rarely gets open. Good riddance.
The obvious question is how the Eagles can fill all of these positions and stay under the salary cap next year. My answer is, how did they win seven games with so many players not filling these positions effectively this season?
And here’s the final question: Other than Peters, who among these people will be missed when they’re gone?
If the Eagles are looking for a reason not to bring back DeSean Jackson, his behavior over the past few weeks has given them a good one. After all these years, he remains a selfish, obnoxious blowhard with absolutely no regard for his team.
Are the Birds really so desperate for a quality wide receiver that they will take back a 30-year-old, one-dimensional pass catcher who is facing an imminent decline? Or is there an ulterior motive here for an organization still fruitlessly trying to prove Chip Kelly wrong?
OK, let’s start with that second question first. The former Eagles coach, who wrested control of personnel away from Howie Roseman, was a dreadful GM. No one is arguing that statement – probably not even Kelly himself, who is unemployed again. Still, there’s no good reason to undo his mistakes by bringing back players he discarded.
When it comes to acquiring a difference-maker at wide receiver, yes, the Eagles need one – really, three – desperately. But Jackson is a bad option in that role, for a variety of reasons.
Obviously, he is still an elite deep threat, though it’s fair to wonder how much longer that will be the case, given his age. Once he loses his speed, Jackson will serve no valuable purpose on the Eagles, or elsewhere. What the Birds really need is a receiver who can make the big third-down catches as well as the deep ones.
In the next free-agent class, Alshon Jeffrey (26) stands out as a far better choice, but Terrell Pryor (27) and Markus Wheaton (25) also offer more upside than Jackson over the next few years. In fact, on the Redskins, Pierre Garcon (30) seems a better fit for the Eagles than his teammate.
And then there’s the biggest problem with Jackson – his attitude. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Jackson were still an Eagle and was spending all this time campaigning for his next team? The Redskins were fighting for a playoff spot – which they blew on Sunday – and Jackson was more concerned about his own future.
Do the Eagles really want DeSean Jackson 2.0? Have they already forgotten what a disruptive force he was the first time around – all the pouting, the complaining, the lack of effort when his mood was down? Do they want another dose of that?
No, they don’t. The Eagles are desperate for a great wide receiver, but even they should not be that desperate.
The four pro teams in Philadelphia currently employ four of the most likable, pleasant and friendly coaches in sports. Three of those teams are in last place, and the fourth – the Flyers – will be lucky to make the playoffs.
Is it true that nice guys finish last?
As someone who has hammered forever the bosses who refused to cooperate, or who made inflammatory comments, or who snapped at a question, it made seem hypocritical for me to raise this issue. And yet, it has never seemed more appropriate with Doug Pederson, Pete Mackanin, Brett Brown and Dave Hakstol running our teams.
I speak to Pederson and Mackanin weekly on my WIP radio show during their seasons, and I can state unequivocally that they are remarkably honest and tolerant. Brown, who never turns down an invitation, is equally fair-minded. Hakstol is a bit standoffish, though those who know him best say he is also respectful and agreeable.
But are they good coaches? Do their players take advantage of them because they don’t sneer like Bill Belichick? In a more general sense, do guys like this who want so badly to be liked have the fortitude to motivate with threats and demotions when those more radical moves are warranted?
Pederson did bench underachieving wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a couple of games this season, but he did so with empathy. Hakstol has done it with both Shayne Gostisbehere and Travis Konecny, as a learning tool, not a punishment. Mackanin benched Odubel Herrera for not hustling once; the truth is, Herrera didn’t hustle dozens of times without acknowledgment.
Call me old-school if you must, but I prefer a coach who can instill fear with a single scowl. Our last championship boss, Charlie Manuel, was a grandfather figure, but even he had a dark side that came out when he felt disrespected. Just ask my colleague at WIP, Howard Eskin.
The bottom line is, I enjoy talking to these coaches because they appear to be truly nice people, but something tells me at least three of them won’t be here when their teams are good again.
And finally …
• Carson Wentz has made a few rookie mistakes this season, and you can add his idiotic decision last week to give shotguns to his offensive linemen as Christmas gifts. Giving guns to teammates who have little or no experience with a firearm is dangerous. If the kid wants to thank his protectors, he should consider buying them a nice dinner the next time.
• Somebody on the Eagles PR staff needs to be fired if the eyewitness accounts of the ejection of Inquirer beat writer Jeff McLane during Sunday’s game are true. A PR official thought it was smart for the team to deny a reporter his right to cover the game — to do his job — over “press-box etiquette”? Seriously? Yeah, somebody definitely needs to get the boot, and it’s not Jeff McLane.
• A final word of thanks is due Matt Rhule, who abandoned Temple before its bowl game last week against an inferior Wake Forest team to pursue his next head-coaching challenge at Baylor. The Owls lost, 34-26, but the players learned an important lesson about loyalty. They learned what opportunistic phonies most football coaches are. And for that reminder alone, we should all be grateful.
• This tradition of sending the Flyers and Sixers on the road every year between Christmas and New Year’s is bad for sports fans and for the teams. At the time of year when most fans have time off, there are no pro sports events in the city. And – for whatever reason – the two teams perform poorly away from the families over the holidays. I know, I know. Disney On Ice is here. Bah, humbug. Find another place for Disney On Ice. It screws the teams and their fans.
• Chip Kelly is unemployed again, after his firing one season into a four-year contract in San Francisco. According to reports, the ex-Eagles coach called up Niners owner Jed York on Saturday night and howled about reports that Kelly would be gone after Sunday’s game. Hmmm. My guess is, Kelly didn’t attend the owner’s Christmas party this year, either.