NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- Tuesday’s OTA practice, the second full-squad Philadelphia Eagles practice open to the media, was not as crisp as last week’s open session. The defense jumped offside throughout the session, and the offense didn’t look as smooth.
All of that affected the quarterbacks.
Sam Bradford: DOWN
That evaluation is in relation to last week’s practice. Bradford, fresh off his two-week holdout, was very sharp in last week’s open practice. He wasn’t bad Tuesday, but the session was not as clean as last week’s.
Wow moment: Bradford threw a bullet into traffic to tight end Trey Burton during an 11-on-11 drill. That was his most impressive throw of the day, along with a 25-yard completion down the middle to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. The pass to Burton seemed to catch the tight end as much as the tight end caught the pass.
Whoa moment: In the first 11-on-11 period, Bradford handed off a lot. There wasn’t much to see. In a 7-on-7 drill, he had a couple of poor throws. He overthrew Agholor down the left sideline, then overthrew tight end Zach Ertz. The offense just looked a little out of sync during Bradford’s sessions.
Chase Daniel: UP
Daniel didn’t stand out all that much, but that works both ways. He didn’t really deliver any exceptional passes, but the offense didn’t seem as disjointed as it did when Bradford was out there.
Wow moment: In a red zone drill, Daniel threw an accurate pass to tight end Brent Celek for a touchdown in the middle of the field. Celek has been catching touchdowns since Donovan McNabb was throwing them here and he looks like the same player, even if everything else looks different.
Whoa moment: Tight end Zach Ertz was running toward the right sideline when Daniel threw a pass a little behind him. Ertz slowed and caught the ball, but it was the kind of play that would have gotten the tight end crushed by a safety in live action.
Carson Wentz: UP
The rookie had a pretty strong day. He seemed comfortable in the pocket and took the time to let plays develop. That’s not always the case with young quarterbacks.
Wow moment: When the pocket broke down during an 11-on-11 period, Wentz rolled to his right, stepped forward and then spun. As he did, he threw a sidearm pass to tight end Trey Burton, turning a busted play into positive yardage. Worth noting: Wentz completed 8 of 9 passes during a 7-on-7 period. The only incompletion was a drop by Marcus Johnson.
Whoa moment: A Wentz pass intended for Josh Huff sailed over the wide receiver’s head. Huff seemed to slow down on the play, so it may have been a miscommunication or a case of Wentz throwing to the wrong spot. No big deal, but it was probably Wentz’s worst throw of the day.
Who won the day? Wentz had the overall best day. Bradford was a little off on a couple of throws. Daniel was solid. Wentz looked more dynamic than the two veterans.
The rookie running back got a lot of work, and he made the most of it. No one was wearing pads or tackling, which certainly makes life easier for running backs. But Smallwood stood out because of his quick burst and his knack for finding open space.
There is no telling how much the fifth-round pick from West Virginia will actually play during the 2016 regular season. It is early. And his workload in a May OTA practice likely had more to do with circumstance than with coach Doug Pederson’s actual plans.
The circumstance can be summed up as: The Eagles don’t have many running backs right now.
Veteran Darren Sproles was not there. DeMarco Murray, last year’s leading rusher and lead disappointment, is long gone. Byron Marshall, the undrafted rookie free agent, was not in attendance because of Oregon’s academic schedule.
The Eagles didn’t even have a fulltime fullback. Tight end Chris Pantale lined up in the backfield a few times, but that was it.
Pederson has said he intends to run the ball. It is a big part of his version of the West Coast offense. If Mathews can stay healthy and Sproles is effective, the Eagles will have at least a solid one-two punch.
But Sproles will turn 33 next month and has never carried the ball more than 100 times in 10 NFL seasons. Mathews has been healthy for all 16 games just once in his six-year NFL career. Barner has carried the ball a total of 34 times in two NFL seasons.
That means there is a very good chance the Eagles will need another running back at some point in the 2016 season, and Smallwood is the likeliest candidate for the job.
"His production was really good [in college],” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said after the draft. “He can run, he can catch, he can pass protect. I'm not saying this is LeSean McCoy in the fifth round, but this is a good player."
Smallwood is listed at 5-foot-10, 208 pounds. That’s two inches shorter than Mathews, but only 12 pounds lighter. It is the same height as McCoy, the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher. McCoy is listed at 215 pounds.
"I definitely see myself as an every-down back," Smallwood told reporters last week, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. “I'm not little. A lot of people think I'm little and can't run between the tackles. But I'm here to prove everyone wrong."
He got off to a good start in OTAs. There wasn’t a lot of full-speed pass protection to worry about, but Smallwood showed a burst as a running back and was sure-handed catching the ball.
Those are crucial qualities for a back in a West Coast-based offense. Sproles has the quickness and the pass catching ability, but at 5-foot-6 he’s not the guy you want between a linebacker and your quarterback. Mathews has the right skill set, but the Eagles are going to need more than one running back.
Smallwood, who grew up an Eagles fan in nearby Wilmington, Del., is in position to fill an important role on his new team.
PHILADELPHIA – The numbers are all in, which gives us a chance to analyze the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback-centric offseason.
Much of the attention in recent weeks has focused on the Eagles’ move up to draft Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, as well as Sam Bradford's reaction to that move. Bradford left the Eagles’ voluntary workouts for two weeks and made a short-lived trade request.
Bradford returned to the team last week and was a full participant in the team’s OTA sessions this week. Wentz and Chase Daniel also were on board, putting the Eagles’ three quarterbacks on the same field for the first time.
Coach Doug Pederson reiterated his plan. Bradford is the No. 1 quarterback. Daniel is No. 2. Wentz is No. 3.
The Eagles have signed all three QBs to contracts since March 1. In 2016, the Eagles will pay the three quarterbacks a total of $43 million. Because signing bonus money is prorated under the salary cap, the quarterbacks will count for $22.3 million against the Eagles’ 2016 cap.
That is a lot, but it is not extreme. Nine NFL teams have more cap dollars allocated to quarterbacks than the Eagles. New Orleans, at $32.5 million, has the most. Two other teams, Carolina and Washington, are within $100,000 of the Eagles’ QB cap charge.
(All numbers are courtesy of ESPN’s Roster Management System.)
The Eagles’ cap space is more evenly distributed than most. Bradford counts for $12.5 million, Daniel for $5 million and Wentz for $4.85 million against this year’s cap. Typically, one star quarterback eats up the lion’s share of the cap space.
In New Orleans, Drew Brees counts for $30 million of the $32.5 million allocated to quarterbacks. With the Giants, Eli Manning represents $24.2 million of the $25.6 million quarterback hit. Matt Ryan ($23.7 million of the Falcons’ $26.8 million QB cap hit) and Joe Flacco ($22.5 million of the Ravens’ $24.65 million) also account for a large percentage of their teams’ commitment.
Things really get interesting next year. The Eagles’ commitment to quarterbacks jumps to $36.5 million, which would be No. 1 in the league this year. Bradford’s cap hit jumps $10 million, to $22.5 million in 2017. Daniel’s hit goes to $8 million. Wentz’s goes to $6 million.
Clearly, the Eagles will have a decision to make after the 2016 season. Bradford has said he signed his two-year deal expecting an opportunity to play well enough to earn the starting job in 2017 and beyond. But the contract numbers make it clear that Bradford is going to have to play at an elite level to warrant his cap hit in 2017.
If Bradford has led the Eagles to the playoffs and won a game, it will be hard for the team to justify moving on. Anything short of that, though, and it seems very likely Bradford would be traded or released early in the 2017 offseason.
The next decision would be: Daniel or Wentz? If the rookie hasn’t shown signs of progress by then, Pederson could choose to start Daniel while giving Wentz more time. It is more likely, though, that the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft would leapfrog over Daniel on the depth chart and become the starting quarterback.
In that scenario – Wentz as the starter, Daniel as the backup, Bradford gone – the Eagles’ salary cap commitment to quarterbacks would drop from $36.5 million to about $24.5 million. Daniel would count for $8 million, Wentz for $6 million, a No. 3 QB for about $1 million, while Bradford would count for $9.5 million in dead money.
By 2018, Bradford would be off the books. Wentz ($7.3 million) and Daniel ($8 million) would count for a total of $15.3 million against the salary cap.
At that point, the Eagles should have a clear idea what they have in Wentz. If he’s the franchise quarterback they’re hoping he is, they can try to get ahead of things and negotiate a contract extension early. If they’re not sure, they have Wentz through 2019 at an $8.5 million cap hit with the fifth-year option to control his rights through 2020.
If Wentz is not the franchise quarterback they’re hoping for, the Eagles should know that for sure by 2018 or 2019. In that case, the salary cap will be the least of their worries.
PHILADELPHIA -- Jason Reid's Undefeated piece about the decline ofRobert Griffin III is an excellent read in its own right. Reid's reporting is exhaustive and his analysis feels awfully close to being spot on.
But the piece is of special interest to Philadelphia Eagles fans for two reasons. First, it really does explain how the Eagles and the rest of the NFC East dodged what could have been a lethal bullet. While Griffin's decline is a source of frustration in Washington, elsewhere in the division it created a sense of relief.
If the guy who had dominated the NFC East in 2012 had been able to improve on his rookie performance each year, the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys would have been competing for wild-card berths for a decade.
But there's a second aspect of the story that is even more compelling to Eagles fans. Griffin's story has odd connections to the Eagles' own quarterback history.
Griffin was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, just as Donovan McNabb had been in 1999. And like McNabb's tenure in Philadelphia, race played a significant role in the story, from the fans' perceptions of McNabb to the epic feud that erupted with Terrell Owens in 2005.
More recently, Griffin is seen as a cautionary tale for teams sacrificing multiple assets in order to draft one player. In this case, the Eagles duplicated Washington's 2012 maneuver, trading a total of five draft picks in order to move up to the No. 2 pick in the draft.
They used that pick on Carson Wentz, of course. Four years earlier, Washington gave up three first-round picks as part of a package to move up to No. 2 to select Griffin.
But Eagles fans can actually take solace in Reid's account of Griffin's tenure in Washington. Back in 2012, Reid writes, Washington owner Daniel Snyder was the driving force behind the trade for Griffin. Head coach Mike Shanahan had no choice but to make the best of a situation he never would have created himself.
That's a huge difference in the two stories. Eagles owner Jeff Lurie was clearly involved in the team's plan to trade up for Wentz. But it is just as clear that new coach Doug Pederson has been completely on board with that plan from the beginning. So was Howie Roseman, the executive vice president of football operations who executed the plan.
Shanahan's primary concern about Griffin was that the Heisman Trophy winner had run a spread offense at Baylor University. Griffin was used to taking the snap from the shotgun and operating a read-option offense. Shanahan tried to add Griffin-friendly elements to his offense, but it seems clear the coach saw the quarterback's inexperience as a major hurdle.
Things are completely different with Wentz. For one thing, the word on Wentz -- from Pederson and Roseman to ESPN analyst and QB aficionado Jon Gruden -- is that he ran an offense at North Dakota State that was very similar to an NFL scheme.
The level of competition Wentz faced at the FCS level is a legitimate concern, but Wentz is comfortable calling plays in the huddle, reading the defense and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He can also move with the ball. Wentz may not have Griffin's remarkable speed, but he is not human statue like some other successful NFL QBs.
Wentz has very little chance of duplicating Griffin's rookie success, because the plan is for Wentz to remain on the sideline for at least this season. Pederson is following a very structured plan with Wentz, whereas it looked as if Shanahan was constantly improvising with Griffin in Washington.
Pederson's plan, of course, is based on Andy Reid's 1999 plan with McNabb. Like Pederson, Reid was very much on board with the team's decision to take a quarterback with the No. 2 pick in the draft. The Eagles earned that spot by virtue of their 3-13 record in 1998. They didn't have to trade anything for it.
But Reid's investment in McNabb was complete. The coach would succeed or fail based on the quarterback's development, and he did everything he could to support McNabb.
At first glance, the situations all seem pretty similar -- quarterbacks selected No. 2 overall. But Reid's story takes a much deeper look at what happened with RG III in Washington. It may be a cautionary tale for someone, but it shouldn't be for the Eagles. They are doing things as differently as possible from the way things were done in Washington.
PHILADELPHIA -- As the Philadelphia Eagles took to the practice field Tuesday, the tumult and controversy of the past few months seemed as inconsequential as the light rain that fell.
Sam Bradford was running the first-team offense. First-round pick Carson Wentz was working with the third team. The quarterbacks threw the ball. The wide receivers, tight ends and running backs ran routes and caught passes.
If Bradford’s brief holdout will have any lingering effects, there was no sign of that on the field or in the locker room afterward.
“He’s still the leader on this team, I feel like,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “He only ended up missing seven days. People want to make a huge deal of the holdout. When he came back, he wasn’t with the ones [the first team] right away. He had to earn his reps to get with the ones. He did that.
“You saw him out there today. He was slinging the ball. No one’s looking at him with any sort of grudge.”
Ertz and wide receiver Jordan Matthews traveled to Oklahoma earlier in the offseason to work out with Bradford. Both also made a point of reaching out to Wentz when the former North Dakota State quarterback was taken with the second pick in the draft.
“Whoever’s the first-team quarterback [in the season opener] against Cleveland, we’re going to put all our chips on the table for,” Ertz said. “I’m not going to go out there and run routes any less for Sam or Carson because I’m worried about the future of this team. I’m worried about winning games.”
Bradford said he will do whatever he can to help Wentz develop. As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Bradford has been through some things that Wentz is going through now.
“I’m not going to try to hide,” Bradford said. “I’m going to try to help Carson. If he has questions, I’m going to give him the best answers that I can.
“I love seeing quarterbacks succeed in this league. If I can do something to help him become a better player, I’m going to do it.”
Wentz said last week that he expected to have a “great relationship” with Bradford. So far, that has proved to be the case, he said.
“It’s been really good,” Wentz said. “We had an open conversation. We’re all just trying to help this team get better.”
For the other players, Bradford’s holdout gets filed away under the category of the business side. They all know it’s part of the game. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox and running back Darren Sproles were not on the field Tuesday for their own reasons.
“If some guys are 'unhappy' or they want a different situation and they have a totally different personality, it can be like a cancer in the locker room,” Matthews said. “Guys feel that negative energy.
“But you really can’t tell what’s going on with Sam. He’s calm. He’s the same every single day. He’s going to come in and try to make his throws and work hard. My thing is, yes, all that stuff was happening, but when he came back, he got right back to work.”
The best way for the Eagles to put the past few weeks behind them is to go out and play well.
“All that stuff gets nullified if we go out there and we win,” Matthews said. “Once the past is gone, Sam is going to want to go out there and win football games.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Running back Darren Sproles has not attended any of the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason workouts, head coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. But Pederson denied an NFL Network report that Sproles was the subject of trade talks during the NFL draft last month.
“We had no decisions to do that, whatsoever,” Pederson said. “I want Darren Sproles on this football team. We want him on this football team. That’s where we’re at.”
Sproles is one of several players who have missed voluntary workouts this spring. Quarterback Sam Bradford skipped about two weeks while asking for a trade after the Eagles traded up in April's draft to take Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox has skipped the offseason program while his agent negotiates a contract extension with the team.
Sproles’ absence was a mystery until Tuesday.
“He has not been here,” Pederson said. “He and I are in direct communication. We’ve been talking all offseason, and I have no issues with Darren. I fully expect him to be here for the mandatory camp, but this is a voluntary program. I can’t fault him.”
Pederson said Sproles, 32, was simply using the break in the schedule to spend some time at home.
“I think where he is in his career -- and I’ve been there before, too -- sometimes you just want that break,” Pederson said. “With him and his family being apart during the season, this is a time for him to spend quality time with his family.
“And then he knows what it takes to get himself ready to go. I fully expect him to be here in a couple weeks.”
The Eagles have a mandatory minicamp in June. Sproles and Cox are required to be there. They can be fined if they are not in attendance.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles held their first OTA practice Tuesday. It was the first time quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz were on the field together. Here's a look at how Bradford, Wentz and Chase Daniel did on Day 1:
Sam Bradford: UP.
All eyes were on the Eagles’ starting quarterback during his first practice since his two-week holdout ended. Bradford seemed comfortable with the attention, throwing the ball well despite a light rain.
Wow moment: Late in practice, Bradford threw a perfect rainbow to Jordan Matthews down the right sideline. The deep pass would have gone for a 40-yard touchdown.
Whoa moment: Bradford threw a short pass to Nelson Agholor in a tight window. Safety Rodney McLeod -- Bradford’s teammate in St. Louis -- jumped the route and intercepted the pass in full stride. McLeod kept running untouched through the backfield.
Chase Daniel: UP.
Daniel looks really short when he's next to Bradford and Wentz on the field. But Daniel knows Doug Pederson's offense and did a decent job of running the second team.
Wow moment: Daniel found tight end Trey Burton on consecutive plays for 20-yard gains. Both throws were spot-on and led Burton so he could continue running.
Whoa moment: Daniel badly overthrew a wide-open Josh Huff running down the right sideline.
Carson Wentz: UP.
Wentz seemed enthusiastic, rushing to take his turn behind center. He has a coltish quality about him, but he also appears to know what he's doing. At one point he was in the shotgun and looked back at running back Wendell Smallwood. Wentz waved his arm, moving Smallwood from the left side to the right.
Wow moment: Wentz threw a bullet to Huff. The ball was thrown so hard, it knocked Huff back a couple of steps. He held on, but Wentz's arm strength was noticeable.
Who won the day? Bradford gets the nod. All three quarterbacks had their moments, but the pressure was on Bradford more than the others. He looked like the starting quarterback, which is all he can do at this point in the offseason.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles have completed contracts with seven of their eight 2016 draft picks. With rookie camp beginning Friday, the team appears set to complete its offseason negotiations.
First-round pick Carson Wentz could sign his contract Thursday, according to a report from ESPN’s Ed Werder. Based on the NFL’s rookie wage scale, Wentz’s four-year contract will be worth about $26.7 million (fully guaranteed), including a $17.6 million signing bonus.
The wage scale has been in place since 2011 and has all but eliminated rookie contract negotiations dragging into the summer and affecting training camp.
The timing of Wentz’s deal is fortuitous for the Eagles. They were able to get their other picks signed within a week of the draft. Wentz’s deal would get finished just as the team opens its rookie camp, and just as the public conversation has centered on quarterback Sam Bradford's return to work after a brief holdout.
Instead of more talk about Bradford and his unhappiness, the Eagles can generate headlines about Wentz agreeing to terms with the team.
Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Eagles selected him after moving up from the No. 13 pick with two trades. They went from No. 13 to No. 8 by trading cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Miami Dolphins. The Eagles then traded the No. 8 pick and four other draft picks to the Cleveland Browns for the No. 2 pick.
At the time of that second trade, Bradford left the NovaCare Complex and asked to be traded. He skipped voluntary workouts over the next two weeks.
With the draft over and the window for making a trade closed, Bradford reported back to work Monday. He is expected to be the Eagles’ starting quarterback this season, according to head coach Doug Pederson. Bradford signed a new two-year, $35 million contract in March.
Wentz’s deal will give the Eagles three quarterbacks under contract for a total of about $22.5 million under the 2016 salary cap. That is about as much as Joe Flacco counts against the Baltimore Ravens' cap this year.
PHILADELPHIA – Howie Roseman did the hard part, hiring a couple of legitimate NFL talent evaluators for his personnel department.
Now Roseman gets to do the harder part: letting them work.
Joe Douglas and Andy Weidl worked together in the Baltimore Ravens organization. They were the two scouts sent to evaluate a University of Delaware quarterback named Joe Flacco. This piece, dug up by Tim McManus of Birds 24/7, tells the story.
The Ravens took Flacco in the first round of the NFL draft and they have a Lombardi Trophy to show for that decision. Douglas and Weidl were involved in other draft picks, but Flacco was their reputation-sealing pick.
Douglas and Weidl recommended Flacco to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. Newsome has been running the Ravens since they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996. He has presided over two Super Bowl championships and is known for running an effective, stable organization.
Newsome was a Hall of Fame player, so his stature in the NFL is secure. He is able to make confident decisions while also listening to and empowering the people he hired. If Newsome’s ego is a factor in the Ravens’ decision making, he does a very good job of hiding it.
Roseman, meanwhile, grew up in an Eagles organization where in-fighting and inner turmoil are the norm. He became a master of winning those internal battles, most recently against former coach Chip Kelly. Roseman emerged with a raise, an executive vice president title and more power than ever.
Can Roseman pivot into a more Newsome-like approach? That is the challenge he now faces. He has hired Douglas and Weidl because of their acumen. Can he now empower them to succeed the way that Newsome empowered them to succeed?
That’s important for a couple of reasons. First, Douglas and Weidl thrived in the Ravens’ organization. They are accustomed to working for a GM strong enough to listen to advice and share credit. Douglas left the Ravens a year ago for a job with the Chicago Bears. He lasted only one season with the Bears. He was with the Ravens for 15 years.
If Roseman gives Douglas and Weidl the right atmosphere, they have a better chance to succeed. And if they succeed, ultimately that will reflect well on Roseman. More important, that will give the Eagles the best opportunity to be successful on the field.
The worst outcome is for Douglas and Weidl to find themselves mired in office politics. That has been a real problem for the Eagles during owner Jeff Lurie’s tenure, from Ray Rhodes vs. Dick Daniels to Andy Reid vs. Tom Modrak to Roseman vs. Kelly.
With Roseman back in charge, the Eagles hired Doug Pederson as head coach. The idea was to recreate the kind of stability the organization knew for much of Reid’s 14-year tenure. Now Roseman is striving to build a strong personnel department.
That isn’t easy. But it isn’t as hard as wielding power without anyone getting hurt in the process. Newsome is a master at that. The challenge for Roseman will be being strong without having to flex his muscles.
PHILADELPHIA -- There are differences between the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles' approach and the 1999 template they are trying to replicate.
But there are also some unfortunate similarities.
Pederson, of course, is now the Eagles’ head coach. And he is facing a situation very much like one that challenged Reid.
In 1999, Reid said, “The cupboard was bare” when referring to the Eagles’ wide receivers. He wasn’t exaggerating. The 1998 Eagles’ leading receiver was running back Duce Staley, who caught 57 passes. Their primary starting wide receivers were 36-year-old Irving Fryar and 29-year-old Jeff Graham.
Fryar and Graham were gone by the time Reid started putting together his 1999 roster. The Eagles signed free agents Charles Johnson and Torrance Small and drafted Na Brown. Along with waiver-wire pickup Dameane Douglas, they were the core group of wide receivers that Pederson had to work with as a quarterback.
As a coach, Pederson is looking at a similarly limited array of options. The Eagles arrived at this situation in a very different way from the 1999 team, however.
In the previous three drafts, the Eagles had selected only two wide receivers, both in the sixth round. They had taken Chris T. Jones in the third round of the 1996 draft. That draft approach had left them patching holes with free agents such as Fryar, Graham and Mark Seay.
The 2016 Eagles have three wide receivers taken in the first three rounds of recent drafts: Jordan Matthews, a second-round pick in 2014, Josh Huff, a third-round choice in 2014, and Nelson Agholor, a first-round pick last year.
It is hard to see any of those three as an elite wide receiver based on their performance, but that assessment doesn’t tell the whole story. They were playing in Chip Kelly’s offense, which is predicated on spreading the ball around and not on relying on a featured wide receiver. And that offense wasn’t very productive last year. In Kelly’s first two seasons, his offense produced big seasons for DeSean Jackson (1,332 yards on 82 receptions) and Jeremy Maclin (1,318 yards on 85 receptions).
Neither of those receivers got a chance for a second year in Kelly’s offense. Last year, Matthews caught 85 passes for 997 yards. Huff (27 catches, 312 yards) and Agholor (23 catches, 283 yards) were underwhelming, to say the least.
Perhaps those three young receivers can blossom in Pederson’s offense this year. Just to be safe, the Eagles signed a pair of veteran free agents: Chris Givens and Rueben Randle. They are the 2016 answer to 1999’s Johnson and Small.
Johnson was a former first-round pick who topped 1,000 yards receiving just once in five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Randle is a former second-round pick whose best season total was 938 yards for the New York Giants.
Small entered the league as a fifth-round pick and never had a 1,000-yard season in 10 seasons with five NFL teams. Givens was a fourth-round pick who is playing for his third team in three years. His best season was his rookie year, 2012, when he caught 42 passes for 698 yards.
The question is whether the 2016 wide receivers -- two new veterans, three recent draft picks -- will provide any more firepower for Bradford and Wentz than the 1999 wide receivers -- two new veterans, two recent draft picks -- did for Pederson and McNabb.
The potential seems higher in the current group, but until they do it on the field, there’s no way to be sure.
That doesn’t mean the Eagles’ plan to develop Wentz bears much resemblance to the Green Bay Packers’ approach to Rodgers.
The Packers’ plan is often cited as proof that a young quarterback can benefit from watching from the sideline. Rodgers was drafted in the first round in 2005. He appeared in seven games combined in his first three seasons. Rodgers threw just 59 passes in those seven games.
The Eagles may employ a similar approach with Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. But it won’t be identical. That’s because Rodgers was sitting behind a guy named Brett Favre. Wentz will be sitting behind Sam Bradford.
By 2005, Favre had been the Packers’ starting quarterback for 13 seasons. The Packers had never had a losing season with Favre as QB. They had won six division titles and appeared in two Super Bowls. They won the championship in the 1996 season.
Bradford has been the Eagles’ starting quarterback for just one season. The Eagles were 7-9 in 2015, although they went 7-7 in games started by Bradford.
In his career, Favre started an NFL-record 321 consecutive regular-season and postseason games. Bradford has started 21 of a possible 48 games over the past three seasons. He has never appeared in a playoff game.
You get the point. When the Packers drafted Rodgers in 2005, they were in their sixth season under head coach Mike Sherman. The Eagles are in their first season under head coach Doug Pederson.
Sherman and Favre had worked together for five years. Their record was 53-27. They’d been to the playoffs four straight times.
So, it was a little easier for Packers fans to wait for Rodgers than it will be for Eagles fans to wait for Wentz. And it was understandable that the Packers' coaching staff and players were not eager to move on from Favre.
In fact, Favre’s last year in Green Bay was his best in a long time. The Packers went 13-3 -- their best record since 1997 -- and reached the NFC Championship Game.
But Favre was 38 years old. Rodgers was 25. It was time to make the change.
The Packers went 6-10 in 2008, Rodgers’ first season as the starter.
Two years later, Rodgers and the Packers won the Super Bowl.
Again, if Wentz matures into a quarterback on par with Rodgers, the Eagles will be thrilled. But their plan to bring him along slowly is lacking a veteran quarterback on par with Favre.
Not only has Bradford not built up the legacy that Favre established in Green Bay, but he has irritated many Eagles fans with his request for a trade. Instead of a steady veteran charged with leading the team for a year, Eagles fans see Bradford as a spoiled complainer unwilling to compete for a job.
That doesn’t mean Bradford can’t change that perception. If he plays well this season, the fans will come around. If the Eagles are in the playoffs in January, then the team and its fans will begin recalculating Wentz’s timetable.
The Eagles can try to win while grooming a young quarterback, just as the Packers did. The difference is that the Packers had won big with the veteran QB who played ahead of Rodgers. Bradford and the Eagles haven’t won a thing.
This tempest will likely remain in its teapot.
Make no mistake: Bradford’s two-week absence from voluntary workouts triggered an angry response from some fans and media. It provided fodder for talk radio and red meat on Twitter and Facebook.
What Bradford’s work stoppage did not do was cause any real disruption to the Eagles’ preparations for the 2016 season.
New coach Doug Pederson is trying to create a winning atmosphere, to be sure. And having everyone present for voluntary workouts is a part of that.
But Bradford didn’t just arbitrarily decide not to come to work. The Eagles have to take some responsibility for the string of events that unfolded between March and May.
In March, Bradford and the Eagles agreed to a new two-year contract that pays Bradford $35 million ($22 million guaranteed). While the term of the contract does not indicate a long-term commitment, the amount of money does signify that Bradford is the team’s quarterback.
Based on that, Bradford was in attendance for the first week of the Eagles’ offseason workouts. During that week, though, the team traded up for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft. In making the deal, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman announced that the team intended to draft a quarterback.
That changed the team’s relationship with Bradford. There was always the chance the team would take a quarterback somewhere in the draft. But when the Eagles traded three players and five draft picks to move up from No. 13 to No. 8 to No. 2 overall, the status of that rookie quarterback rose, too.
Carson Wentz is not some third-round pick who could develop into a quarterback. Taken with that No. 2 pick, Wentz becomes the Eagles’ franchise quarterback in waiting -- especially considering all the other resources spent to trade up for him.
Under those new circumstances, Bradford chose not to report for voluntary workouts. His agent, Tom Condon, requested a trade. At that point, Bradford’s camp may have hoped the Denver Broncos would be interested in acquiring a starting quarterback.
Things changed again after the draft, though. The Broncos took QB Paxton Lynch in the first round. The market for Bradford may have been negligible before, but it was nonexistent after the draft.
So Bradford decided to report to work on Monday, as his teammates returned to the NovaCare Complex. Pederson has said that Bradford remains the Eagles’ 2016 starter. It is not clear what happens after that.
Wentz will likely get an opportunity to start at some point. But if Bradford takes the Eagles to the playoffs this year and Wentz doesn’t look ready in practice, it is possible Bradford could be the starter in 2017.
Bradford’s best option is to play well enough to make it tough for the Eagles to let him go. That would mean the Eagles are winning games, so the team will be content with that outcome.
It is unlikely, after what the Eagles invested in him, that Wentz won’t eventually become the team’s starting quarterback. Bradford can complicate that process. If he does, he will raise his value in the eyes of other NFL teams.
In two years, Bradford could be a 30-year-old free agent in a league starving for quarterbacks. That won’t be a bad scenario for him.
Bradford could have saved himself some grief by simply reporting to work the past couple of weeks. There are fans who could choose to make their disapproval known during the preseason or even the regular season. But if Bradford plays well, he can mute that disapproval.
No one will boo him if he throws a touchdown pass. No one will care about his brief holdout from voluntary workouts is he’s winning. That was always going to be the deal here, and it hasn’t changed. In that sense, Bradford's holdout hasn't changed anything.
PHILADELPHIA – It is tempting to dismiss Doug Pederson’s contention that the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles have more talent than the 1999 team that Pederson played on.
The ’99 Eagles had a defense with Brian Dawkins, Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas and Troy Vincent. That alone would give Andy Reid’s team the edge on Pederson’s squad.
One area that is hard to argue, though, is the offensive line. If the 1999 offense doesn’t look as good, either in the passing game or the running game, that is largely because of the line. Tra Thomas was in his second season at left tackle, but Steve Everitt was at center and the right tackle was journeyman Lonnie Palelei.
The current Eagles have had an inconsistent offensive line in recent years. In 2013, it protected Nick Foles and paved the way for LeSean McCoy to lead the NFL in rushing. In 2014, injuries caused a drop in effectiveness. Last year, Chip Kelly’s decision to dismiss starting guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, plus the physical problems endured by left tackle Jason Peters, turned the line into a real problem area.
But what now? The pieces appear to be in place for a pretty good offensive line. And that could make the difference as Pederson tries to get his offense off the ground in 2016.
Here are the issues and upgrades, from left to right.
Left tackle Jason Peters. The perennial Pro Bowler was not himself last year, as back problems led to nerve issues. One possibility: Kelly’s uptempo offense was part of Peters’ problem. Eliminating that will allow Peters to catch his breath and keep his balance.
Right tackle Lane Johnson said he was worn down by the end of the season. Johnson is 25 years old, nine years younger than Peters. If he’s looking forward to running a normal offense, imagine how much it will help Peters.
If Peters can’t get through the season, Johnson would be the first alternative. He could move to left tackle while the Eagles figure out who could play on the right side.
Left guard Stefen Wisniewski or Isaac Seumalo or Malcolm Bunche or Allen Barbre. This will be perhaps the position most open to training-camp competition, at least on the offensive side. Barbre was the starter last year, but that will hurt him more than it helps him.
The Eagles signed Wisniewski in free agency. He could earn the job out of camp while one of the younger players works his way up from the second team.
Bunche was on the practice squad last year and spent a full season learning from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. He’s a big, physical lineman who would make a nice complement to right guard Brandon Brooks.
Seumalo will have a chance to win the job as a rookie. Other than Carson Wentz, Seumalo is the Eagles’ only pick from the first two days of the draft. They considered that a very important pick and they used it on Seumalo.
Center Jason Kelce. There seems to be a lot of noise about Kelce this offseason. Yes, Wisniewski can play center. And yes, Pederson made a passing comment about Kelce possibly moving to guard.
But the feeling here is that Kelce’s subpar 2015 season had more to do with the guard play on either side of him than with Kelce himself. He fell into the trap of trying to do too much and wound up creating further problems.
If the guards play well – as they did in 2013 and 2014 – Kelce should be fine.
Right guard Brandon Brooks. He is perhaps the most certain player on the line. The Eagles signed the former Houston Texan to a five-year contract worth $40 million. They planned to put him at right guard, where he played with the Texans.
There are questions about Peters (age and injury), Kelce (rebounding from 2015), Johnson (moving to left tackle) and the uncertain left guard. There are no such questions about the 6-foot-5, 335-pound Brooks.
If Brooks gets hurt, Andrew Gardner or Matt Tobin would likely replace him. That’s the improvement. Last year, Gardner and Tobin were first and second on the depth chart. This year, they’re second and third.
Right tackle Lane Johnson. The Eagles signed Johnson to a new, five-year, $63 million contract. It is a contract that makes Johnson a very well-paid right tackle or a well-paid left tackle, depending on what happens.
Johnson said he feels ready to make the move to the left side. He doesn’t want to rush it, though, because that would mean the end of Peters’ reign on the left side. And Johnson knows the Eagles are better with two premium tackles than just one.
If Johnson does go to the left side, right tackle becomes the challenge. Gardner or Dennis Kelly could fill in over there in a pinch. Brett Boyko was on the practice squad last year. Fifth-round draft pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai could step in, ideally after getting some more seasoning.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the draft finally over, the Philadelphia Eagles begin preparing for minicamps and OTAs over the next two months.
Here is a look at the defensive side of their depth chart after a busy offseason:
The Eagles seem a little thin here, especially coming out of a draft where depth on the defensive line was considered exceptional.
The only question about Cox is whether the team will be able to complete a new megacontract with him before the season starts. After three years as a 3-4 defensive end, the Pro Bowler will get a chance to play where he feels most comfortable.
And you can bet defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will find new and exciting ways to use his best player.
Logan and Allen face similar challenges. They were drafted to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Now they will have to adjust to playing in a 4-3. That can be disorienting but it can also be freeing. In a 4-3, there is more space and more opportunity for DTs to make plays.
Hart was an Oregon player drafted by Chip Kelly. He will have an uphill battle to establish himself as a 4-3 player for Schwartz. But the impression Schwartz created is that every player will get a fair chance to find a place on his defense.
Most of these guys were outside linebackers under Chip Kelly. Some have experience as defensive ends, some don’t. A few were defensive ends trying to find homes in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme.
There are a few interesting cases here. Marcus Smith, the underwhelming first-round pick from 2014, never established himself as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. With a fresh start and a new defense, can he remake himself as a Wide 9 defensive end?
Barwin was an effective outside linebacker with some experience playing end. Can his versatility translate as a 4-3 end? Can he be an even better pass-rusher if he’s freed from the coverage responsibilities that come with being a linebacker?
Graham and Curry were defensive ends before Kelly got here. Graham lost weight and made the transition to linebacker. Curry became a reserve end. Both have been signed to new contracts and will get a chance to rush the quarterback as defensive ends. It is what they do best.
This is perhaps the thinnest position group on the roster right now, partly because six outside linebackers migrated over to defensive end. The Eagles also parted with DeMeco Ryans and Kiko Alonso from last year’s rotation.
Linebackers play a slightly different role in Schwartz’s scheme. His front four will be aggressively trying to get upfield and disrupt things in the backfield. That means both against the run and the pass.
It will be up to the linebackers to make sure things don’t get by them. That means a lot of gap responsibility in the run game and the ability to cover backs and tight ends in the quick passing game.
Bradham was an underrated pickup this offseason. He played for Schwartz in Buffalo and understands the linebackers’ role in the defense. With Bradham on one side and Kendricks returning to a 4-3 on the other, the Eagles should be able to make the transition fairly smoothly.
With the release of Ryans, Hicks becomes the middle linebacker. It is a big job for a young player, but Hicks shows every sign of being able to handle it. Goode and seventh-round pick Joe Walker will compete for time on the inside.
This has been a problem area for the Eagles for years. With Jenkins and McLeod, they hope they have locked up two solid players for the foreseeable future. Either way, they will be the starters in 2016.
Maragos has been an effective special-teams player. He will have to fend off challenges there from 2016 draft picks Mills and Countess. Both of them will serve as understudies to Jenkins and McLeod, but will have to find playing time on special teams.
The Eagles added McKelvin, who is 30, in free agency. He joins Carroll, 29, as the two most senior members of the team’s cornerback group.
Otherwise, the Eagles are hoping a group of young players can develop into effective players. Rowe, last year’s second-round pick, showed flashes as a rookie. But everything the Eagles did in the secondary has to be viewed skeptically. The defense simply didn’t give cornerbacks much chance to thrive.
Schwartz is a big believer that a team can’t have too many cornerbacks. The question here is whether he has enough.
Rowe, Carroll and McKelvin will compete for the starting positions, including the nickel corner job.
Shepherd, who tore his ACL last summer, was showing promise in his first training camp. He will get a fresh start with fresh eyes on him this summer.
Rice made the team as an undrafted free agent last year. Grymes was signed out of the Canadian Football League and will get a chance to earn a spot.
Brooks is a contender to play in the nickel and on special teams. Watkins, going into his third year, is another young player who could blossom in Schwartz’s scheme.
PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Eagles selected several players whose draft status was affected by questions about their character. That’s because the team became comfortable with the answers to those questions.
“These guys are college kids and things happen,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said. “We were comfortable enough with the circumstances that were described to give (them) a second chance here.”
In the fifth round, the Eagles drafted West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood, who was arrested two years ago for intimidating a witness in a murder investigation. No charges were ever filed. More recently, Smallwood’s Twitter account became the focus of post-draft attention because of several inflammatory and immature tweets. Smallwood deleted the account Saturday afternoon.
In the seventh round, the Eagles drafted LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, who had a much higher grade on him from several teams. Mills might have dropped because of an arrest for battery. The charges in that case were dropped.
Later in the seventh round, the Eagles selected Florida defensive end Alex McCalister, who left the team in December under mysterious circumstances.
The Eagles have long avoided drafting players with red flags on their resumes. Roseman said the team drafted these players for two reasons: First, the Eagles were satisfied with the players’ explanations for the events and second, they felt it was worth taking whatever risk there was in the late rounds.
If the players dropped because of the off-the-field concerns, the Eagles could wind up getting better players with late-round picks.
“We didn’t have as many picks earlier in the draft,” Roseman said. “We felt like, later in the draft, taking shots on guys on guys in the seventh round was a priority for us.”
As for the players, their mistakes wound up costing them draft position and the money that comes with it.
“There’s no question that players are going to have to look at their actions to see why they didn’t go where they felt like they should have in the draft,” Roseman said. “It’s very clear that teams are looking at that.
“If you make questionable decisions in your life, it’s affecting you going forward. It’s costing these guys a lot of money. What we hope is that they’re good people and they just made mistakes, like we all do.”
Smallwood admitted that he fell in with a bad crowd back at home in Wilmington, Delaware. One of his friends was accused of murder. Police brought Smallwood in and said he threatened a witness. The friend later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
“I was young, hanging out with the wrong people,” Smallwood said. “I wasn’t involved with whatever happened. There was no evidence, no witness against me. I just learned from the situation and tried to move forward and be a better man.”
The Eagles were aware of Smallwood’s Twitter account before drafting him.
“As part of our research on all our draft picks, we look at social media,” Roseman said. “We are aware of the statements that he made. They were in 2011. A lot has changed between now and then.
“We don’t condone anything he said. We spent a lot of time with him. We feel that this is a good kid.”
Smallwood said he had forgotten about some of the tweets and didn’t expect them to resurface after he was drafted.
“I’m sorry about it if I offended anybody,” Smallwood said. “That’s not how I feel. That’s not the kind of person I am. Hopefully, I can show that. I was embarrassed about how it blew up. I ended up taking it down. I don’t think I’m going to be on it again.”
The Eagles talked to Mills at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.
“When we talked to him, he gave us his version of the events,” Roseman said. “We investigated it like we do everything. He’s got to prove himself as he gets here. We were satisfied with the investigation that was done there in Baton Rouge and with the university. We think we know what kind of kid this is.”
Some reports said that McCalister was dismissed from the Florida team late in the season. At the very least, it appears he decided to leave the team after deciding to enter the draft after his junior season.
“Without getting into specifics,” Roseman said, “it was a different circumstance than the other ones. It wasn’t legal. He’s a kid who needed to grow up a little bit. But he’s not a bad person, not a bad kid.”
Ultimately, that’s the tipping point. The Eagles did their research and came away feeling that each of these three draft picks were worth whatever risk there might be.
“We don’t feel like we brought bad people in here,” Roseman said.