NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- When he was hired as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Doug Pederson said right away that he believed the team could contend in 2016. This team, Pederson said, has more talent than the 1999 team that Andy Reid inherited (and Pederson played on).
Last week, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said the Eagles’ offseason might result in a little belt-tightening over the next year or two. The Eagles’ spending in 2016 was about building a core group that could develop into winners over the next few years. It was not about quick fixes that would benefit the team this season.
So which is it? What are the Eagles’ intentions and what are their chances to contend in the NFC East?
That question actually hints at the answer. The Eagles’ intentions may be to build a long-term contender, but the reality of the NFC East is that all four teams have the chance to win the division title in any given year. No team has repeated as division champion since the Eagles in 2003-04.
In that sense, then, the Eagles certainly have a reasonable chance to contend in 2016.
Remember, they were in the tepid NFC East race right up until December, when they lost home games to Arizona and Washington. The second loss gave Washington the division title.
That late-season fade looked bad. It was bad. But the fact remains that the Eagles were competitive until that two-game skid and they still finished ahead of Dallas and the Giants. All of that may say more about the state of the NFC East than the Eagles, but in this case, there’s no difference.
If the NFC East is mediocre, then a mediocre team could win it. So the Eagles, who could be better than mediocre, certainly have a shot.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that any of the three other mediocre teams in the division could also win it. Washington won it last year and has an apparently rising quarterback in Kirk Cousins. But what if Cousins recedes the way Robert Griffin III did (or, more recently, the way Nick Foles did in 2014)? Washington could be 5-11 or 6-10 as easily as 10-6.
Dallas? The Cowboys were in good shape going into 2015. They had won the division in 2014 and had added pieces to their offensive and defensive lines. But Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks broke Tony Romo's collarbone and all bets were off. The Cowboys went 4-12.
But if Romo and Dez Bryant stay healthy in 2016, there is every reason to believe the Cowboys can run away with the division title. If Romo gets hurt again, then the Cowboys could fall apart again. It’s that simple.
The Giants are even more of a mystery than the Eagles. Tom Coughlin had coached them for so long, and had won two Super Bowls, that the team is bound to be very different. If new coach Ben McAdoo can jump-start the team, the Giants could very well be contenders. If the team stumbles in its first steps under McAdoo, it could be another long season for Giants fans.
The Eagles are similar. They re-signed Sam Bradford in order to give themselves a chance to be competitive in 2016. If Bradford thrives in Pederson’s offense -- and two years removed from his ACL surgery -- the Eagles could be better than expected. If Jim Schwartz’s defense gets more out of the talent on hand than Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme, the Eagles could be much better.
Factor in the advantages of running a standard NFL offense instead of Chip Kelly’s no-huddle scheme, and the Eagles could improve as the season goes on.
There are pitfalls, of course. The lack of weapons on offense, especially at the wide receiver position, could hamstring Pederson’s offense. The transition to a new defense could expose the annually rebuilt secondary. We still have no idea whether Pederson was immune to Andy Reid’s game management idiosyncracies.
The bottom line is that it can be discouraging to go into a season marked entirely as a rebuilding year. The Eagles aren’t putting their fans through that. They took steps to build a long-term winner, but also steps to improve the 2015 team in the short term.
There are no guarantees, but there’s a chance.
PHILADELPHIA -- The question, as the Philadelphia Eagles committed millions of guaranteed dollars to players old and new, was whether the team would have the salary cap space to get a deal done with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
Well, they did.
And now the question becomes whether the Eagles can still maneuver around the cap as needs arise over the next couple of years. And the answer to that is not as clear as the answer to the first question.
Money decisions in the NFL have been based on the assumption that the salary cap will continue to rise each year. At some point, that trend will end. But for now, Eagles executive vice president for football operations Howie Roseman was able to structure contracts to fit the escalating cap numbers.
Roseman handed out a league-high $280 million in guaranteed money since Jan. 1, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He spread that money out to current players -- Cox, Sam Bradford, Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz and others -- as well as to new players. Free agents Brandon Brooks, Chase Daniel, Rodney McLeod and Leodis McKelvin all received significant deals this year.
The Eagles have about $6 million in cap space for 2016. In 2017, however, they currently are $5.7 million over the projected salary cap. That is a problem.
“That requires some risk on our part,” Roseman said last week. “But as we look at what our team looks like going forward, and the second part of this is obviously we don't have as many draft picks as we've had. So knowing that we have holes filled and we do look at our 2018 depth chart, we do look at our 2019 depth chart, we knew that we had to get a little uncomfortable for this season and next season, really, to build something that hopefully lasts and gives us a chance at being a really good team again for a long period of time.”
Being over the cap a year before they have to do another round of contracts is certainly “a little uncomfortable.”
Ultimately, though, there is a pretty simple solution to the Eagles’ problem. And that solution involves Bradford.
The Eagles signed the quarterback to a two-year, $35 million contract back in March. They also signed Daniel, a free agent who played for Doug Pederson in Kansas City. They then made trades to move up and draft Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick in the draft. The official line has been that Bradford will be the starter this season. If he plays well -- let’s say he takes the Eagles to the playoffs -- then he could earn the job for 2017, as well. If Bradford emerges as an elite quarterback, the Eagles could always choose to sign him to another deal after this one expires.
But the official line doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny. Bradford’s salary-cap charge for 2017 is $22.5 million. If the Eagles release him, Bradford will still count for $9.5 million in dead money on their 2017 cap, but the Eagles would save $13 million in cap space. Instead of being $5.7 million over the cap, they would instantly be $7.3 under the 2017 salary cap. They also have no first-round draft pick to pay in 2017. So cutting Bradford would give them enough flexibility to do business.
Cutting left tackle Jason Peters, who will be 35 in 2017, would save the Eagles another $9 million in cap space. The Eagles would then need to replace Peters, but the point is they can free up significant cap space with just a couple of transactions.
So the answer is yes, the Cox contract pushed the Eagles near their limit in terms of cap space. But they also have some built-in escape hatches that can be used if needed.
The salary-cap situation after the Cox deal makes it seem almost certain that Bradford will be gone after the 2016 season.
Additionally, the Eagles did draft Wentz with the No. 2 pick for a reason. It’s unusual enough for highly drafted rookies to sit for a season. Sitting for two seasons is virtually unheard of.
Roseman spent a lot of money on his offseason plan. But there is more money to be spent, if needed, over the next couple years.
The Philadelphia Eagles wrapped up their offseason program on June 9 and open training camp on July 25 at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. Here’s a 53-man roster projection:
They’re the only three quarterbacks on the 90-man roster and they’ve received a ton of guaranteed money, so this was not a tough call.
Marshall projects as a younger version of Kenjon Barner, so it makes more sense for the Eagles to keep him. It won’t be shocking if the team goes with three backs here, which would make Marshall a candidate for the practice squad.
It is possible one of the rookie wide receivers – Xavier Rush seemed to find a connection with Wentz at minicamp – displaces Huff, but the Eagles’ wide receiver corps appears set. Not particularly imposing, but set.
That’s a lot of tight ends, but Pantale could also be counted as a fullback. He looked good in OTAs and minicamp as a tight end, and the Eagles used some three-tight end sets.
Maybe the toughest unit to project. It could be that Malcolm Bunche, Dennis Kelly or Halapoulivaati Vaitai play their way onto the roster. The logic here is that Gardner, Tobin and Wisniewski can play multiple positions, which will give them value as backups.
The Eagles would like Alex McAlister, a seventh-round draft pick this year, to make the team. But they also want him to add weight, which suggests he could be stashed on the practice squad for a year. Braman is here for special teams.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising if one of the undrafted rookies forced his way onto the roster, but for now, logic suggests the four most likely candidates will wind up on the team.
Deontae Skinner has shown some promise during his time here, and the coaches like Tavarres and Quentin Gause. Once you get past the starters, the three backups are basically a coin flip, with special-teams acumen playing a large role in the decisions.
The Eagles desperately need this group to develop into a solid unit behind Jim Schwartz’s aggressive defensive front. Mills has looked very good in practice. Same with McKelvin, who played for Schwartz in Buffalo. Shepherd is a projection based on his play before tearing his ACL last year.
The starters are set. Maragos is a solid backup who excels on special teams. The fourth spot is really a toss-up. We’re going with Watkins here because he can also play cornerback.
Strangely, two of the most intense competitions for roster spots are at kicker and long-snapper. Howie Roseman was in charge when the Eagles traded for Parkey, and that clearly matters in these situations. John DePalma may well outplay Dorenbos, but don’t expect the veteran to go quietly.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles have handed out an NFL-high $280 million in guaranteed money this offseason, most of it to extend the contracts of their own players.
That was no accident. Howie Roseman, the former general manager displaced last year by head coach Chip Kelly, is back in command. Now executive vice president of football operations, Roseman had a plan for securing the Eagles’ core players while trying to build on that base.
“Looking at our whole offseason,” Roseman said, “having all these guys that we’ve drafted or have signed in here and fit our system, our style, in our opinion, that’s the message of the offseason.
“When you look at the majority of guys that we’ve signed, they’re second-contract guys. They’re 25 or 26. ... When you look at the Giants, the Steelers, the Colts, the Patriots, the Packers, the Seahawks -- they have a core group of guys that they’re building with together. They’re going through things together that strengthens your team and strengthens your bond.”
The biggest contract of the offseason took the longest to finalize. Roseman and agent Todd France completed negotiations Monday on a six-year, $103 million contract for defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
At 25, the 2012 first-round draft pick exactly fits the profile Roseman was talking about.
“I think it says a lot when they’re signing the guys that are in that locker room,” Cox said. “They believe in the guys that are in the locker room. They want to continue to grow with them and continue to build around them.”
Roseman acknowledged that the 2015 Eagles were, at 7-9, a disappointment.
“We didn’t exactly win the Super Bowl,” Roseman said.
But his belief is that keeping a promising core group together and adding to it is the right way to build a championship-caliber team.
Earlier in the offseason, the Eagles negotiated new contracts with tight ends Zach Ertz (five years, $42.5 million, $21 million guaranteed) and Brent Celek (two years, $8 million, $6 million guaranteed), offensive tackle Lane Johnson (five years, $56.25 million, $35.5 million guaranteed), defensive end Vinny Curry (five years, $46.25 million, $23 million guaranteed) and safety Malcolm Jenkins (four years, $30 million, $21 million guaranteed).
All except for Jenkins are players the Eagles drafted. They also negotiated a two-year contract extension with quarterback Sam Bradford ($35 million, $22 million guaranteed).
There had been “so much change here” during Kelly’s three-year tenure, Roseman said. “One of the things when you’re trying to build something, you need people to be secure in how they feel.”
That’s why, Roseman said, he and head coach Doug Pederson were consistent in their public statements about Cox. They may have given up some leverage, but they said all along that they wanted Cox to remain an Eagle for a long time.
“We didn’t want him to feel at any point to feel other than how we truly felt,” Roseman said. “He is a huge part of what we’re trying to build and trying to do. A lot of that is not only on the field but off the field and how he handles himself.”
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles are taking a $63 million risk on defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. That is how much guaranteed money is included in the six-year, $103 million contract agreed to on Monday.
The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The $63 million is the most guaranteed money in a non-quarterback contract in NFL history. That is a lot of money for a defensive lineman who has 22 sacks in four NFL seasons.
But if the Eagles are taking a risk, it is a calculated one. They believe Cox can become the kind of difference-making defensive player that justifies the money he is promised.
Cox, the Eagles’ first-round choice in the 2012 NFL draft, is just 25 years old. He will not turn 26 until December. So this contract was negotiated just as he is entering the prime seasons of his career. Cox will turn 32 at the end of the 2022 season, the final year of this contract.
During his first four seasons, Cox earned $10.2 million. The Eagles used the fifth-year option on his contract to secure his rights for the 2016 season. Cox would have made $7.79 million on the fifth-year option.
But the Eagles made it clear they had every intention of locking Cox up for the long term with a new contract. Everything fell together nicely for Cox.
Howie Roseman, the general manager who traded up to draft him in 2012, was reinstated as the head of the Eagles’ football operations earlier this year.
Roseman quickly negotiated contract extensions for Lane Johnson and Zach Ertz, the Eagles’ top two picks in the 2013 draft. Roseman was in charge of the 2012 and 2013 drafts, and it was a priority for him to lock up the players he drafted.
Cox’s contract puts him in the same neighborhood as Miami’s Ndamukong Suh, who signed a six-year, $114 million contract two years ago. Suh, a free agent who had been drafted by the Detroit Lions, received just under $60 million in guaranteed money as part of that deal.
It is fair to ask whether Cox has proven himself at Suh’s level. The answer is more complicated than comparing the players’ statistics. For example, Suh had 27.5 quarterback sacks in his first four seasons, 5.5 more than Cox.
But Suh had the advantage of playing the same position in the same defensive scheme. Suh was freed up to pressure quarterbacks and make big plays as a defensive tackle in Detroit coach Jim Schwartz’s aggressive scheme.
Cox played in a similar scheme as a rookie in 2012 and had 5.5 sacks that year. The following season, though, the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as head coach and brought in defensive coordinator Bill Davis to run a 3-4 scheme.
Cox had three sacks in 2013 playing as a defensive end in a 3-4. He had four more in 2014. By last season, Cox had found his legs in Davis’ scheme and earned a Pro Bowl berth with 9.5 sacks.
Cox sacked quarterback Drew Brees three times, forcing him to fumble twice, in a game against the New Orleans Saints in October. Cox said he “never” remembered getting three sacks in a game prior to that tilt with the Saints.
In December, Cox had seven tackles and a sack as the Eagles defeated the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo coach Rex Ryan took notice. Ryan’s father, Buddy, coached the Eagles in the 1980s, when they drafted a defensive tackle named Jerome Brown.
“That [No.] 91 is a good player,” Ryan said after the game. “I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now. The kid is a pretty good player.”
Bills guard Richie Incognito appreciated Cox’s performance from a different vantage point.
“He is a great player,” Incognito said. “I did not play my best, and he beat me early and often. You have to take your hat off to him. He had one on me. He beat me clearly, and I had to hold him to get him to stop. You have to be impressed by him.”
This season, Cox will be back at his natural position of defensive tackle playing for Schwartz, who helped shape Suh into a dominating player and is now the Eagles' defensive coordinator. The Eagles also hired defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who coached Cox for three years at Mississippi State.
Everything has fallen into place for Cox to be a truly dominating defensive player. That is what the Eagles believed Cox would become when they drafted him. That is why they took a $63 million risk on Cox -- because they don’t think it’s much of a risk at all.
PHILADELPHIA -- Most of what you need to know about the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense is in the play calling.
Remember Chip Kelly’s sideline placards, with pictures of cheesesteaks, Rocky Balboa, and Ben Franklin? Players would look over to the sideline, interpret the right play from the confusing array of signs and then line up without huddling. The quarterback would call for the ball and the Eagles would run the play.
In Doug Pederson’s offense, play calls are wordy. The quarterback gets the call via his helmet speaker from the sideline. He then goes into the huddle and repeats the call exactly, making sure to get all 10 or 12 words in the correct order. Each word gives the other players specific instructions about the play call, the alignment, the blocking scheme and so on.
If Kelly’s playbook was a pamphlet, Pederson’s is more like "War and Peace." There are many more plays, and each comes with variations and options depending upon the defensive alignment. Wide receivers will go in motion, forcing defenders to move and perhaps reveal whether they are in man-to-man or zone coverage. Everyone on the offense is expected to read that information and adjust the play accordingly.
Meanwhile, Pederson will use a variety of snap counts. While Kelly was all about getting the ball snapped quickly, Pederson’s quarterback can take his time and try to fool defenders with hard counts and other tricks. During organized team activities, offensive players were already observing the advantage it gave them. A hesitant defense is not as quick off the ball as a defense that doesn’t have to worry about snap counts.
“I put more on the quarterback in this system, and it's kind of what I've been accustomed to,” Pederson said last week. “Even when I was a player with coach [Andy] Reid, he put everything on the quarterback and we had to learn it that way.”
That is why Pederson, like Reid, signed a veteran backup who was well-versed in the offense and could help everyone learn how to run it. Pederson played the role of on-field coordinator for Reid. Chase Daniel is playing it for Pederson.
“This is part of the reason why Chase is here," Pederson said, "to teach that verbal communication with Sam [Bradford] and for them to dialogue and bounce these situations and the terminology back and forth.”
The good news is that Bradford has some experience in this kind of offense and he enjoyed it. As a rookie in St. Louis, his offensive coordinator was Pat Shurmur, who came from the same Reid coaching tree as Pederson.
As offensive coordinator with the Eagles last year, Shurmur served as interim head coach for the final game of the season. In the few practice days between when Kelly was fired and that final game, Shurmur added some plays that gave Bradford the ability to audible out of the original play call depending on what the defensive look was.
Bradford enjoyed that and handled it well, according to Shurmur and other Eagles players. Bradford's football intelligence is one of his strengths. It makes sense to run an offense that takes advantage of that rather than an offense that relies entirely on the play call from the sideline.
“There is a lot of freedom,” Bradford said. “Obviously, with that freedom, there comes a lot of responsibility. You’re in charge of getting into the right play and getting out of a bad play. You’re responsible for everything out there.
“Last year with Chip, playing at the tempo we did, it was hard to really do that. I think there’s benefits to each, but it is nice knowing that when you get to the line of scrimmage, if you realize 'Hey, this is a bad play against this coverage,’ I have the ability to get us into something better.”
With Kelly, the sheer quantity of plays was important. If you have a bad play called against a particular defense, it might still work out because of how quickly you line up and run it. If the play doesn’t work, you’re running another one before the defense can even process that information.
That is not the way Pederson’s offense works. It is more cerebral and requires coordination between the quarterback, the center and all the skill position players. Time will tell if Pederson’s way is better than Kelly’s, but it’s already clear that the two offenses are drastically different.
Roseman spent a year in limbo after being pushed aside by former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. During that time, Roseman traveled around, talking to successful sports executives and getting insight into how to build a winning team.
One of Roseman’s main takeaways: The quarterback position is really important. That raises an eyebrow because, frankly, Roseman could have saved a lot of time and travel expense by getting that information from anyone on the street.
Quarterbacks are obviously pretty important.
But, as Joyner outlines in his column, Roseman’s plan has more depth than that. It is based partly on the state of the NFL in 2016. A large number of the top quarterbacks in the league, the ones who give their teams legitimate opportunities to win a championship, are nearing the end of their careers.
Of the 35 quarterbacks who threw enough passes in 2015 to qualify for the NFL passer rating, Joyner writes, 11 are 33 or older. Peyton Manning just retired. Tom Brady (38), Drew Brees (37), Carson Palmer (36), Tony Romo (36) and Eli Manning (35) all are getting up there.
So Roseman figured it made sense to load up at a position that is going to be hard to fill in the next five years or so. That goes a long way toward explaining the trades that landed Carson Wentz and the big contracts the Eagles gave to Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel.
The Eagles would seem to be in better long-term shape than their NFC East rivals, for example. Dallas has the 36-year-old Romo, Kellen Moore and fourth-round draft pick Dak Prescott. Washington has Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy and Nate Sudfeld. The Giants have Eli Manning, Ryan Nassib and B.J. Daniels.
So it sounds smart, loading up on quarterbacks at a time when they appear to be on the verge of being endangered.
But then look at the quarterbacks who are 28 or under. Their ranks include Cam Newton and Russell Wilson (both 27), Ryan Tannehill, Colin Kaepernick and Matthew Stafford (all 28), Derek Carr (23), Blake Bortles (24), Brock Osweiler (25) and 26-year-olds Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. If you scoff at Griffin’s name because he seems like a disappointing high draft pick, you at least have to acknowledge that the same could be said of Bradford.
And then there is the crop of quarterbacks that entered the league this year. The Eagles landed Wentz, but no one knows how his career will compare to those of Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg and Prescott.
Loading up on quarterbacks makes sense, but it will work only if at least one of the three QBs is truly special. It’s true that a bunch of accomplished, proven quarterbacks are nearing the end of their careers, but it’s also true that a similar number of promising young stars are coming up right behind them.
A few will rise to the level of Brady and Brees. The Eagles are at least in the mix to have one of them.
PHILADELPHIA -- How are the Eagles' quarterbacks faring during the mandatory minicamp? Here's an evaluation from Wednesday's session:
Sam Bradford: Down
The Philadelphia Eagles put their quarterbacks through some difficulties Wednesday, pressuring them and forcing them to make quick decisions against the blitz. All this happened indoors, after a fast-moving storm forced the Eagles to practice in their bubble. Bradford wasn’t bad, but he made a lot more errant throws because of the pressure.
Wow moment: On consecutive plays, Bradford countered the blitz with hot throws to tight end Zach Ertz. The first was completed through a tight window as Ertz tried to shed a linebacker’s coverage. On the second, Bradford zipped a short pass to Ertz as he cleared the blitzing defenders and found an open spot in the coverage.
Whoa moment: Bradford went four plays without a completion during one drill (one of the plays was a run), but his toughest moment came on the first play of a later session. Bradford took the snap and turned to hand off to a running back. It may have been a play fake. We’ll never know because the ball wound up on the ground among the feet of the offensive linemen.
Chase Daniel: Down
If Bradford looked a little out of sync because of the pressure, Daniel had even more trouble. His lack of height is more of a problem when there are nine or 10 behemoths grappling right in front of him.
Wow moment: Daniel made a perfect throw over the shoulder of Jordan Matthews down the right sideline. Safety Rodney McLeod was closing, but Matthews caught the ball as he skidded across the turf on his knees. Matthews jumped up and spun the football on the ground near McLeod.
Whoa moment: The defensive players got louder and louder as Daniel went three consecutive plays without a completion. He tried to throw over defensive lineman Destiny Vaeao and sailed it over Ertz. Daniel then overthrew tight end Trey Burton to the left. That got the defensive players chirping, and they got really loud after rookie cornerback Jalen Mills broke up a pass intended for wide receiver T.J. Graham.
Carson Wentz: Up
The rookie had some problems, too, but Wentz seemed the most comfortable dealing with pressure; he looked more dynamic and was able to improvise better than the other two QBs.
Wow moment: Wentz threw two pretty passes that traveled more than 20 yards downfield in perfect arcs. The first dropped right into the hands of Matthews. The second found Burton in the middle of the field. Wentz made a nice throw under pressure to Nelson Agholor, but the wide receiver couldn’t hold on.
Whoa moment: Wentz threw an out to Graham on the left side. Unfortunately, Graham broke in rather than out, and the ball sailed out of bounds. That might have been Graham’s “whoa moment,” but it didn’t look too slick for Wentz, either.
Who won the day? The defense probably did. DC Jim Schwartz seems to be enjoying himself out there. Of the three quarterbacks, though, you’d have to say Wentz looked the most comfortable and effective dealing with the pressure.
PHILADELPHIA -- For an NFL player, reps are currency.
Every practice repetition is an opportunity to show coaches what you can do. More reps equal more opportunity. As the Philadelphia Eagles begin the Doug Pederson era, practice reps are an important part of the story.
Especially at quarterback.
During organized team activities and the current three-day minicamp, Pederson has given equal reps to each of his three quarterbacks. Sam Bradford runs the first-team offense for a set of plays, Chase Daniel and the second-team offense take a turn, and rookie Carson Wentz comes out and gets the same number of reps as either of the veterans.
This is significant, because Wentz is getting as many opportunities to impress Pederson and his staff as Bradford, the man Pederson has declared his starting quarterback. That is not the way things have been done under Andy Reid, the man Pederson played for in Philadelphia and coached with in Philly and Kansas City.
Under Reid, the starter gets most of the practice reps. That’s because the starter needs to prepare for the next game while also developing timing with his teammates in Reid’s complex system. Pederson eventually will get to that distribution of reps, but for now he is dividing the work equally.
“You get to that first preseason game, and usually you're playing your twos and threes,” Pederson said Tuesday. “That's just the nature of the deal. So why not give your twos and threes equal time, because you're trying to ramp your starters up for the regular season? So by giving [Wentz] more reps and more opportunities, it sort of gives us that insight to where we can, you know, use him down the road.”
This was not an issue for the Eagles under Chip Kelly, whose uptempo approach to practice meant many more reps for everyone. Kelly needed to have four or five quarterbacks just to keep up with the pace. He would often throw passes himself if an extra arm was needed for a particular drill.
Pederson’s practices are more typical. The offense huddles. The quarterback gets the play call through the receiver in his helmet, then passes the play on to his teammates. If there is a mistake made, Pederson will stop the play and make the players run it again correctly. All of that takes time, and that reduces the number of reps available.
If Pederson ran practices precisely as Reid did with the Eagles and Chiefs, Bradford would take the majority of the reps, while Daniel and Wentz would split whatever was left. That would help Bradford master the offense, but it would limit Wentz’s opportunities to grow and impress the coaching staff.
This equal distribution of reps will continue until mid-August, Pederson said.
“When you get to that point,” Pederson said, “which is usually around your third preseason game, when your starters take the bulk of that game, at that point, you start making the decision that, OK, your starters need to get 60, 70, 80 percent of the snaps in practice. But right now, we're in those negotiations of splitting time equally with all of the groups. There are a lot of bodies out there. When you've got three groups of offensive line and defensive line, you want to see everybody compete and play.”
During the regular season, practice is about preparing for the games. In May, June, July and early August, practice is about seeing what you have and helping players develop.
“I think it's beneficial to get your twos and threes -- the guys that you really want to see and evaluate -- give them the most opportunity to compete and the best chance to succeed,” Pederson said.
PHILADELPHIA -- As the Philadelphia Eagles begin their final week of offseason practices before training camp opens in late July, we have learned some things about the Doug Pederson era.
The return to NFL orthodoxy is going to be good for everyone. It has been compelling to hear players like Lane Johnson, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor talk enthusiastically about the way Pederson’s offense will operate.
These are players whose entire NFL careers have been with coach Chip Kelly, so they have no other perspective. They were immersed in Kelly’s uptempo offense, with its slim playbook and specific principles, and are now learning a whole new way of doing things.
For them, Kelly’s ways might as well have been the norm. Pederson could be the outlier.
But those players are excited by what they’ve seen so far. Johnson talked about how valuable it is to vary snap counts and add a moment’s hesitation to the defenders lined up across from him. Agholor and Matthews are enthused by the number of offensive plays and the variations within those plays -- giving them new tools to use as they try to get open against various coverages.
For the defensive players, the benefits won’t really become clear until the games start. They won’t lead the NFL in number of plays they have to defend. They will get to operate like a normal NFL defense.
The quarterback situation is under control. Pederson and Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations, had a plan in mind. They would start Sam Bradford, sign Chase Daniel for his thorough knowledge of Pederson’s offense, then do their best to move up in the draft for a quarterback of the future.
Bradford’s reaction to the trade that landed Carson Wentz changed the conversation. He walked away from the NovaCare Complex and asked to be traded. If that situation wasn’t handled correctly, it could have torpedoed the entire plan.
But Pederson and Roseman maintained public support for Bradford. In turn, Bradford realized he had no leverage when a trade was not in the works. He returned to work and has conducted himself as professionally as his contract suggests he should. Wentz, the eager rookie from North Dakota State, slid seamlessly into the quarterback meeting room.
There is still a long way to go. Injuries, poor performances and public pressure could still force Pederson to adjust his plan. But going into training camp, at least, everything is about as fine as it could be.
There is a concern about the lack of big-time playmakers, but there are also a few reasons for hope. During Kelly’s reign, the Eagles discarded offensive stars DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, and even quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles. The players who have been added have not attained the performance levels of the players who have been subtracted.
But Matthews, Agholor, tight end Zach Ertz and running back Ryan Mathews have only played in Kelly’s offense during their Eagles careers. It may be that Kelly’s offense had some limitations in that regard.
Yes, McCoy and Jackson had productive seasons for Kelly. But DeMarco Murray went from leading the NFL in rushing to being a liability. Matthews and Agholor have not had breakout seasons.
Pederson’s offense, which uses some West Coast principles while incorporating a spread-offense concept, may give all of the current players the opportunities they need to be effective.
Ertz could put up the kind of numbers Travis Kelce has posted in Kansas City. Mathews could get the kind of work Jamaal Charles has with the Chiefs. Matthews and Agholor could emerge as featured receivers, the way Jackson and Terrell Owens once did under Andy Reid in Philadelphia.
We’re talking potential here. There is still work to be done to realize that potential. It will help a lot if Bradford or Wentz can go out and play like a franchise quarterback. That will help everyone else on the offense play their best.
The Pederson era remains a work in progress, but already some real progress has been made.
PHILADELPHIA -- Every new NFL head coach has to tailor his approach to the team he inherited, which often means addressing issues that led to the previous coach’s downfall.
When Andy Reid became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, he took over from Ray Rhodes. During Rhodes’ four-year tenure, there were a lot of problems. Reid tried to address many of them internally, in terms of discipline and organization.
One of the problems Reid perceived was that too many voices were offering too many conflicting points of view about the state of the team. An anonymous assistant coach might tell a reporter something that shifted blame toward some other part of the team, for example.
So Reid issued a list of rules for the media covering the team. The head coach and his coordinators, which included special teams coordinator John Harbaugh, would be available in regular sessions. Position coaches were available only by appointment, through the public relations staff.
Reid’s goal was to control the message coming out of the organization. Only Reid could talk about injuries, and he occasionally would bring in athletic trainer Rick Burkholder when the situation warranted it. There was an effort to keep internal disagreements or discussions from becoming fodder for public consumption.
All of this is worth noting as Doug Pederson follows Reid’s blueprint in Philadelphia. Within the past week, both of Pederson’s coordinators, Jim Schwartz and Frank Reich, made public comments about the quarterback situation that appeared to be in conflict with Pederson’s earlier comments.
In a radio interview, Reich said that Pederson had created a sense of order but that nothing was definite. Competition would determine the starting quarterback.
In a news conference, Schwartz talked about developing No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford in Detroit. When the rookie was ready, Schwartz said, the Lions played him. That was not exactly the message that Pederson was trying to convey about his first-round draft choice.
Pederson talks to reporters Friday for the first time since his coordinators strayed from the official party line. It will represent another challenge for the first-time head coach. Pederson likely will try to strike a balance between emphasizing his original message while supporting his coordinators’ right to express their own views. The ideal image to project is that Pederson is confident enough in his own leadership not to worry too much about what his assistants say.
Pederson’s first big public test was Bradford’s reaction to the Eagles’ move to select Wentz with the No. 2 pick in the draft. Bradford skipped two weeks’ worth of voluntary workouts.
Pederson stayed calm, reiterated his commitment to start Bradford this year, and said that Bradford would be welcomed back “with open arms.” Three weeks later, Bradford is back at work, the quarterbacks appear to be getting along just fine and there is no sign of permanent damage.
The Bradford situation had more potential for causing problems than the coordinators’ comments. Pederson got through his first test just fine. His second test shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
The only thing certain is that there will be many more tests to come.
PHILADELPHIA – Whenever you’re looking at an NFL matchup, there is what you think, what media analysts think and then there is what Vegas thinks.
That isn’t shocking. The Eagles went 7-9 last year. They have a first-year head coach in Doug Pederson. Sam Bradford, who has never had a winning season as an NFL starting quarterback, will be back under center.
The Eagles are favored in their very first game of the 2016 season. Cantor figures the Eagles as 7.5-point favorites over the Cleveland Browns. The game is at Lincoln Financial Field, which makes the Eagles likely favorites.
The Browns are not favored in any of their games.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are considered favorites in four other games. Three of them – against Atlanta, Washington and the New York Giants – are at home. The Eagles are only favored on the road (by three points) against the Baltimore Ravens.
It is telling that the Eagles are favored against two NFC East teams at home. The division has been so even for the past few years, it makes sense to make each team the favorite at home in divisional matchups.
The Eagles are 3.5-point underdogs at Dallas. Their home game against the Cowboys is the final game of the regular season. Cantor did not provide odds for the final weekend, because so many variables, such as playoff contention, are in play that week.
It is no surprise that the Eagles are the biggest underdogs against Seattle (9-point favorite) and Cincinnati (5-point edge). Those are both road games against teams that were in the playoffs last season.
When a playoff team comes to the Linc, the Eagles fare a little better. The Green Bay Packers are favored by just 3.5 points in Philadelphia in Week 12.
PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe this crazy arrangement can work after all.
A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback situation looked like the story arc of a soap opera. The team had committed to Sam Bradford with a new contract. Bradford was all set to prove he could be the quarterback the St. Louis Rams thought they were getting with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL draft.
Then came the trades, with the Eagles moving up to No. 2 in this year's draft. They had their eye on a quarterback, leaving Bradford frustrated and unsure of his place with the team. He bolted the team's facility and skipped two weeks' worth of voluntary workouts.
The Eagles drafted North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Bradford came back. Chase Daniel, the other quarterback the Eagles acquired this offseason, joined them in a potentially awkward quarterback meeting room.
A month later, all is well. That's what Wentz and Bradford said Tuesday, after another OTA session. There was nothing in their demeanor or tone that suggested either man was saying what he thought was the right thing to say. Both sounded as relaxed and upbeat as could be.
"They're great dudes," Bradford said. "We have a really good room. Having Chase in the room, for me and Carson both, has been great. He's been in this system -- this is his fourth year in this system.
"He understands some of the smaller details. When we watch tape, he's able to point out things: 'Hey, you can short-cut this read and get back here a little quicker against this coverage.' Having him in the room, for me and Carson, has been really good.
"And then Carson, he's been great. He's a great kid. He's really talented. It's been fun working with him, trying to help him, trying to share bits of information that I've picked up along the way."
Bradford's description sounds very much like what new head coach Doug Pederson was trying to create this offseason. Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich are former NFL quarterbacks. They see the game from a quarterback's perspective. Quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is the hands-on, detail-oriented coach who conducts meetings and analyzes film.
Bradford is the starter. Wentz is the apprentice. And Daniel provides a peer who has a firm grasp on Pederson's offense as a quarterback.
"So far, it's been great," Wentz said. "Working with Sam, working with Chase -- we've got an awesome quarterback room. A lot of really good discussions -- about the playbook, about life. And on the practice field, they've been great for me. We have a really good relationship. I have nothing but great things to say about both those guys."
Overall, Wentz said, he has enjoyed working with his new teammates.
"So far, it's been great," Wentz said. "I enjoy the teammates, enjoy the locker room, enjoy this time. It only happens once."
Sam Bradford: Up
This week’s organized team activities session was a little different from the past two weeks. During 11-on-11 drills, each quarterback took a turn running the offense on one field. The other two quarterbacks did drills with teammates on the adjacent field.
Before that, all three quarterbacks were on the same field, each taking turns behind center while the other two watched.
Wow Moment: Bradford threw mostly short passes, which aren’t exactly dazzling to watch. His best throw was a bullet to Josh Huff, but Huff couldn’t hold on to the ball. Bradford also stuck a sharp throw into the midsection of Nelson Agholor. That one was caught.
Whoa Moment: This was probably more a bad decision than a bad throw. Bradford tried to force a pass to a well-covered receiver. The ball was deflected away. It popped into the air and was intercepted by safety Rodney McLeod.
Chase Daniel: Up
Daniel had a solid, unspectacular day. His knowledge of the offense was apparent as he seemed to make quick decisions and get the ball out to open receivers very quickly.
Wow Moment: On his last play of the day, Daniel dropped back from about the 10-yard line. He threw a pass that sailed over leaping safety Ed Reynolds and came down in the arms of wide receiver Paul Turner for a touchdown.
Whoa Moment: There wasn’t much Daniel could do about it, but there it was. He faked a handoff and then turned to run around the left end (each QB ran a similar play Tuesday). Nobody on defense appeared fooled and Daniel had nowhere to go with the ball.
Carson Wentz: Up
All three quarterbacks were pretty workmanlike Tuesday. That “up” shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign of great improvement over last week. But none of the quarterbacks really had what you would describe as a “down” day, either.
Wow moment: Like Daniel, Wentz threw a touchdown pass on his final play of the day. With the ball at the 5-yard line, Wentz dropped back and flicked a short pass to tight end Chris Pantale for a score. The field was crowded, and the play showed how much Wentz’s size helps him to see beyond the line of scrimmage.
Whoa moment: During a defensive drill, Wentz threw a classic hospital ball to a wide receiver wearing a red No. 88 jersey. The approaching defender collided with the receiver, but it would have been a much bigger collision in a real game.
Who won the day? Daniel had probably the best all-around day. He didn’t make spectacular plays, but he was steady and got the ball where it needed to be. Bradford and Wentz each threw passes that were or should have been interceptions.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason has been extremely unusual, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.
That’s what made Eagles owner Jeff Lurie’s comment to Jenny Vrentas of MMQB.com so puzzling. Lurie attempted to explain the Eagles’ QB-centric offseason and it came off just a bit disingenuous.
To recap: The Eagles signed starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a two-year, $35 million contract. They then aggressively pursued backup quarterback Chase Daniel, signing him to a three-year, $21 million deal.
That all made sense. But then the Eagles made three trades to move up from the 13th pick in the NFL draft to the No. 2 pick. They used that pick to draft another quarterback, North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
“We see it differently than I guess some other people may,” Lurie told Vrentas at the NFL owners meetings this month. “We see Sam as absolutely the right guy to quarterback the team. We are so rarely able to draft in the top five in the draft. It’s only been twice in about 15 to 20 years.”
Actually, it’s been twice in four years. The Eagles had the No. 4 pick in the 2013 draft. There were no quarterbacks worth selecting that high in that draft, so they used the pick on offensive tackle Lane Johnson. But that’s beside the point. The Eagles rarely have been at the top of the draft since they took Donovan McNabb at No. 2 in 1999.
“So we saw the opportunity,” Lurie said, “and we liked two quarterbacks. We had to make the move to secure having a potential franchise quarterback for many, many years. Having a lot of assets at the most important position in the NFL is a good strategic move for now. And it can only benefit us.”
That is probably the more important point to quibble with. Having three quarterbacks is certainly a good thing, assuming they are three high-quality quarterbacks. And the Eagles may indeed have three high-quality quarterbacks. But they also have a starter who has never had a winning record, a backup who has barely played in his NFL career and a rookie who played at North Dakota State.
If even one of those three turns out to be a legitimate NFL quarterback, the kind who can take a team to the Super Bowl, the Eagles will be very fortunate. And if they are, then that quarterback certainly would have benefited from having the players the Eagles could have acquired with the draft picks they traded for Wentz.
“Because in the NFL,” Lurie said, “it’s the one position you can’t just go get. And so when you have an opportunity, you’ve got to take your shot, and you’ve got to be bold. Otherwise, if you say to yourself, 'You know, it is probably a 50-50 shot that maybe the quarterback will be really good,’ you can't let that deter you. So that’s how I look at it: You either have a really good QB and you compete for the Super Bowl, or you don’t and you are probably not competing for the Super Bowl. And that’s simple.”
Lurie is absolutely right about that part. The issue is whether Bradford or Daniel has any chance to be that kind of quarterback. If so, then it made great sense to sign them. But if either one of them is that quarterback, then there was no reason to trade so many assets to draft Wentz. And if the Eagles don’t know if Bradford or Daniel is that quarterback, then they spent an awful lot of money that could have been better spent elsewhere.
The reality is simple. The Eagles signed Bradford and Daniel when they held the No. 13 pick in the draft. They didn’t know if they could trade up for Wentz, or even whether Wentz was the guy they really wanted. So they made those signings under one set of circumstances, then drafted Wentz under a new set of circumstances. They were able to make the trades that got them from No. 13 to No. 2.
And that’s fine. All Lurie had to say was that’s what happened. By spinning it all as some grand plan, Lurie doesn’t make a convincing case. It just sounds like an owner trying to project the illusion of careful planning on what was clearly an improvisation. It may turn out to be a successful improvisation, but there’s no doubt that it already has caused some problems.
Bradford’s two-week holdout, prompted by the trade up to draft Wentz, was the only real consequence so far. We have yet to see if Bradford can deliver a performance worthy of his contract, and what the Eagles will do with a quality quarterback while Wentz is in waiting. A lot of football has to be played to determine the outcome of this whole process.
However it turns out, though, it’s OK for the Eagles to acknowledge that they made the best choices they could with the facts at hand. When the facts changed, the choices changed. That left them overstocked at the quarterback position, in terms of dollars invested if not in terms of quality.