2014 Eagles ‘light years’ ahead of last year’s squad and more observations at OTAs

2014 Eagles ‘light years’ ahead of last year’s squad and more observations at OTAs

Full-squad OTAs have been underway at the NovaCare Complex since Tuesday, but Thursday marked the first day the media was invited to take in a practice. It’s also the first time Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly spoke to reporters since the draft.

For everyone except the Dallas Cowboys apparently, practices at this point in the year are all non-contact, and there’s only so much you can learn about players when they’re in shorts and T-shirts. One thing Kelly did mention though, which several reporters have since confirmed, is the Eagles are moving even faster during OTAs than they did one year ago.

“Light years” faster.

Before you ask how a team could possibly move any faster than the Eagles did in 2013, Kelly is referring to last year’s OTAs. Obviously, this time a year ago, every little practice detail was new to practically all 90 players, save for maybe a few who went to Oregon. Now, most of the roster knows what to expect, which undoubtedly makes it a lot easier for newcomers to fall in line as well.

Will familiarity with Kelly’s ways help the Birds hit the ground running come September? It probably couldn’t hurt. We tend to overlook the fact that this club got off to a 1-3 start and fell to 3-5 before rattling off wins in six of their final seven contests.

Anything that indicates the Eagles are better prepared for the season ahead can’t be a bad sign.

Then again, we really can’t read too much into anything this time of year. Just remember, this is still very early stages of the offseason, but I think we can all appreciate the appetite for any kind of Eagles news right now.

 

• Wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Been and linebacker Jason Phillips are all full participants after sustaining torn ACLs early in training camp last summer. Time will tell how their recovery is going, but the first step is getting back on the field.

Jimmy Kempski for Philly.com already notes Phillips does not appear to be full speed.

 

• At this point in time, safety seems to be the only starting job on either side of the ball that’s truly up for grabs. That being said, it should come as no surprise that Nate Allen would be listed first on the depth chart. The fifth-year veteran started all 16 games last season, improving gradually as time went on. He was actually fairly reliable down the stretch.

However, right now, it might be just a matter of somebody has to go first. I wouldn’t rule out Earl Wolff overtaking Allen at some point based on how the lineup looks like in May.

 

• Wouldn’t look too deep into Mark Sanchez’s performance at this point, either. Have to think he’s still learning the offense and getting timing down with his receivers. And while several reporters remark he is taking second-team snaps behind Nick Foles to start, I wouldn’t rule out Matt Barkley winning the backup job if Sanchez did struggle.

 

• I’m sure Chip would love it if the rest of the league continues to view Darren Sproles as a running back so he continues to draw favorable matchups in coverage, but the numbers suggest otherwise. He’s not a guy you’re ever going to hand the ball to 15-20 times in a game.

 

• Marcus Smith’s versatility, not his pass-rush ability, may be the quickest way to earn the first-round pick playing time as a rookie. Let’s face it, Trent Cole held his own in that role last season, but it’s not his forte, nor will it ever be as the two-time Pro Bowler approaches 32 years of age.

 

• Interesting to note, as the competition for the fifth wide receiver spot is thought to be very wide open at this point. Brad Smith, a versatile offensive weapon and special teams contributor, has to be the favorite.

 

• Alex Henery has done this exactly twice in his three-year NFL career. Long live Carey Spear.

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Rating the Rumor: Eagles 'In on' Alshon Jeffery

Ian Rapoport for the NFL Network reports the Chicago Bears are not expected to place the franchise tag on free-agent wide receiver Alshon Jeffery before the March 1 deadline. Meanwhile, league sources previously told Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports that they “anticipate” the Eagles “being in on” Jeffery should the 2013 Pro Bowler become accessible.

Put two and two together, and there are folks around the NFL who believe the Eagles will pursue Jeffery when free agency opens on March 9.

Yet while receiver is one of the Eagles’ two greatest needs this offseason, whether they should make a run at Jeffery and whether they can afford him might be two different answers. Getting another weapon for Carson Wentz seems like it will be the top priority in free agency, but doing so will not be cheap, and the club is up against the salary cap.

There’s little doubt the Eagles will reach out to Jeffery. Aside from the organization being known for always doing its due diligence with players, the 27-year-old is hands down the best option on the market. Over the 2013 and ’14 seasons, Jeffery averaged 87 receptions, 1,277 yards and 8.5 touchdowns per year. He’s dealt with injuries and a terrible supporting cast in the two years since, yet still managed to go over 800 yards receiving in each.

Jeffery has some baggage, specifically the four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy in 2016. Despite everything, only nine active players are averaging more than his 72.2 yards per game, and only 10 better than 15.0 yards per reception. The talent is undeniable, and with a quarterback of Wentz’s caliber throwing him the football, the sky is the limit.

The Eagles absolutely should pursue Jeffery. Actually signing him is where this begins to get tricky.

For starters, the Eagles are currently sitting at an estimated $9.69 million under the cap, according to OverTheCap.com. Only three teams are in worse shape. There may be more moves to free up space in the coming days, which will help, although even if they get that figure closer to $25 million through a series of trades and releases, the numbers are tight.

Jeffery collected $14.6 million under the franchise tag in ’16, and while he might not see quite that much annually on his next contract, it’s not out of line with expectations. Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant are all making $14 million or more per season. Jeffery may not have the body of work of those players, but as the top receiver available, the market will value him and be willing to pay as such.

That $25 million the Eagles can theoretically free up might be the best case scenario. It likely won’t be that, which means signing Jeffery would take up practically all of their cap space for ’17. Obviously, there are ways to structure a contract to push money into future years, and the case could be made the Eagles don’t need to sign any other free agents.

No matter how you slice it, there are some logistical concerns here. Until the Eagles shed some of those contracts and we can see what they’re working with, it’s difficult to envision how they win a bidding war against suitors with upwards of $50, $60, even $70 million to spend.

It’s not so much a question of interest for the Eagles. It’s whether or not signing Jeffery is realistic in the first place.

Rating the Rumor: We’ll see

Flyers-Avalanche 5 things: Final showing before trade deadline

Flyers-Avalanche 5 things: Final showing before trade deadline

Flyers (28-26-7) vs. Avalanche (17-40-3)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

A day before the NHL trade deadline, the Flyers welcome the hapless Colorado Avalanche to the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Final hurrah?
Prior to Saturday's outdoor game in Pittsburgh, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall admitted his team's final two contests before deadline day could have some impact on decisions.

The Flyers lost to the Penguins at Heinz Field, 4-2, and now host the NHL's worst club in the Avalanche. It could be the final game before the Flyers look a bit different the remaining 20 contests of the regular season.

The Flyers enter Tuesday six points behind the Maple Leafs for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. At 63 points, they also trail the Islanders (68), Panthers (66) and Lightning (64), with the Sabres (62) and Devils (62) breathing down their necks.

With three expiring contracts on defense and young blueliners at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley, Hextall has pieces to sell and reasons to do it. Defensemen Mark Streit, Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz are set to be unrestricted free agents this offseason. Goalies Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth can also hit the UFA market come July 1, as can role forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde.

The Flyers are clearly not in a win-now mode with the way things have gone recently, so dealing parts, clearing space and acquiring draft picks would certainly help expedite the road to contention.

2. Avoid an Avalanche
This really is a game that would be inexcusable for the Flyers to lose.

They have one last chance to make an impression on their GM.

They're in serious need of a win to keep postseason hopes flickering.

And they're on home ice against a team that has won six games over the last 2½ months.

"Everybody is frustrated right now," Claude Giroux said Monday. "We can't be pointing fingers.
 
"Everybody needs to be a little bit better and give a little more and go one game at a time here. [Tuesday], we're back in front of our fans. We've got to get this win, we know that. We've just got to keep at it."

The Avalanche are in the NHL cellar with 37 points. The next closest team is the Coyotes at 51 points. Colorado is dead last in goals per game (2.02) and goals allowed per game (3.30), and has also been interested in the Flyers as a trade partner, a source told CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio.

3. Different defense
Del Zotto should get a chance to showcase himself Tuesday night.

That's because defenseman Brandon Manning will serve the first game of a two-game suspension handed down on Monday for his hit on Penguins forward Jake Guentzel during Saturday's loss.

Del Zotto, who will likely enter the lineup for Manning, has played just 32 games this season because of injury and healthy scratches. The 26-year-old also understands that trade rumors swirl this time of year.

"It happens every year," Del Zotto said last week. "It's not like it’s the first time. I've been traded before. It is what it is. It's a business.

"You realize that pretty early in your career. I understand where I'm at as far as my contract, being a UFA this summer."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Giroux has two goals in his last 26 games. However, he has six goals in nine career games against the Avalanche, who are giving them up in bunches this season. You'd have to think this is a game in which the captain could break out a bit.

Avalanche: Matt Duchene has been the subject of trade rumors and leads Colorado in goals with 16. The 26-year-old center has also played well against the Flyers in his career, posting seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine matchups.

5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Steve Mason is expected to start for the first time since Feb. 9. He's played just twice since Jan. 31, allowing eight combined goals in two losses. Mason is 16-17-6 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .900 save percentage.

• Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard was scratched last Saturday because of a stiff neck. If he can't go, 27-year-old rookie Jeremy Smith will make his fourth career start.

• The Flyers have lost eight of their last 11 games.

• The Flyers have scored the NHL's fewest goals (68) since Dec. 5.