Despite what they say, Eagles are building to win now

Despite what they say, Eagles are building to win now

What they're saying is not what they're doing.

They're saying patience. They're building for today.

They're saying grow through the draft. They're adding big-name free agents.

They're saying they have a long way to go. They're actually closer than you think.

"You feel like you're doing the right thing when you don't have a lot of Band-Aids," Howie Roseman said earlier this offseason.

Meaning build with young guys and not quick-fix free agents.

Then they go out and sign Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Chris Long and now LeGarrette Blount.

This is a team built for 2017. The Eagles just haven't admitted it yet.

They want you to be patient in case they don't win in 2017, but make no mistake about it. This is a football team that can win in 2017. That should win in 2017. That needs to win in 2017. 

If you really believe in building for 2018, 2019 and 2020, you go with Jordan Matthews, see what you can get out of Nelson Agholor and play the rookie receivers as much as possible. You don't sign Jeffery and Smith.

If you really believe that 2017 is a bridge year, you give Marcus Smith and whatever defensive end you draft — it turned out to be Derek Barnett — as much playing time as possible. You don't add 32-year-old Long.

If you really believe 2017 is a total rebuild, you give Wendell Smallwood 12 to 15 carries and see what Donnel Pumphrey and Corey Clement can give you. You don't sign Blount.

Not that I don't like the moves. I do like the moves. A lot.

The Eagles got better when they signed Jeffery, they got better when they signed Long, they got better when they signed Blount.

There's no question the Eagles should be dramatically improved in 2017. Their secondary will be better with a couple young, hungry corners instead of Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll. Their defensive line will be better with Barnett and Long. Their linebacking corps will be better just because those guys are now in their second year under Jim Schwartz.

They're obviously better at receiver and clearly better at running back with Blount replacing brittle Ryan Mathews. They'll be better on the offensive line just with Lane Johnson back for the season at right tackle (presumably) and somebody more athletic and talented than Allen Barbre at left guard.

And they're going to be drastically better at quarterback, as Carson Wentz enjoys a full offseason and preseason as the No. 1.

When I look at this roster, I see a team that should be fighting for a playoff spot, not a team that's mired in a rebuild.

The Eagles are actually one of the oldest teams in the NFL. They had the oldest roster in the NFL when 2016 ended, and they've added a number of veterans since (and shed several as well). 

This is not a three-year plan or a five-year plan. The Eagles are building for today, and with an elite young quarterback that is absolutely the correct way to go.

Surround Wentz with as much talent as possible and go win some football games.

Is this a finished product? Of course not. But it's a team headed in the right direction around a quarterback with superstar potential.

I give Roseman a lot of credit for this offseason. The Eagles went into it with very limited cap space, and he's managed to add several important pieces without having to shed the roster of anybody who really was going to play a part in the future (although in a perfect world you'd like to keep Bennie Logan).

The Eagles came out of 2016 with questions at receiver, running back, cornerback, pass rusher and offensive line, and they addressed every one of them either with draft picks or inexpensive free agents.

It's been nine years now since the Eagles' last playoff win and four years since their last winning record, and it's time for those droughts to end. 

The Eagles are building the right way with a roster that's nicely balanced with young homegrown players who should keep improving and veteran acquisitions who didn't break the bank who should contribute from Day 1.

That's a winning formula.

In fact, I agree with just about everything Howie's done. 

Just not everything he's said.

Roob's 25 Random Points: Sidney Jones, Ryan Howard, Doug Pederson & more

Roob's 25 Random Points: Sidney Jones, Ryan Howard, Doug Pederson & more

We've got Sidney Jones and Wendell Smallwood, we've got Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, we've got Jordan Matthews and Carson Wentz, we've got The War on Drugs and Mondo Cozmo and of course we have the Schuylkill Expressway westbound.

And we've even got a random guy in the waiting room of Thompson Toyota.

It's 25 random points and it starts now!

1. It's been surprising to see so much negative reaction to the Sidney Jones pick at No. 43. Now, if you genuinely believe he's never going to be the same player because of the Achilles injury or if you just didn't like his game in the first place, before he got hurt, you have a case, although I don't agree. 

Certainly all the medicals indicate a very good chance he'll be the same player he was before he got hurt. But complaining about the pick because the Eagles won't have him from the get-go his rookie year? That makes no sense. Who cares if you don't have him? You're going to have a first-round caliber cornerback for the next several years. You get him in now, you have him in meetings, you coach him up, you get him healthy, and even if he doesn't play a snap this year, on opening day next year, you have an extra first-round pick. 

Look at it this way: If somebody told you the Eagles could have an extra first-round pick in 2018, but whoever they drafted wouldn't be able to play until 2019, would you take that deal? Of course you would. And that's exactly what the Eagles just did.

2. I'm also fine with the Eagles' not taking a running back in the first three rounds. Let's see what Smallwood can do in a full season. I liked what I saw from him last year. In the three games he got double-digit carries, he averaged 4.6 yards a pop — against the Falcons, Steelers and Seahawks. And he's not a small back. He's 208 pounds (same as Shady). I'm not giving him 20 carries a game, but if he gets 12 to 14 carries, Darren Sproles gets four to six and the rest are divvied up between Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey — whomever's active — I think you can get pretty good production.

3. I get a lot of tweets asking who the Eagles' "big back" is going to be. Their goal-line back. I just think that's an antiquated concept, that you give the football to some 245-pound dude on 3rd-and-inches or on the goal line. You give the football to your best back, not your biggest back. If the offensive line is doing its job, he's going to get the yard. Who are the biggest backs in Eagles history? Keith Byars, Stanley Pritchett, Thomas Tapeh, Leonard Weaver, Emil Igwenagu, Ronnie Brown and Tony Hunt? You want those guys with the football on the goal line? Out of that group, Byars was a terrific pass catcher and Weaver had a nice half season, but neither was a short-yardage back. It's not about how big you are. It's about how good you are and how much push your O-line gets.

4. From 2006 through 2011, Ryan Howard led all of major-league baseball with 262 homers and 796 RBIs. He hit .279 during that six-year span with a .929 OPS. And the Phillies averaged 93 wins during that period, winning the NL East the last five years, reaching two World Series and winning one. He was the most-feared slugger in baseball during that period. Every time he stepped to the plate, you watched, waiting to see that massive swing, that momentary pause to admire his handiwork, and that baseball disappearing into the night. The guy launched rocket shots. That's the Ryan Howard I'll remember.

5. I like Jordan Matthews. And I want him on my team. He's steady, he's consistent, he's durable, he's a hard worker and he's a natural leader. He has yet to play more than one season with the same quarterback, and you could see last year how his chemistry with Wentz grew as the year went on. Another year together will help both of them. Say what you want about Matthews, but only nine wide receivers in NFL history have more catches in their first three seasons. Now that Alshon Jeffery is here and Matthews doesn't have to be the No. 1 guy, I think you'll see his numbers take off.

6. Matthews is one of 22 players in NFL history with at least 800 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. Of those 22, he's one of only four who didn't have a 1,000-yard season along the way. Nobody in NFL history has started his career with four straight seasons of 800 yards or more — without a 1,000-yard season. If Matthews finishes 2017 between 800 and 999 yards, he'll be the first player ever to open his career with 800 or more yards in each of his first four seasons without a 1,000-yard season. What do you think? Does he get to 1,000?

7. If the Eagles don't make the playoffs this year, Doug Pederson will be the Eagles' first head coach to fail to make the playoffs in either of his first two seasons since Marion Campbell in 1983 and 1984. This doesn't count the 1987 season, when the Eagles were 7-5 in real games but 0-3 in strike replacement games with fake players and didn't make the postseason. If those games hadn't counted, the Eagles would have been a playoff team in 1987. Buddy Ryan reached the playoffs in 1988, his second full season as head coach. Is 8-8 without a playoff berth good enough for Pederson to keep his job? I don't think so. I need to see more than a one-game improvement.

8. The War on Drugs is pretty much the best band on Earth right now.

9. Here's an interesting notion: LeSean McCoy, Hall of Famer. Am I crazy? Let's lay out the case: Shady already has 11,884 yards from scrimmage, and only 10 players have had more before their 29th birthday. Eight of those 10 are in the Hall of Fame (all but Edgerrin James and Steven Jackson). 

But here's the kicker — of the 14 players in NFL history who've netted 11,000 yards from scrimmage before their 29th birthday, only three have a higher career yards-per-carry average than Shady's 4.7. Those three are Jim Brown, Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders. Shady already has four seasons with 1,000 rushing yards and a 4.8 average. Only Sanders, Brown and Jamaal Charles have more. Through his first eight NFL seasons, Shady has averaged 1,485 yards from scrimmage. Two more seasons at his career average puts him right at the doorstep of 15,000. If he does that and maintains that 4.7 average, he's an absolute lock for Canton.

10. Freddy Galvis has more hits than any other National League shortstop since opening day 2015 with 318. Galvis is also fourth with 31 homers during that span, just four behind Brandon Crawford of the Giants and Corey Seager of the Dodgers, and third with 138 runs scored. He's no slugger, but as shortstops go, he's not the worst hitter. And with that glove, I'll take him in my lineup any day of the week.

11. I can't believe Domonic Brown is still playing minor-league baseball. He's hitting .259 with no homers and two doubles in 11 games for the Rockies' Triple-A team, the Albuquerque Isotopes. He hasn't played in the majors since 2015. In 251 games since playing in the 2013 All-Star Game, Brown has hit .251 with 19 homers and 104 RBIs. He's 29. He should be in his prime. Instead, he's playing in anonymity in New Mexico, in front of 7,000 fans a night. Sad story.

12. One of my favorite records of 2017 is by a band called Harmony Woods, which is the brainchild of Sofia Verbilla, a Glenside teenager who writes remarkably poignant, detailed and evocative lyrics and super hooky melodies, all with a sense of dynamics that's rare with someone so young. The record, "Nothing Special," was released last week, and you can stream it or download it on her Bandcamp page at harmonywoods.bandcamp.com. Rarely has an album title been so inaccurate.

13. I've had the same philosophy about players complaining about their contracts since my first experience with a disgruntled Keith Jackson back in 1990. It's simple: If you don't like the contract, don't sign it. The same pattern has been repeating itself over and over for decades — players give up free agency to sign deals that make them among the highest paid in the league at their position, then, in the later years of the deal, when they're invariably no longer among the highest paid in the league — or even on their team — at their position, their feelings get hurt and they want to renegotiate. 

But this is the nature of contracts. You sign it understanding that just because you're the highest paid now, you might not even be in the top 30 a few years later. Because as the salary cap goes up and salaries go up, other players will get more lucrative deals. It doesn't mean your deal was a bad deal. It was just an earlier deal. Yet year after year, players who were thrilled with their contracts when they signed it, threatened to hold out because all of a sudden their feelings are so hurt. 

Not because they're not getting what they wanted, but because other people are getting more. With very few exceptions, I have zero sympathy for athletes who complain about their contracts. Not because of how much money they make. They deserve every penny. But just because if they don't like the deal they're offered, they have a very good option. Just don't sign it.

14. Note to the dude in the crowded waiting room at Thompson Toyota in Doylestown: Maybe don't talk in detail about the results of all your medical tests in an extra-loud voice so everybody from here to Quakertown can hear you? M'kay?

15. Also, good luck with the gallbladder surgery, dude.

16. Hard to believe Aaron Altherr is the first Phillie with three RBIs in three straight games in 19 years. I mean, three is not that many RBIs. But thanks to Baseball-Reference.com, we know he's the first to do it since Rico Brogna in 1998. That's just really hard to believe. Three ribbies in three straight games? You'd think it would have happened in the last two decades!

17. A note to Joaquin Benoit: The Phillies are paying you $7.5 million this year. You know what? Forget what inning it is. Forget the score. Just go pitch.

18. Most underrated band ever: The Bee Gees.

19. You know what's kind of amazing? Even with a terrible receiving corps and a ridiculous number of dropped passes, and even after becoming the starter just a week before the season began, Wentz had the third-highest completion percentage in NFL history by a rookie at 62.4 percent (minimum of 400 attempts), behind only Dak Prescott (67.8 percent) and Teddy Bridgewater (64.4 percent), whose injury was responsible for Wentz's becoming a starter. If he can complete 62.4 percent of his passes with that receiving crew and no offseason as the starter, I don't see any reason he can't complete 65 or 66 percent of his passes this coming season. The Eagles' record is 65.0 percent by Sam Bradford in 2015. I say that goes down in 2017.

20. Does it drive anybody else bonkers that no matter what time of day, no matter what day of the week, no matter what the weather, no matter what time of year, the Schuylkill Expressway westbound always backs up as soon as you pass the City Line Avenue ramp? Always.

21. Chase Utley is hitting .145.

22. J-Roll is out of baseball, Howard is out of baseball. Shane Victorino is out of baseball. Chooch is hitting .129. Cole Hamels can still pitch but is 33 and on the DL with an oblique strain and may miss two months. Kind of crazy that pretty soon this whole group will be retired. Time remains undefeated.

23. Low Cut Connie has got to be the worst band name.

24. I really hope Modern Baseball continues as a band.

25. I first met Hooters drummer Dave Uoskkinen last year during a WIP Eagles pregame show at the Head House Plaza, but like a lot of us, I've been a Hooters fan since the days of "All You Zombies" in the early 1980s. Dave is a huge Eagles fan, and I'm a huge music fan, so we got along great. Dave remains the Hooters' drummer, but he's involved with a number of other projects these days, including his own brainchild, In the Pocket, a remarkable ongoing collective of Philly music legends from every era that performs in the area every few months with a rotating cast of musicians paying homage to classic Philly music from past and present. 

On any given night, you can see Tommy Conwell, Kenn Kweder, Jeffrey Gaines, guys from Smash Palace, Beru Revue, the A's, Robert Hazard's band, plus rising Philly music stars like 18-year-old Turnersville native Joey Ditullio or local cover band legends such as Buddy Cash sitting in with In the Pocket. The set lists are essentially a Greatest Hits of Philly music over the decades and you never know who you'll see on stage or what Philly classics they'll play.

That was certainly the case last month, when Dave recruited me to play keyboards on a great old Robert Hazard song called "Change Reaction" when In the Pocket played at the Ardmore Music Hall. Dave had asked me to sit in with the band without ever hearing me play keyboards, but for some reason he trusted me to get the job done. I borrowed some gear and rehearsed around the clock for a month to make sure I was ready, but I had no idea what I was in store for. I arrived at the theater for sound check around 4 p.m. on the day of the gig, and after a few minutes, In the Pocket's regular keyboard player, Wally Smith of Smash Palace, brought me on stage to show me around his rig and give me a chance to practice a little on the Nord Electro 5 keyboard I'd be playing later in the night.

Just then, Dave — who is simply one of the best drummers on Earth — started playing a funky little riff, and a few other musicians who happened to be on stage at the moment checking their gear began jamming on that riff. Why not? I jumped in too with the Nord set on a B3 pre-set and began wailing away with these guys. I learned later the dude playing bass that I was jamming with was legendary Kenny Aaronson, who has toured with Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, Hall and Oates and countless others. Whatever else happened the rest of the night, I had jammed with Bob Dylan's bass player and apparently hadn't made a fool out of myself. I felt a little out of place, but all these legendary cats were totally cool and accepting of me.

By the time it was our turn to play, I was totally stoked. I walked on stage, joining Dave on drums, two incredible guitar players — Steve Butler of Smash Palace and Greg Davis of Beru Revu — Cliff Hillis on bass and freaking Ben Arnold on vocals. After Dave introduced all of us, we kicked into a revved-up Change Reaction for about 500 people. I don't remember much from the actual performance except at one point Greg looked at me with a huge smile while Steve was soloing, and I apparently screamed really loudly. That, and I remembered the key change near the end of the song. Then it was over.

Dave fist-bumped me from behind the tubs, I walked off the stage and Tommy Conwell came over and high-fived me. Then I wandered out into the house to catch incredible mini-sets from Richard Bush of the A's, Kweder, Conwell and several others. What a night. A lot of us dream about being rock stars. Thanks to Dave Uoskkinen, I got to live that dream. And it was more amazing than I ever could have imagined.


Photo credit: Dailyn Pavey

With uncertainty at position, is Wendell Smallwood ready to be Eagles' lead back?

With uncertainty at position, is Wendell Smallwood ready to be Eagles' lead back?

Once again the Eagles didn't select a running back early in the draft, and for the first time in probably a quarter of a century, they don't have a de facto starting running back on the roster.

The Eagles haven't drafted a running back in the first three rounds since LeSean McCoy in the second round back in 2009.

And it's left the position without a proven back for the first time in a generation.

Ryan Mathews, a former Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard rusher, remains on the roster but suffered a serious neck injury late last year and is unlikely to be with the Eagles moving forward.

Asked after the draft about Jason Kelce and Mychal Kendricks, Howie Roseman said, "We fully anticipate that they're going to be here moving forward."

But asked about Mathews, Roseman said, "Can I tell you anyone who's going to be on this team in September?"

See what he did there?

The Eagles can't release Mathews until he passes a physical, but if they do — when they do — they would save $4 million in cap space. If the injury-plagued Mathews spends the 2017 season on the roster, he'll count $5 million against the Eagles' cap. If they release him, they'll carry only $1 million in dead cap money.

So we'll operate under the assumption Mathews will be gone.

That leaves Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-round pick last year; 33-year-old Darren Sproles; and rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey, who is the all-time FBS rushing leader but stands just 5-foot-8, 175 pounds.

Also on the roster are 2016 undrafted free agents Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson.

The Eagles haven't officially announced the signing of Corey Clement, but Clement tweeted out that he had agreed to terms here, and Roseman — without referring to him by name — said the Eagles had a draftable grade on the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder.

Clement, a graduate of Glassboro High School, ran for over 3,000 yards at Wisconsin with a 5.4 average and 38 touchdowns.

This collection of unproven backs is a real departure for an organization that from 1994 through 2014 brought you an uninterrupted running back lineage that went from Charlie Garner to Ricky Watters to Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to Shady.

Watters was a free agent, but Garner, Staley, Westbrook and McCoy were all second- or third-round draft picks. All those backs were among the most productive receiving backs in the NFL over the last 20 years, although Garner's best years came with Oakland.

Before Watters, Herschel Walker was the regular starter for a few years, and the last couple years, we all knew DeMarco Murray and Mathews would be the lead backs.

Now?

As of now, your choices are a 5-foot-8 rookie fourth-round pick, a second-year fifth-round pick and a 33-year-old veteran who has averaged fewer than four carries per game in his career and has already said he plans to retire after the season.

The Eagles could conceivably sign a veteran, but so far they haven't shown any sign of being interested in taking that route. They certainly weren't involved with Jamaal Charles, who head coach Doug Pederson coached in Kansas City.

And knowing the way Roseman thinks, he'd certainly rather go young than haul in a high-priced 30-year-old veteran like LeGarrette Blount.

Can the Eagles go into the season with Smallwood, Pumphrey, Clement and Sproles?

If they do, Smallwood becomes the odds-on favorite to be the lead back.

There's no question the Eagles are high on Smallwood. He averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry last year, but in the three games he got double-digit carries — the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks — he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

It's certainly not lost on the Eagles' brass that in the team's two biggest wins last year — Atlanta and Pittsburgh — Smallwood ran a combined 30 times for 149 yards.

Smallwood did finish last year injured. He suffered a small tear in his MCL during a late-season game against the Redskins, but he's expected to be 100 percent for the start of the season.

The jury is still out whether Smallwood can handle a regular workload of 12 to 15 carries. He only had one year at West Virginia where he was the lead back, and he averaged over 20 touches per game in 2015, when he ran for 1,519 yards and caught 26 passes.

"Wendell is obviously coming off injury, so that's No. 1," Pederson said. "We've got to make sure he's 100 percent physically and ready to go there.

"I think Wendell has a role on this football team. It's something that we saw glimpses of last season when he had a chance to play."

Pumphrey, despite his size, emerged as a true workhorse at San Diego State. He had more than 200 more touches than any player in FBS over the last four years and averaged close to 22 touches over the last four years.

Last year, Mathews had 155 carries, Sproles 94, Smallwood 77, Kenjon Barner 27, Marshall 19 and Watson nine.

That's 381 carries, or about 24 per game.

How will it break down this year? The Eagles believe Smallwood can handle 12 to 15 carries, and if Pumphrey and Sproles get five or six each, that could be a workable system.

Clement is an interesting wild card, although undrafted running backs have rarely made a significant contribution to the Eagles.

The only undrafted running back to gain more than 20 yards in a season for the Eagles in the last 50 years is Vaughn Hebron in 1993.

"We're really excited to make sure that we got Pumphrey, and then we like the players that are in the building," Roseman said. "We've got some talent at that position, and we're excited to see them."