July 11, 2018
Ah, mid-July. The NBA and NHL free agent frenzies have died down and the madness of the MLB trade deadline is still a few weeks away, as is the start of NFL training camps.
For it being the slowest time of the year for the Eagles, there's quite a bit to get to in today's edition of What They're Saying.
I guess that tends to happen when you win the Super Bowl, but there's no way of knowing for sure since it's never happened before.
Anyway, let's get right into it, shall we?
Brinson listed the Eagles as one of four teams he believes will take a step back in 2018. Please, Eagles fans, don't shoot the messenger (me).
Why They Won't Make the Playoffs: One of the biggest reasons involves the team's biggest strength: the quarterback position. Wentz is coming from an ACL injury and Foles is notoriously streaky. Wentz failing to recover, or dealing with a setback of some kind, doesn't automatically mean Foles comes in and wins MVP. This is a team that lost its offensive coordinator (Frank Reich) and quarterbacks coach (John DeFillipo). There are a slew of other injuries to monitor as well. Jason Peters is returning from an ACL injury at the age of 36. Darren Sproles is coming back from a broken arm and a torn ACL. Jordan Hicks is coming back from an Achilles tear. Alshon Jeffery is returning from shoulder surgery after battling through to play the entire year. Timmy Jernigan is suddenly dealing with back issues, no easy issue for a big man who battles in the middle. Philadelphia was 13th in adjusted games lost last year, so it's not like it dealt with tons of injury issues overall. And the NFC is going to be really tough this year. Every single division has at least one legitimate Super Bowl contender and most of them have two. Someone could win 10 games and miss the postseason in this conference.
Why They Might Make the Playoffs: Because Roseman's built a really deep and talented roster, one clearly capable of overcoming attrition to win a lot of games and make a deep playoff run. The Foles thing has been a hot-take topic this offseason, but the reason the Eagles don't want to trade him is a fear of Wentz not being healthy and the importance of the quarterback position. Doug Pederson is a good enough coach where the Eagles can keep right on cruising despite some injuries. He proved as much last year. It's difficult to find an area of weakness for the Eagles and it's fair to assume the secondary (don't forget about Sidney Jones) and receivers (Mack Hollins, ahem) could continue to only get better. Wentz will be going into his third season -- expectations will be huge and he has managed to meet them every step of the way. This is, by far, the weakest NFC division in my opinion. The Eagles could steamroll everyone again. We thought the Cowboys would do the same last year too. [cbssports.com]
Another reason some have said the Eagles could struggle this year is their schedule. And sure, it looks tough now, but that can change quickly between now and the middle of the season.
Also, I don't disagree with Roob's second observation here, especially the first part of it.
7. The whole notion that this team’s schedule is really tough and that team’s schedule is super easy is silly. The NFL is such a non-linear league. The reality is you don’t ever have any clue. Look at last year. NFL.com’s preseason rankings had the Vikings 18th, the Panthers 19th, the Eagles 20th, the Saints 22nd, the Chargers 24th, the Bills 25th, the Jaguars 26th and the Rams 27th. Bottom of the barrel. Easy opponents. Circle those as wins. Well, those eight teams went a combined 87-41 (and all but the Chargers made the playoffs). The Packers, Raiders, Giants, Buccaneers and Texans were ranked 3rd, 4th, 6th and 14th and they went a combined 18-46. The reality is the NFL is unpredictable and what looks like a tough stretch now could wind up being easy — and vice versa. You really never know.
8. I can see Smallwood getting cut at the end of training camp, signing with the Patriots and rushing for 788 yards with 34 catches. If he can find a way to stay healthy. [nbcsports.com]
Thanks to Brandon Lee Gowton over at Bleeding Green for transcribing this segment from the The Ringer NFL Show in which all three hosts gush over the Eagles' quarterback room. The question they're answering, in case you're wondering, is which team in the NFL has the best five-year outlook at the quarterback position.
ROBERT MAYS: I believe we all share the same No. 1. Danny, why don’t you kick us off.
DANNY KELLY: Oh yeah. Carson Wentz, baby.
MAYS: Yeah. It’s the Eagles for me as well.
KELLY: He’s 25, I think, and his rookie contract still has a few years on it. Plus a fifth-year option. He’s coming in at an incredible bargain, even being the second [overall] pick. Even at that, he’s an incredible bargain for them for a couple years. They already have an incredibly stacked roster. Of course, they’re going to face some questions on what to do with their cap but he gives them that flexibility going forward. He’s a really good player, too, you know. So they’re in the catbird seat in terms of the D word, the dynasty word right now. Just because of what they’ve got at the quarterback position.
MAYS: They’re going to pay their quarterbacks the 16th most of any team in the NFL this year and that is with Nick Foles, their backup quarterback, making $13.6 million.
KEVIN CLARK: Carson Wentz is the 201st highest paid player in the NFL. He is the sixth highest paid player on the Philadelphia Eagles. And he’s the 28th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. He will make seven million against the cap this year, eight million against the cap next year, and then he’ll have a fifth-year option. He will hit free agency, if they don’t franchise tag him, in 2021. Now, what’s important here is that they also have a backup quarterback who won the Super Bowl! So you’re going to like that quarterback room, guys.
. . .
MAYS: Yeah. When I was kind of thinking about this list more as of a theoretical thing, before I even started listing people or figuring it out, I just assumed they’d be No. 1. As I looked at it even more, it just hit home even harder. It’s really hard to convince yourself there’s a scenario where [Wentz] could be anything less than No. 1. I think that’s, again, when you’re doing something like this, and you just know who the clear cut guy is, that helps you tailor the rest of the conversation around it. Who is the closest to Carson Wentz? And honestly, that’s why Jared Goff almost made my list. But he just fell off. If Cam Newton is sixth, Goff is probably seven because I just feel like Goff is more a product of his scenario and his circumstances than Wentz even is. And that’s why he didn’t even make it for me. [theringer.com, via bleedinggreennation.com]
Over at ESPN, the four NFC East writers offered a few predictions about the division they covering, including which player they think is a rising star in the division. Three of the four, including Eagles writer Tim McManus picked Derek Barnett.
"Barnett is a technician and the more guys like that play the better they become," said Redskins beat writer John Keim. "Barnett will get more reps this season with the loss of Vinny Curry. ... Barnett is talented and surrounded by good talent and he’ll play more. It adds up to taking that next step this season."
"Barnett’s going to be a force," added Giants writer Jordan Raanan.
Here's what McManus had to say:
The Eagles' D-line was stacked last season, yet Barnett carved out a significant role as a rookie, playing 41 percent of the snaps for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He rewarded his DC by posting five sacks and coming up with a number of clutch plays, including a fumble recovery on Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Tom Brady to seal Super Bowl LII. Barnett, the all-time sack leader at the University of Tennessee, has a chance to earn a starting gig opposite Graham this season. The want-to and skillset are there. He's got a real shot at having a breakout year, and will be more of a household name nationally before long. [espn.com]
The first two players that Turron mentions, given their respective ages and injury history, are somewhat obvious: Jason Peters and Darren Sproles. The next is Jay Ajayi, who only just arrived, but is also entering a contract year and recently hired super agent Drew Rosenhaus. And then there's Brandon Graham, who was last seen swiping a football out of Tom Brady's right hand.
This one is a tough decision for the Eagles. Graham is a fan favorite and leader in the locker room. He also happens to be responsible for the most significant defensive play in team history – a strip-sack against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
However, the Eagles have Derek Barnett waiting to take over and they are very high on former Florida State defensive end Josh Sweat, who was selected in the fourth round (No. 130 overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. Graham is gunning for his first double-digit season in sacks, which will only raise his market value. It wouldn’t be the most popular move, but the Eagles could decide not to re-sign Graham once his contract expires. [theeagleswire.usatoday.com]
That new four-year, $48 million deal (with $25.5 million guaranteed) inked with Tim Jernigan isn't looking that great right now. And Jason Fitzgerald of the Sporting News ranked it as the 16th worst contract in the NFL.
The Eagles are bold with their contracts, and this is no exception. Jernigan’s deal is essentially the same contract the Cowboys worked out with Crawford, and both are building on mistakes. Philly’s looks worse since Jernigan was sidelined by a significant back injury months after he signed the deal. The injury was serious enough that the Eagles were able to tweak the guarantees, but they shouldn’t have put themselves in the situation in the first place. [sportingnews.com]
The Jernigan deal aside, the Eagles have done a tremendous job in free agency in recent years. And while Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas and, to a lesser degree, Andy Weidl get a lot of the credit, there's someone else behind the scenes who may be just as important: director of pro scouting Dwayne Joseph.
As Tommy Lawlor sums up at the end of this story, "You can't buy a championship, but you can use free agency wisely and it can help you to build a great roster. The Eagles, with the help of Joseph, have done just that."
Howie Roseman was the NFL Executive of the Year in 2017. He did a magnificent job in putting together a championship roster. The whole world is aware of what a great job he did. Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl are key figures when it comes to the draft. They get a lot of attention when late April rolls around.
Dwayne Joseph is the director of pro scouting for the Eagles, but he stays somewhat under the radar. If there is a big trade or free agent signing, Roseman receives most of the focus. None of those moves happen without the scouting reports of Joseph and his staff. I don't think enough people appreciate how vital Joseph is...
The Eagles had their share of free agent misses in the past. Joseph arrived in May 2015 and he's helped in identifying the right players. The Eagles struck gold on stars like Brandon Brooks and Jeffery. They've succeeded on mid-level players like Nigel Bradham. They also have hit on quite a few guys who turned out to be major bargains. [philadelphiaeagles.com]
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