After the Lockout: Will Second Round of Moves Put Eagles Over the Top?

After the Lockout: Will Second Round of Moves Put Eagles Over the Top?

Whenever the NFL lockout ends, the
Eagles will be thrust into a bloated free agent market, while they
attempt to take care of unsettled situations for many of their own
players. In this two-part look, we predict what steps the front office
will take once it's time to get back to work.

See part one of what the Eagles could do once lockout ends here.

It was a busy first week for our hypothetical post-lockout Eagles, trading Kevin Kolb, extending DeSean Jackson, and signing two of the top unrestricted free agents. And if you thought all that sounded great, better news still to come: we don't think they're done. As you are about to see, the glut of free agents is going to create some unique opportunities for the Birds' decision makers, who with massive amounts of cap room and a roster that's almost ready to contend this season are all too eager to stay aggressive.

6. Eagles begin signing 2011 draft picks
After the initial storm ends, there should be a second wind of signings that has nothing to do with free agency. Not very long after a new CBA goes into effect, training camps will open, which it goes without saying is a critical period for the vast majority of rookies. In the Eagles' situation, where several of this year's picks are expected to start right away, it will be a serious priority.

In particular, Danny Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett are already penciled in at right guard and strong safety respectively. Watkins, often described as "NFL-ready," may not be setback too much should he miss a handful of those long summer days. Jarrett on the other hand may struggle to prepare for opening day without a full camp's instruction, possibly forcing Kurt Coleman into action. Fortunately, agents should have equally as much interest getting players on the field as quickly as possible, and the second round and later guys shouldn't miss much time. However, absent a rookie wage scale, it's difficult to gauge how the first round will shake out, which is often prone to multiple holdouts.

7. Stewart Bradley and Sav Rocca sign short term deals
As many franchises enter Phase Two of their off-season strategies—otherwise known as the, "Oh crap, we need to get our rookie quarterback into camp," stage—the second or third tier of free agents could take a backseat. In some cases where an outrageous offer is not on the way, it may benefit many of these players to sign one- or two-year contracts with their current club. I could see Stew Bradley falling into that gray area. In a normal off-season, he could've shopped around for a home where he would start automatically, but with his value limited after consecutive season ending injuries, it may make sense to come back and compete for a job where he's already familiar. If he has a good season, it could benefit him when he returns to the free agent marketplace a year or two down the road.

As for Rocca, it's not entirely clear what his plans are. His NFL experiment has been a mixed bag, and although he is coming off his best season yet, he'll be 38 in November and may have other plans. But even the Eagles wouldn't go without a punter, and since I can't see this being a high priority with everything else going on, their best bet may be to convince Rocca to come back for at least one more year.

8. Jason Babin rejoins on a short term deal
Babin's is an interesting case. He bounced around from place to place the last few years, including his '09 stint in Philly, after washing out of Houston a first round bust. Then suddenly the light came on last season, conveniently after he left town, and Babin went on to have a Pro Bowl season while notching 12.5 sacks for the Titans. A free agent once again, any other year somebody would be willing to take a shot and offer the defensive end a lucrative contract—if for no other reason because quality pass rushers are so hard to find. However, the swollen marketplace, his age, and the threat of his being a one-year wonder could push him out of the initial rush of signings.

Which could benefit the Eagles immensely. It's been well documented that Babin would be interested in returning, if for no other reason than to play for defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who he obviously thrived under last season. He also would see the team is gearing up to make a run, and might like to be a part of that. And similar to Bradley's situation, taking a one- or two-year deal would allow him to hit the market again quickly, at a time where he would have a greater opportunity to stand out. For the Eagles, this gives them another weapon at end while Brandon Graham recovers from his ACL tear, without a years or financial commitment that makes it hard for the second-year player to get back on the field once he's healthy.

9. Round out the roster with a veteran quarterback, safety
At this point, the Eagles need to prepare for the war of attrition that is an NFL season, and the only way to do that is through depth. They are very fortunate in that area at several positions, but every year you can identify a few spots that could be deeper, quarterback being the obvious one ahead. With Kolb out of the picture, that leaves Mike Kafka behind Michael Vick, and even if Kafka is ready to assume that role, they need an emergency option. Some undrafted free agent will certainly be brought into camp to eat up snaps, but if they're serious about going the distance, they'll need somebody established in the mix come September.

The list of free agent quarterbacks who have west coast offense experience isn't exactly distinguished, but there are a couple of names. After Matt Hasselbeck, who will probably wind up staying in Seattle, Seneca Wallace and Tarvaris Jackson jump out as two of the bigger names that fit the bill. As third quarterbacks, either would be adequate. Also, with Jarrett's situation tenuous, and the only other safety already on the roster who has more than one year NFL experience being the unreliable Marlin Jackson, it might make sense to add a veteran there as well.

10. Somehow acquire Albert Haynesworth
Okay, this... we have no idea how it will happen, and that's why it's last. We know the Redskins have no intention of keeping Haynesworth for another season, but they seem intent on getting some kind of return on another failed investment. Maybe they will eventually give up and release him, or maybe the Eagles will make a low ball offer that Washington accepts—perhaps straight up for Brodrick Bunkley?—because hey, it's something. All we can figure is the late-August arrival of Haynesworth to Philadelphia would be an exciting addition, and one that would potentially complete this team.

By far the biggest need on this team is to get some penetration from the interior of their defense. (Yes, a cornerback is a pretty serious need too, but in terms of where they need more of an impact player, defensive tackle is arguably more important.) Mike Patterson and Bunkley have been an above average tandem against the run for many years, with Antonio Dixon emerging as a strong contributor in that area as well, but they still aren't getting enough push in the faces of opposing q
uarterbacks. Haynesworth, who like Babin would be reunited with his old position coach, could solve that if he were motivated, and with Washburn riding him and the chance to stick it to the Skins, the Eagles seem like an ideal landing place.

----

We already know what you must be thinking. After all, we just predicted the frigging future! You mean to tell me the Eagles can or are even willing to do all of this? Sell. Because this is a lot.

Let's take the first challenge, whether they have room to take on four free agent contracts, and either re-sign or extend several of their own players. For starters, we have no idea what the salary cap will be, but with their current payroll estimated below $100 million, an educated guess would be they have somewhere around $40-45 million to play with this season. Because they've done such an excellent job staying out of cap prison, there's no question they could sign two big money free agents for the long haul, extend DJac, and still have the money to pay guys like Bradley and Babin over the short term. Haynesworth would conceivably be the tough pill to swallow here, but he has moderate base salaries of $5.4 and $7.2 mil over the next two seasons.

So then it may only be a matter of how far the Eagles are willing to go this season. Let's face it, this sounds like crazy talk, and many of you are probably thinking nobody in their right mind could possibly believe they are going to do all this. Maybe, maybe not; we are merely speculating, and this is just one of a million different scenarios that could unfold. If you think they won't be busy though, that this won't be an off-season full of surprises, our suggestion is you get your popcorn ready. As soon as the lockout ends, the NFL is gonna be fun again.

>> Check out part one here.

Photo of Jason Babin by Jim O'Connor-US Presswire. Photo of Albert Haynesworth by Mark J. Rebilas-US Presswire.

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

Doug Pederson Q&A: Coaching philosophy, off-field Issues, QBs & more

As Eagles training camp kicked into gear, head coach Doug Pederson sat down with Comcast SportsNet's Quick Slants crew earlier this week at the NovaCare Complex and addressed a number of Eagles topics with co-hosts Derrick Gunn and Reuben Frank.

In a nine-minute interview, Pederson talked about his philosophy of handling off-the-field issues when they arise, he spoke of how he wants this team to be different than a Chip Kelly team and — of course — he talked about his quarterbacks.

Here are some highlights of that conversation:

Quick Slants: What do you feel needs to change the most about the team from last year to this year?

Doug Pederson: "The biggest thing and really what I want to get across is we need to be a smarter football team, a tougher football team and we need to be a better-conditioned football team. That said, that covers a lot of ground, but it’s very simple when you break it down. Smarter means we need to eliminate penalties, a tougher football team is just that, we’ve got to find ways to win football games. And conditioning is just how well you perform in the fourth quarter and down the stretch. We need to be a better-conditioned football team and it’s something for them to work on."

QS: A lot of people are going to doubt you because of your lack of coaching experience. How do you handle that?

Pederson: “I’m OK with that. My life’s always been that way. Sort of been the underdog and sort of come out swinging. You just go day by day and you just work hard and you study tape and you put your players in great positions and you build relationships with your guys and eventually they’re going to run through walls for you and that’s what you want and that’s the type of coach I want the team and the players to see. And at the same time you’re fair and you’re honest and you’re up front with guys and when you come to Sundays, man, those guys are eager and ready to go.”

QS: Two of your players, Nelson Agholor and Nigel Bradham, were involved in off-the-field incidents this offseason. Agholor’s situation has been resolved but not Bradham’s. Generally speaking, what is your philosophy with this kind of thing? What message do you give to the players?

Pederson: “When the players step on the NovaCare property and they’re in the building, my message is always: ‘You’re representing the Philadelphia Eagles and the entire organization, guys, you’ve got to make smart decisions. You’re in a high-profile business. Everybody out there is a reporter, everybody’s got a cell phone, everybody wants to take your picture or antagonize you or do whatever they can do to see if you respond. You just have to be the bigger man, you’ve got to turn your back and walk away.’ And if something happens, we as a staff have to gather all the information we can and they will have to suffer the consequences if there’s going to be any down the road. So learn from your mistakes. We all make them. But let’s be smart about it and move on.”

QS: You’ve made it clear Sam Bradford is the No. 1 quarterback, Chase Daniel is No. 2 and Carson Wentz is No. 3. Why line up the depth chart that way?

Pederson: “For me, really when I evaluated the 2015 roster and the quarterback position, I felt like Sam Bradford was the guy for me. I felt like in conversations with Howie [Roseman] and when I hired [quarterback coach John DeFilippo] and [offensive coordinator Frank Reich], that he's going to be our guy. And it started there. … And then I wanted to go and get somebody. I didn't know I was going to get Chase Daniel, but I needed a quality backup and it just so happened that a Chase Daniel was there who knows the offense. So now you bring in a guy who knows the offense, who can help Sam, can help a young, third-string quarterback. At the time, I think we were picking [13th] in the draft, and then some things happened, some trades, some moves and now you're up to No. 2 and you take a quarterback. And the beauty of that is he doesn't have to play the first year right now. And we can develop him and focus our attention on Sam and getting him ready to go and get ready for Cleveland on Sept. 11.”

QS: The last 11 quarterbacks taken with a top-five pick have started at least 10 games. That goes back to JaMarcus Russell, who started just one game in 2007. So why make Wentz No. 3? What is the benefit of giving him a likely redshirt year?

Pederson: “The benefit is that he gets to learn our system, he gets to learn our players, gets to learn the city, gets to learn our fans. And gosh, coming to Philadelphia and that being your first year and you get thrown to the wolves right away? That can be very mind-blowing for a young quarterback. So being able to sort of protect him that way I think gives the longevity of his career, whether it's here or eventually somewhere else, who knows what's going to happen, but it gives the longevity and the confidence level that he'll have going into Year 2, becomes that much more important for him and really us as an organization.”

QS: What about Wentz made you think he could be the eventual franchise quarterback?

Pederson: “Well when you look at him, you kind of had flashes of Donovan [McNabb]. The athleticism, the big arm, the size, the whole thing, the way he can run and move. And the fact that he's a proven winner, he knows how to win. I know he had an injury his senior year but he was able to bounce back and win some championships. He knows how to win football games, and just watching him these last couple days with the rookies and his communication level with them, where he is mentally with our offense, is everything we sort of knew and read and studied and researched in the offseason before we drafted him and felt like he could definitely be potentially the quarterback of the future, whenever that is. But right now, like I mentioned, we're full steam ahead with Sam and we'll let everything kinda settle whenever it settles.”

QS: You’re an offensive coach and have never worked on the defensive side of the ball. Now as a head coach, what will your involvement be with the defense?

Pederson: “Yeah, I definitely want to have a hand in not necessarily game-planning but knowing and understanding the game plan and how [Jim Schwartz] plans on attacking an offense. And if there's any particular insight I have on the offense we're playing that week, I'll throw that information at him and vice versa. If he has knowledge of a defensive game plan then I'd love to hear that. Having those conversations on a weekly basis, staying plugged in, in-tune and open lines of communication and understanding how he's going about his defense that week and understanding what I'm doing.”

Jordan Matthews values impact of hard-working veterans like Darren Sproles

Jordan Matthews values impact of hard-working veterans like Darren Sproles

A year after coming just three receiving yards short of 1,000, Jordan Matthews didn’t want to talk about himself.

Matthews wasn’t willing to discuss the possibility of 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards or other lofty personal goals when asked about his individual ambitions for this season following Friday’s training camp session at the NovaCare Complex (see Day 5 observations).

“I don’t even talk about that,” Matthews said. “This is a city where we ain’t about talking, we’re about working.”

As soon as Darren Sproles’ name was mentioned, however, Matthews started gushing about the versatile 33-year-old veteran, whom the Eagles signed to a one-year, $4.5 million extension on Friday (see story).

“I love D, that’s my boy,” Matthews said.

“He comes out here and practices hard every single day. He’s a great role model, not just for the running backs but for me, when I see him go out there and make plays I’m like, ‘Shoot, I need to do that.’ I know Zach [Ertz] looks up to him, too. It’s crazy, we look up to a guy that comes up to our knee, but all of us were excited that he was able to sign back with us. He’s a tremendous asset to this team, great teammate, great brother, so I’m excited to have him back.”

Matthews repeatedly stressed the importance of veterans such as Sproles who set a great example for their teammates. For this Eagles team in particular, Matthews believes that Sproles’ elusive running style and versatility will be a tremendous model for several of the team’s young running backs to follow.

“If you look at all of our backs, Kenjon [Barner], Byron [Marshall], [Wendell] Smallwood — they’re versatile guys, and they can all learn from Sproles," Matthews said. "They got some shiftiness to them, especially Byron, I like what I’ve seen from him, so I think all those guys can learn a lot from Sproles.”

The Eagles would also love if one of those backs shows some ability as a returner and eventually assumes Sproles’ duties in that department. Sproles led the NFL in both punt return yards (446) and punt return touchdowns (two) last season. At the moment, the team is trying out a handful of players during return drills, including Oregon products Barner and Marshall, though we’ll have to wait until the pads appear on Saturday to start seriously evaluating talent in that role.

Another unique attribute of Sproles is his skill as a receiver. Since 2007, he ranks No. 1 in the league in receiving yards (4,146) and receiving touchdowns (28) out of the backfield. In the team’s new West Coast-hybrid system, there should be more opportunities for running backs, especially Sproles, to thrive catching the ball. Running backs coach Duce Staley, a dual threat out of the backfield the last time the Eagles ran a West Coast scheme, took several of the young backs aside during drills Friday to tweak their route-running techniques. 

In the competition for the final one or two running back spots on the roster next to Sproles and Ryan Mathews, who missed practice for a second straight morning and is day to day with a mild ankle injury, small distinctions between players as receivers and returners could determine who makes the team.

“We got a lot of talent there,” Pederson said. “Kenjon Barner is a kid who has shown some good strides this offseason, picking up the offense. You got Ryan there, you got Darren, and you got the young kids — Wendell we picked up, Byron Marshall, we got some guys with some talent.”

Returning his focus to his own position, Matthews continued to highlight the impact of veterans passing on their knowledge to younger players. According to Matthews, the offseason signings of Chris Givens and Rueben Randle, each of whom has four years of NFL experience, should help Nelson Agholor’s progression after a disappointing rookie season in which the USC product posted just 23 receptions. 

“[Agholor] didn’t have a Jeremy [Maclin] when he came in, a guy that was older, who had played five years, like I did," Matthews said. "But now you got Rueb, he’s got some experience, Chris has been around so he knows a couple things … he’s learned from guys like Steve Smith and other guys he’s played with, so we’re going to continue to help bring him along, but Nelson’s done a great job, he had a great practice today, so I’m definitely really optimistic about his maturation.”

For all his emphasis on first- and second-year talent learning from experienced players like Randle, Sproles or even the 24-year-old Matthews himself, don’t confuse Matthews’ reverence for Sproles and the veterans on the Eagles' roster with the sentiment that this year will be more about “maturation” than competitive success.

“I don’t look at this as a rebuilding thing or like a lot of chemistry has to get rebuilt,” Matthews said. “We’ve secured a lot of guys and it really does feel like family. … Guys genuinely love to be around each other.”

Matthews probably won’t get to spend more than two more years with his role model Sproles (see story), but the consistent work ethic and knowledge the 11-year veteran has passed on should definitely serve Matthews and his next generation of teammates well. 

Eagles add Brian Dawkins to scouting staff as fellowship winner

Eagles add Brian Dawkins to scouting staff as fellowship winner

Former Eagles great Brian Dawkins is back with the team. 

This time he can't hit anybody. 

Dawkins, 42, has been added to the Eagles' scouting department, as the inaugural winner of the Nunn-Wooden Scouting Fellowship, a new NFL program that's designed to introduce former players to scouting. 

The Eagles say Dawkins will "study and work closely with all phases of scouting and football operations departments." 

Obviously, Dawkins' resume as a player is impressive. After 13 seasons with the Eagles, he became an all-time great and an all-time favorite Eagle. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and is a member of the team's Hall of Fame. 

Dawkins is the Eagles' all-time leader in games played (183) and interceptions (34). 

But he was more known for his hard-hitting style, which has been slowly pushed out of today's NFL, which means in his new role, Dawkins might not be able to scout the same type of player he was himself.