NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
Rowe was the Eagles’ second-round draft pick last year. He started the last five games of the season after Nolan Carroll broke his leg. It was reasonable to assume that Rowe had a chance to be a starter for the Eagles this season. And maybe he does, if the coaches remember him.
On Monday, head coach Doug Pederson didn’t mention Rowe when he talked about the competition at cornerback. On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did the same thing.
“It's going to be fun to watch the corners compete,” Schwartz said. “We have some guys that can cover. We have some guys that have a great opportunity here.”
Schwartz was asked about Carroll and former CFL player Aaron Grymes. He volunteered a breakdown of the other cornerbacks on the roster.
“Just with the blend of veteran players, a guy like Nolan Carroll, who we talked about, (and) Leodis McKelvin,” Schwartz said. “Some young guys that have some opportunities; Jalen (Mills) has done a nice job for a rookie so far, and Ron Brooks is going to have an opportunity.
“Guys coming off injury like Shep (JaCorey Shepherd), who has been out here. I think it's going to be exciting to watch those guys. If they show the ability to cover and they show that they will challenge guys, then we'll find use for all of them.”
No mention of Rowe. When asked directly about Rowe on Monday, Pederson said something about Rowe’s “competition level.” He also said that Rowe had fallen behind during OTAs as he learned the new techniques that Schwartz requires of his cornerbacks.
It may be that the coaches are looking to light a fire under Rowe in order to raise that “competition level.” It may be that they aren’t all that impressed with what they’ve seen.
Normally, a second-round draft pick would be in a team’s plans, especially since the Eagles traded up five spots in the second round to select Rowe last year. But that trade and the choice of Rowe were made by Chip Kelly and his personnel lieutenant, Ed Marynowitz. The current staff has no connection to the selection of Rowe.
There’s no obvious conclusion to draw at this point. As Schwartz pointed out, the real evaluation of players begins this week when the pads go on and they start to hit. Rowe could open the new staff’s eyes when that happens.
It just seems pretty clear that Rowe will need to do just that.
PHILADELPHIA -- There is one small problem with Doug Pederson's attempt to recreate Andy Reid’s 1999 launch of his tenure as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
It isn’t 1999.
In the years since Reid took over as head coach of the Eagles, the NFL has tightened the rules governing training camp and regular-season practices. Coaches simply can’t practice as often or be as physically demanding as they used to be.
While Pederson intends to follow the rules, he also made it clear that he plans to adhere as closely as possible to Reid’s training methods.
“Why do I believe in hitting?” Pederson said last month. “It's a physical game. It's football. It's tackle football. I think the only way you can properly fit offensively and defensively, you have to put the pads on and you have to hit.”
In 1999, Reid opened his first training camp with a grueling stretch of two-a-day practices in full pads. That approach, which became known as “three days of hell,” lasted for a few years. In ’99, nine players missed practice time because of dehydration in the first week.
After Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer collapsed and died during a training camp practice in 2001, the league began to develop guidelines for teams to follow.
There are limits on the number of times teams can wear full pads, how often they can hit and how many days they can work without a day off.
Under Chip Kelly, the focus was on tempo rather than contact. Kelly wanted his team to practice fast. Hitting was not the priority.
Under Pederson, it will be. Rookies report on Monday. They will spend three days together before the veterans report. On Thursday, with the full team on the field, Pederson plans to implement his own modified version of Reid’s “three days of hell.”
“We'll probably go three days in pads, take them off, and then go another three days and take them off,” Pederson said. “So it's kind of a broken-up schedule. It's not every day, but it's at least three consecutive before we take them off and have a lighter day, where they can recover for a day."
Reid believed that hitting was part of the process of building a team from the group of 90 men allowed on the roster. Pederson also thinks it is important to evaluate football players by actually watching them play football.
“For instance,” Pederson said, “if you're looking for a fullback, are you going to go out here in shells and tell me you're going to find a fullback? I want to see him run downhill and hit a Mike linebacker. I want to see him strike a defensive end. I want to see if he can hold up. Do his legs collapse? Does he stay up? Can he power through the block?
“I want to see if guards can pull. I want to see if linebackers can tackle. I want to see receivers and DBs test each other, and the only way you can do that is in pads. We can put the shells on all day, and you still have to learn how to practice out of pads and protect each other that way. But the best evaluator in this game, I feel, is in pads."
The Eagles open training July 25 at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. Here’s a starting lineup projection:
Quarterback (Sam Bradford): Finally healthy going into training camp, Bradford has to walk a thin line in leading the Eagles: Coach Doug Pederson has named him the No. 1 quarterback, but Bradford also knows that rookie Carson Wentz will eventually take his job.
Running back (Ryan Mathews): Mathews survived an awkward season with DeMarco Murray playing in front of him. He figures to be the lead guy this year, but can he remain healthy after missing three games in 2015 and a total of 23 during his six-year NFL career?
Receiver (Jordan Matthews): Pederson says he likes Matthews in the slot, where he caught most of his 85 passes for 997 yards in 2015. Pederson also plans to use a fullback and tight ends more extensively, which could affect Matthews’ playing time.
Receiver (Nelson Agholor): The 2015 first-round pick had a disappointing rookie season (23 catches, 283 yards), partly because of a high ankle sprain. He could blossom as the featured receiver in Pederson’s interpretation of a West Coast-style offense.
Tight end (Zach Ertz): Ertz’s strong finish (35 catches, 450 yards in final four games of 2015) earned him a five-year, $42.5 million contract and convinced Pederson he had a major weapon along the lines of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce.
Tight end (Brent Celek): The veteran will be on the field a lot, as Pederson showed three-tight end sets during OTAs. While the Eagles will use a fullback -- possibly Chris Pantale, who was a practice squad TE last season -- Pederson will change personnel more often than former coach Chip Kelly did.
Left tackle (Jason Peters): The eight-time Pro Bowler battled through back and nerve problems last year, but should benefit from Pederson’s plan to limit his practice workload.
Right tackle (Lane Johnson): The Eagles signed Johnson to a five-year, $56.5 million contract that takes into account the possibility that the 2013 first-round pick will move over to left tackle when Peters is finished playing.
Left guard (Allen Barbre): Of all the names here, Barbre’s is written most tentatively in pencil. He will go into camp as the starter but faces competition from veteran Stefen Wisniewski and rookie third-round pick Isaac Seumalo.
Right guard (Brandon Brooks): The Eagles landed the former Houston Texan with a five-year, $40 million contract. He will shore up a position that was left barren by Kelly’s release of Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis and decision not to draft any offensive linemen in 2014 or 2015.
Center (Jason Kelce): Kelce did not have his best season playing between two new guards, but Pederson believes Kelce can return to his Pro Bowl form of 2014.
Defensive end (Vinny Curry): In four seasons, Curry has never started an NFL game. The Eagles handed him a five-year, $46.25 million contract because they believe Curry can be a force in the team’s new 4-3 defensive scheme after playing out of position for three years.
Defensive end (Connor Barwin): There is a chance Brandon Graham starts here. Barwin was with the first team during OTAs and the best guess is that coordinator Jim Schwartz rotates his defensive linemen a lot.
Defensive tackle (Fletcher Cox): Another defender returning to his natural position after three mismatched seasons in a 3-4 scheme, Cox received a six-year, $102.6 million contract last month because the Eagles believe he can be a star in Schwartz’s 4-3 defense.
Defensive tackle (Bennie Logan): Logan spent his first three seasons as the thankless nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme. He should have a chance to blossom playing alongside Cox in an attacking 4-3 scheme.
Outside linebacker (Mychal Kendricks): Kendricks added 15 pounds in order to be a more effective run-stopper in the Eagles’ new 4-3 defensive scheme.
Outside linebacker (Nigel Bradham): The Eagles signed Bradham because of his production -- 102 tackles, 2.5 sacks, an interception -- in Schwartz’s scheme as a Buffalo Bill in 2014.
Middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks): In just eight games (five starts) as a rookie, Hicks excited fans with two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a sack. The negative? Hicks tore a pectoral muscle, continuing a history of injuries, and spent half the season on injured reserve.
Cornerback (Leodis McKelvin): Another of Schwartz’s ex-Bills, McKelvin had a career-high four interceptions playing for the new Eagles coordinator in 2014. McKelvin can also play the nickel and return kickoffs.
Safety (Malcolm Jenkins): Jenkins went to the Pro Bowl and then signed a new four-year, $35 million contract. His versatility should allow him to be even more effective in Schwartz’s scheme.
Safety (Rodney McLeod): The former St. Louis Ram was credited with a career-high 106 tackles last season and should be a good partner for Jenkins in what should be the Eagles’ best safety tandem since Brian Dawkins’ heyday.
Punter (Donnie Jones): Jones turned 36 this month, and the Eagles will have to replace him at some point, but that point doesn’t appear to be right now.
Returner (Darren Sproles): Agholor got a lot of work fielding punts and kickoffs in OTAs because Sproles wasn't there, but the veteran returned two punts for touchdowns last year and is still the man.
PHILADELPHIA -- When Eagles coach Doug Pederson told a group of reporters last month that rookie quarterback Carson Wentz would likely be inactive on game days when the season begins, it didn’t sound to these ears like a major revelation.
Pederson already had announced that Sam Bradford would be the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback going into the season. The Eagles signed Bradford to a two-year, $35 million contract earlier this year. That money spoke as loudly as Pederson’s words.
The three-year, $21-million contract given to Chase Daniel was just as clear a message: Daniel was brought here to be the No. 2 quarterback.
That leaves only one spot for Wentz, the quarterback the Eagles traded up to take with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.
This week, when the media began to use the quotes from Pederson's June session, several outlets made a headline of Pederson's comments.
“Typically, the third quarterback is down,” Pederson said. “It’s hard right now to look down the road, but if we had to play this week, Carson would be down. He’d be the third quarterback. He’d be deactivated.
“That’s probably the direction we’re heading, I would think, is going that route. Obviously, barring injury and, as you know, how this game is, but typically the third quarterback, whoever that is, is down on game day.”
That hardly seems earthshaking, as it is essentially what Pederson has been saying all along. But the implications of Pederson’s plan are worth discussion, because they do represent a change from Pederson’s acknowledged model for developing Wentz.
In 1999, when Donovan McNabb was the Eagles' rookie quarterback, NFL rules were slightly different. On game days, teams could dress three quarterbacks. One was designated the third, inactive quarterback. That QB could play only if both of the other QBs were injured. Once he entered the game, the other two quarterbacks were not allowed to return.
Andy Reid’s approach was for Pederson to be the starting quarterback. McNabb was the No. 2 quarterback. Koy Detmer was typically the inactive No. 3 quarterback.
The reason for that? Reid wanted to give McNabb playing time in small doses. McNabb made his debut in the Eagles' second game of the season, against Tampa Bay. McNabb completed 4 of 11 passes for 36 yards.
Overall, McNabb got playing time in six of the games Pederson started. He completed 22 of 51 passes for 166 yards and one interception.
So McNabb had some on-field experience to draw on when he became the starting quarterback in a Week 10 game against Washington. That was Reid’s plan all along, and he stuck with it. Start Pederson, bring McNabb along slowly, then make the switch when the time was right.
The change in rules throws a wrench into the works for Pederson as coach. Teams can dress as many quarterbacks as they want, but they all count against the 45-man game-day roster. There are no limitations on when or how they play.
So Pederson could dress Bradford, Daniel and Wentz and mix and match them as he wished. But that roster spot would leave the Eagles short-handed at another position, an expensive price to pay in order to dress a rookie No. 3 quarterback.
Under the current rules, it makes sense for Bradford to be the starter and for Daniel to dress as his backup. Given Bradford’s history of injury, it is reasonable to expect the backup to step in during a game. Daniel, who spent three years learning Pederson’s offense in Kansas City, would give the Eagles the best chance to win a game under those circumstances.
At some point, Pederson is likely to decide that he wants to ease Wentz into game action. At that point, he would have to decide whether to designate Daniel as inactive or dress all three quarterbacks. The other possibility, of course, is an injury to Bradford that would leave Daniel and Wentz as the only two quarterbacks. In that case, both could dress for games.
The Philadelphia Eagles open training camp on Monday at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. Here's a closer look at the Eagles' camp, which wraps up on Aug. 16.
Top storyline: Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. There's no getting around it. While it will be compelling to watch as Doug Pederson creates a new culture and Jim Schwartz does a makeover on the defensive side of things, the preseason will revolve around quarterbacks Sam Bradford, Carson Wentz and Chase Daniel. Pederson's plan is to start Bradford and let Daniel aid in the grooming of Wentz. But the first-year head coach will be performing that balancing act while millions of fans evaluate the quarterback play with their own eyes. Should be interesting.
If Bradford doesn't perform like a starting quarterback: This is where it gets thorny. If Bradford performs as he did at the end of the 2015 season -- or even as he did in the preseason last summer -- fans will be more willing to accept Pederson's plan to let Wentz develop. But if Bradford can't perform at a high level, the clamoring for Wentz will begin pretty quickly. And there probably won't be much patience from the fans if Chase Daniel gets the call.
Player who will have the fans buzzing: Wentz is the obvious and correct answer. Even if he isn't starting, his development is the key to Pederson's attempt to recreate Andy Reid's heyday. Other than the rookie QB, fans will be keeping their eyes on rookie running back Wendell Smallwood, defensive end Vinny Curry, safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod, and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Position battle worth watching: It is easier and more entertaining to watch competitions at quarterback (Bradford vs. Wentz) and wide receiver (Rueben Randle, Nelson Agholor, Chris Givens). It is not so easy to judge how the left guards are playing, but the battle between Allen Barbre and rookie Isaac Seumalo will tell us more about the team's potential and about the way Pederson handles his players.
That rookie should start: Cornerback Jalen Mills wasn't selected until the seventh round of the draft because of a leg injury and concern about an allegation of assault. But Mills was considered a second- or third-round talent at LSU and he looked like that during OTAs and minicamp. The 6-foot, 196-pound Mills might not be in the starting lineup right away, but it won't be surprising if he commands playing time as a nickel corner.
Veteran whose job is in jeopardy: Pederson used the phrase "my guy" separately to describe Bradford and Barbre. Both are in the starting lineup as camp opens, but Wentz and Seumalo were drafted with an eye toward replacing them. Bradford might get more time because of the learning curve for quarterbacks, so Barbre is probably the Eagles' most endangered starter.
All the hits: Chip Kelly's practices were much more about tempo than impact. The Eagles rarely made contact during Kelly’s training camps. Pederson is planning a return to the way Reid did things, although NFL rules have limited how much hitting a team can do. Reid opened camps with "three days of hell" -- two full-contact practices each of the first three days. Pederson can't do that, but expect the players to be tested in the first few days of camp.
The Schwartz Factor: It shouldn't be surprising that Pederson, a first-time head coach, would hire an alpha-male coordinator to run his defense. That's what Reid did in 1999, and Jim Johnson was a vital part of the team's success for the next nine years. Schwartz coaches the kind of aggressive, intimidating 4-3 scheme that Eagles fans prefer, and that gives him a chance to become a local folk hero.
What fans will be saying after camp: "Pederson picked the wrong quarterback." They will be saying that because that's what fans do, not necessarily because Pederson will actually make the wrong decision at quarterback. The idea is that Wentz will be better over the long term if he has a chance to get his bearings before having to face NFL defenses. So even if Wentz looks great in the preseason, Pederson is likely to go with Bradford at the start of the season. The fans, impatient to get the new era underway, probably won't hold their tongues.
For daily updates at camp, check out the Philadelphia Eagles clubhouse page.
In Philadelphia, Ryan became something else entirely: a legend. And legends, unlike men, never really die.
Ryan, the man and the coach, died Tuesday at the age of 85.
Ryan's legend lives on, some 30 years after he became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. His status in this toughest of sports towns is hard to explain. Ryan never won a playoff game with the Eagles, but he built and unleashed a team that won a permanent place in the hearts of fans who never quite fully embraced more successful figures like Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb.
How did Ryan do it? By sheer force of personality. He arrived in Philadelphia just days after his Chicago Bears defenders carried him off the field after a Super Bowl championship. And he carried himself as if he were still up there, on the shoulders of his victorious troops.
During his first training camp, after a practice at West Chester University, Ryan grabbed a microphone and addressed bleachers full of fans. He told them that the Eagles would win the NFC East that year, and they would do it by sweeping their eight games against division rivals Dallas, Washington, New York and St. Louis.
The Eagles went 5-11 in 1986, Ryan's first season. There was no division title. That didn't begin to affect the coach's bluster. When NFL players went on strike in 1987, Ryan's message to his team was simple: Stick together. Whatever you do, do it as a team.
Led by defensive end Reggie White and quarterback Ron Jaworski, the Eagles followed their coach's advice. They held meetings at Jaworski's New Jersey golf club and spent their days picketing outside Veterans Stadium.
In other cities, star players with more money at stake were crossing picket lines. The league decided to play on, with teams assembled from players who had been cut a few weeks earlier. Ryan could not be bothered.
His men were out on the picket line. He went through the motions with his replacement team, but that was it. While other coaches were talking about the farcical replacement games as if they really mattered, Ryan didn't try to hide his contempt.
The Eagles' first strike game was against the Bears at Veterans Stadium. The scene outside the Vet was more compelling than anything that happened inside. A convoy of Teamsters drove trucks around the stadium. Striking Eagles players formed a picket line. The Bears thrashed the Eagles 35-3.
It all came to a head when the replacement Eagles went to Dallas to play the not-so-replacement Cowboys. Tom Landry's team had 18 players who crossed the picket line, including quarterback Danny White, running back Tony Dorsett and defensive stars Randy White and Ed "Too Tall" Jones.
Dallas won 41-22.
Two weeks later, the Cowboys played the Eagles at Veterans Stadium. The strike had ended a few days earlier. The Eagles had returned to their locker room en masse. On the field, they took revenge on the Cowboys team that had embarrassed their replacement team two weeks earlier. They sacked White five times and held Dorsett to just 32 yards rushing.
The Eagles led 30-20 as they lined up in the fourth quarter with time running out. Instead of taking a knee, quarterback Randall Cunningham dropped back and lofted a deep pass to wide receiver Mike Quick, who was streaking toward the end zone.
Quick drew a pass interference call. The game ended with Keith Byars plowing into the end zone from the 1-yard line. The scoreboard read 37-20. Ryan ran up the tunnel toward the Eagles locker room and spotted a knot of reporters in the hallway.
"F--- 'em," Ryan shouted.
And that expressed his attitude toward the whole thing. Ryan, who had been an Army master sergeant during the Korean War, believed in discipline and order. But there was also a rebellious Oklahoman under the surface. If Ryan respected someone, he was as loyal as could be.
If not? Well, Ryan's Eagles went 7-5 in 1987. The replacement team went 0-3. After the season, Ryan opened a news conference by unveiling "scab rings" that he awarded to team president Harry Gamble and his assistant, George Azar. The rings -- the kind of oversized items typically awarded to a top salesman or executive -- were not meant as compliments.
And that's where the cracks started to form. Ryan sided with his players during the emotional 1987 strike, but he also took their side in contract squabbles with owner Norman Braman. Ryan referred to Braman as "the guy in France," because Braman spent some of his time at a villa he owned there.
For the next three seasons, Ryan's Eagles went to the playoffs. They lost their first game each time.
After the 1988 season, the Eagles were NFC East champions and had to travel to Chicago to play the Bears. For Ryan, it was an emotional return to the city where he'd coached one of the NFL's most ferocious defenses. So everyone would know the Eagles weren't sneaking into town, Ryan had the team buses drive from O'Hare to Soldier Field. They circled the stadium, horns blaring.
The next day, a sudden fog covered the lakefront. The second half of the game was played in fog so thick, reporters were allowed to come down from the press box and watch from the sidelines. It didn't help. Players would run past and disappear into the mist.
The Eagles lost 20-12. The next year, they lost a wild-card game to the Los Angeles Rams, 21-7 at Veterans Stadium. A year after that, it was Washington, a team the Eagles had beaten at Veterans Stadium, 28-14 in November -- the infamous "Body Bag" game.
In January, Washington beat the Eagles 20-6 in a wild-card game at the Vet.
Ryan's contract was up. Braman, the man he had mocked and aggravated for five years, had no intention of offering Ryan another one.
"I never got fired for winning before," Ryan said.
Ryan had gone 31-17 in his last three seasons, but 0-3 in the playoffs. He had presided over a team that was fiercely loyal to the coach, but had been unable to come up big in the postseason. Meanwhile, NFC East rivals New York and Washington had won Super Bowls. The hated Cowboys had hired Jimmy Johnson and drafted Troy Aikman and were on the threshold of their 1990s dynasty.
Ryan left Philadelphia. He coached in Houston and Arizona, but never had quite the same impact in those cities.
In Philadelphia, Ryan is still a legend, a coach who took no guff and made no apologies. Ryan was the man who led that beloved but ultimately underachieving 1980s team: Reggie White, Randall Cunningham, Seth Joyner, Keith Jackson, Keith Byars, Andre Waters.
Those Eagles were larger-than-life heroes in a city where football passion is all the more intense after 55 years without a championship. At the center of that remarkable team and that unforgettable time was a man whose legend only grew after his departure.
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.